Enzo Maresca wants to end Leicester City trend…

Enzo Maresca will want to end Leicester City trend as starlet earns right to battle next signing

Analysis from Leicester City’s 2-1 win over Cardiff, looking at another late winner, the performances of Wanya Marcal, Cesare Casadei, and Jamie Vardy, and more

This was only the second home game under Enzo Maresca and yet, for Leicester City fans, it felt like they had seen it all before.


There was a serious case of deja vu as, for the second successive King Power outing, City enjoyed a promising first half, wilted at the start of the second period, and then found a late winner. Albeit this time, the last-gasp strike rewrote the record books, City victorious in their first four matches of a campaign for the first time in their history.

It’s the kind of deja vu that won’t cause sleepless nights. City supporters would gladly go through a season seeing an injury-time winner every match. It’s better than watching your team concede from a corner week after week.

But that late goal may not always come, and Maresca knows it. He’s already priming his side for the day the ball doesn’t bounce their way, saying post-match: “Defeats will arrive and we need to be mentally strong to manage all the situations.” So don’t put your mortgage on an unbeaten season yet.

Cesare Casadei goal
Cesare Casadei

But that late goal may not always come, and Maresca knows it. He’s already priming his side for the day the ball doesn’t bounce their way, saying post-match: “Defeats will arrive and we need to be mentally strong to manage all the situations.” So don’t put your mortgage on an unbeaten season yet.

But as against Coventry and Huddersfield, what will keep the optimism for now is the prospect of how City can perform when it’s really clicked. Maresca said the first half was the best 45 minutes his team had produced this term and it is difficult to disagree.

For the period between Wanya Marcal’s opener and Aaron Ramsey’s equaliser, the football was confident and flowing and threatening, just as Maresca would want. The job is to stretch those 10 minutes across the full 90.


Because proving they are a work in progress was the start to the second half. City’s attacks were blunt and Cardiff were effective in working the ball into the spaces afforded at the back. If you had to pick a team deserving of an added-time winner, based on the second half, you’d have handed it to the visitors.


But that’s not how football works and Maresca knows his side will always come on strong. As alluded to by Coventry boss Mark Robins in the season opener, City keep the ball so well and force the opponents to chase it for so long that by the end of the game, they are the fresher side. That extra spurt of energy here and there can create moments like Cesare Casadei’s winner.

Leicester City's celebration

The early stats tally. City have averaged 66 per cent possession in their first three Championship games and have scored after the 70th minute in each of them. That’s not an easy feat. You have to go back 22 months to cover the previous three league games where they netted a winner in the final 20 minutes.

Interestingly, Southampton are the only side to have enjoyed a greater average share of possession than City, and in each of their fixtures, they have scored inside the final five minutes. Wearing down opponents works.

That’s why Maresca will keep preaching patience so that City do remain a threat until the final whistle. But also, he will be working with his team to get them to a place where they don’t need to rely on such moments. So the thrills of the late winner may not last forever, but Maresca will hope to replace them with something more sustainable, and something that spreads the enjoyment across the 90 minutes.

Marcal has earned chance to battle with potential signing

If City’s transfer business goes to plan, Marcal may not be the club’s most regular starting right-sided winger this season, but he is learning quickly and doing a lot of the things Maresca wants from a wide-man, and that puts him in contention for frequent appearances.


For a start, he is getting himself free to receive the ball. You can’t affect the game if you’re not available to pass to, but no City player received as many progressive passes as the 20-year-old did on Saturday.

Wanya Marcal
Wanya Marcal

Then it’s about what he does with possession, and there is a clear attacking intent. Of City players, he had the most touches inside the penalty area, the most ball carries into the penalty area, and the most passes and crosses into the penalty area. He is getting himself and the ball into dangerous areas.

But what he’s not quite doing is finding the killer pass. None of those balls into the box led directly to a shooting opportunity. And while he dribbles into promising positions when he has space to do so, he doesn’t do it as often when faced up by a full-back. Compared to Stephy Mavididi, he doesn’t beat his man in a one-on-one nearly as often.


