Caglar Soyuncu and Boubakary Soumare were sensational for Leicester against Wolves after previously being distrusted and mismanaged by Brendan Rodgers.
Outside of restoring ketchup to the menu, using the words ‘Football Club’ numerous times in a press conference unveiling and, depending on the proclivities of one’s predecessor, either increasing or reducing the number and intensity of training sessions, there is no better way to encourage a new manager bounce than offering a clean slate to a beleaguered squad.
Those who had been frozen out under the previous regime are given a route back in. The few trusted lieutenants of the last officer to fall on his sword have a renewed hunger and a point to prove. There are no favourites. Roles are reset. Everything is equal.
It makes those first starting line-ups of a new manager’s reign almost as interesting as the games themselves. Players previously stored at the back of the cupboard and long since forgotten are used in recipes which at least promise something different, if not better. The demand for change and a fresh outlook is sated even before the first whistle is blown.
A trip to Manchester City rather diluted the idea that Dean Smith would hit the ground running as Leicester’s short-term saviour, yet even in that defeat there were shoots of positivity which blossomed gloriously in his home bow against Wolves. The attacking intent they showed late on at the Etihad was built on with Tete, Kelechi Iheanacho and Patson Daka lurking threateningly behind Jamie Vardy.
Perhaps the biggest alteration came in midfield. Wilfred Ndidi, whose powers have waned considerably in recent times, was dropped for Boubakary Soumare, who was excellent alongside Youri Tielemans. And considering the latter’s use of the ball throughout this stirring victory, he needed to be.
B. Soumaré vs Wolves
78% Pass Successful (32/41)9 Ball Recoveries7 Ground Duels Won4/4 Successful Dribbles2/3 Accurate Long Balls2/3 Successful Tackles2 Clearances2 Interceptions1 Chance Created
The man ran his legs off today, top quality performance. Baller. pic.twitter.com/Hg6qSJNtoS
— 𝙇𝘾𝙁𝘾 𝙎𝙋 (@LCFCshitposting) April 22, 2023
Brendan Rodgers never seemed convinced by the credentials of Soumare, yet further back sat a player whose banishment under the Northern Irishman became one of the sorest points of contention within a fractured Foxes fanbase.
The fall of Caglar Soyuncu has been peculiar. A PFA Team of the Year-worthy centre-half in 2019/20 has not matched those heights since, to the extent that he was forced almost entirely out of the picture this season. The game against Wolves was only his third start of the season – and his first not facing Manchester City since May 1.
Rodgers had an assortment of reasons for the demotion, ranging from not “training at the highest level” to a lack of “consistency in performance and mentality”, the fact Soyuncu “probably thought his future is away from here”, the plight of the Turkish national team, injuries and the burden of Leicester’s previous over-reliance on him.
Smith almost immediately rendered those concerns moot. “I can’t talk about what’s gone before,” he said this month, adding: “All I know is that, from Tuesday onwards, myself, Craig (Shakespeare) and JT (John Terry) have looked at him in training and said, ‘He’s a player.’ We said it straight away.”
In the starkest contrast possible, Rodgers noting that “you can’t be switched off from training and think you can just come back into the Premier League,” became Smith handing Soyuncu his first consecutive starts in a year because “the fire was there”.
There should, after all, have been no doubt about the defensive ability of a player courted by Atletico Madrid for the past two years. Soyuncu was thrown in at the deep end against Erling Haaland and Manchester City but bore no culpability for any of those three goals and his aggression caught the eye.
Against Wolves, it was the opposite. Soyuncu was proactive, winning twice as many headers (6) as any teammate and making the most clearances of any player (7), but his calm and composed nature stood out.
Leicester desperately needed that guiding hand. After Tielemans dallied on the ball in his own defensive third for Mario Lemina to capitalise and set up Matheus Cunha’s opener, the worst was feared at the King Power. The Foxes’ last win had come from behind but that 4-1 victory at home to Tottenham in February was an aberration and this was a dreadful start in a game they could not afford to lose.
Vardy’s diligent running behind helped. He set up one Tete chance after sneaking behind and then was clipped by Jose Sa after being put through by Kelechi Iheanacho, who converted the subsequent penalty.
Wolves managed the delicate balancing act of having 10 shots thereafter without ever particularly looking like scoring. It says plenty that Ruben Neves, introduced at half-time, had half of those efforts. Most were speculative and from long range, with perhaps only once truly testing Leicester keeper Daniel Iversen.
That lack of incision was down to the commanding brilliance of Soyuncu, whose last-line defending was crucial in cutting off counter-attacks. Another awful Tielemans pass gave Wolves licence to push forward but the Turkish centre-half revoked it with excellent awareness and positioning when Neves tried to slide Matheus Nunes in behind.
Nunes and Diego Costa got no change whatsoever out of Soyuncu, both being taken off before full-time as Wolves pursued an equaliser made necessary by Timothy Castagne’s well-worked goal.
Soumare thrived in the midfield space, often dragging Leicester forward through sheer will and spirit in those moments they started to sit too deep. He, Tete and Victor Kristiansen combined well down the left before Castagne completed a comeback Leicester’s response and performance warranted.
Soyuncu had two opportunities from corners to score what would have been a deserved goal but his effectiveness at the other end had already been enough.
The late shout for a penalty after a Wout Faes handball really did seem justified and will provide further fuel for those bubbling Wolves conspiracies but this was instead an afternoon of vindication and Turkish delight for Soyuncu to lift Leicester out of the relegation zone. They have not looked so defensively sound for months. Funny, that.