The deficiencies in his game are not of any concern right now. He’s only four appearances into his senior career after all. And as he gets more experience, he will grow in confidence, and with that he will be a better player. In the 10 minutes after his goal, he was floating on air and had his best period in the game.


Coming into the season, it may have felt like Marcal was best served getting his first proper taste of senior football out on loan. He has done enough in these first few weeks to show he can make an impact in the Championship no matter what happens with transfers over the next fortnight.


There are a few greater thrills as a fan than seeing a young lad from the academy score for the club – particularly such a crisply-hit strike – and Marcal has earned the chance to stick around and try to get the crowd on their feet a few more times this campaign.

Wanya Marcal
Wanya Marcal

Casadei makes it a three-way fight for spot

Casadei does not need to be told to get into the box, Maresca said on Friday. Then on Saturday, with his first touch inside the penalty area as a City player, he scored an injury-time winner.


Not since Nathan Dyer in the title-winning campaign had a City player made their debut as a substitute and scored, but whether Casadei will now be on the bench next week at Rotherham is the big question.


Beyond the goal, there were not many standout moments from the Italian in his half-hour on the pitch, perhaps a product of having only had four days training with his new side. But after another week, he may be ready to start.


There are essentially now three players fighting for one spot. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, despite giving the ball away for the Ramsey goal and despite having one of his poorer afternoons, is very unlikely to be dropped. He drives forward with the ball well and his stamina levels are so good that he can boss games in the final 20 minutes as others tire.


So that leaves Casadei, Ndidi, and Dennis Praet for the other number eight role. On Saturday, Ndidi had a decent game. But his highlights came in winning the ball back high up the pitch to spark attacks, basically doing what he has always done but in a more advanced position. He found Kelechi Iheanacho a few times, but apart from that, did not offer a great deal by way of an attacking threat.


Praet offers excellent off-the-ball movement but cannot usually back that up with a cutting edge around the box, as seen at Huddersfield the previous week. So the spot is there for Casadei to take.

Leicester City celebration


Based on his performances for Italy’s Under-20s, he feels like the most natural fit for what Maresca wants from a player in that role. As the manager has hammered home, it’s in the box where things happen and despite Ramsey doing his utmost to disprove that, it’s where Casadei thrives. That may give him the edge in the three-way battle.

Maresca shows appreciation with Vardy set for super-sub role

It’s now 2-1 to Iheanacho in the battle with Jamie Vardy for Championship starts and from this point, provided he stays at the club, it feels like a contest the Nigerian should triumph in this season.


That’s particularly because Vardy has looked much more effective as a substitute. He was able to make an impact against both Huddersfield and Cardiff, and perhaps that’s because tiring defenders aren’t able to keep up with his darts here and there by that point of a match.Wanya Marcal jubilation


Iheanacho’s ability to drop deep and link play feels integral for Maresca’s plans, but late in games, if they need that penalty-box nous, Vardy is the better man to turn to.


Maresca went out of his way to praise Vardy after the win over Cardiff, particularly for a lung-busting run to the corner to wind down time, and it felt like the manager’s attempt to ensure the 36-year-old feels valued.

For a decade Vardy has been the club’s number one striker. He is probably the greatest player in the club’s history. But Maresca is veering more towards Iheanacho and that places Vardy in a position he is not used to. What Maresca won’t want is for Vardy to feel so under-appreciated that it affects his form.


It’s probably not what Vardy wants but in doing so well as a substitute in the past two games, he may have cemented that role for himself this campaign.

More players to come despite winning streak

With four wins from four, a never-before-achieved feat at the start of a season for City, you could be mistaken for thinking they have a squad that’s ready for anything that is thrown at them.


Maresca was quick to shoot down that suggestion. Adversity will come at some point, he knows, and City are still a few players short of being able to deal with it as effectively as possible.


As before, that’s really the reason why there’s so much excitement around. It’s not just that they’ve won four games, it’s that they’ve won four games without the squad being complete and without the team yet firing on all cylinders. There is plenty more to come.


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