One thing Leicester City fans have learned about Enzo Maresca in his brief time as manager is that he isn’t afraid to shake things up. His team selections have left plenty of people guessing – including his players.
When it comes to his formation and philosophy Maresca is totally invested in his methods. Regardless of the opposition, he sticks to his principles on how he wants his Leicester to shape up.
He is fully committed to doing things his way, whatever the outcome may be. That’s why he was still smiling after Leicester’s solitary defeat so far this season, at home to Hull, because his side had still implemented the plan he had given them.
That system, the 4-3-3 that becomes a 3-2-4-1 in possession, is his blueprint. His back four/three, with Harry Winks as the ever-present anchor, is the foundation on which everything else is built.
He may tweak that base unit from game to game — James Justin came in to play in Wout Faes’ right sided position at Southampton before the pair switched back at Carrow Road — while Ricardo Pereira was given a breather at Norwich in the inverted full-back role, but otherwise the unit stays the same.
But ahead of that base it becomes increasingly difficult to predict the XI and Maresca has shown he is prepared to chop and change, to rest and rotate, and even play some players in unfamiliar positions.
He did it again at Carrow Road on Wednesday evening as Leicester commenced a run of three consecutive weeks with a midweek fixture to add to their workload.
Cesare Casadai made his first league start as one of the attacking midfielders while Yunu Akgun, recruited as a right winger, was also brought in as a number eight having had a brief cameo in that position at Southampton.
It might not have worked as well as Maresca may have hoped, but it was vital experience for two young, promising players who will have better games and bigger roles to play as the season progresses.
As expected, Kelechi Iheanacho and Vardy continue to rotate in the central striker role, and Abdul Fatawu is itching to make his first start on the right flank. His time will surely come in the next few weeks as Maresca gives him more and more managed minutes.
Not that Fatawu will know too much about it when it does come.
Maresca likes to keep his players on their toes and doesn’t reveal the starting line-up until just a few hours before kick-off.
Previous Leicester managers have informed the team the night before (information which often got leaked last season) and used the last training session before the game as the final tune-up on shape and tactics, but Maresca adopts a different approach.
His system is a non-negotiable and he coaches all of his players on where they fit into it during general training, so there is no need to make specific provision for players the day before a game. Maresca believes that players should be adaptable and interchangeable, but above all ready.
He also believes they should be kept on their toes, fearing that players who know they are not starting can relax too much in the build-up to a fixture, and he has drawn on his own experiences as a player as evidence.
“At the end of the day, they train every day because they want to play,” Maresca says. “They don’t train every day because they want to sit on the bench next to me.
“I know that. I was (a player) for 20 years and you are there outside and work every day because your target is to play, but sometimes you have 20 or 25 players and you have to make the right decision.
“Sometimes it’s wrong because sometimes my decision is not the right one, but they have to accept and be ready when we need them.
“I already told them that when you want to achieve something important, you need 20 players. Some of them are not going to play every game but the season is so long that for sure we’re going to use them.
“The clear example is JJ (James Justin) that he was playing just in cup games and the other day he played (in the league). He was unbelievable. He is ready and the same has to be the case for the rest.”
Maresca wants to keep his players fresh for the relentless nature of the Championship, but also keep them hungry.
He isn’t afraid to throw youngsters in, with his starting line-up at Norwich containing seven players aged 25 or younger, including Hamza Choudhury as captain, a player who was surplus to requirements last season under Brendan Rodgers and is in the last year of his contract but who has impressed Maresca, along with James Justin.
After six wins from their opening seven games, things are starting to click for Leicester. Despite the tweaks from game to game Maresca’s side have found a consistency even if they are still feeling their way into the season.
There are still 39 more league games to go and Maresca knows he must manage this group, especially with the Africa Cup of Nations on the horizon in January, a tournament that could take four of his squad away for up to a month.
That’s why young striker Tom Canon will not be risked as he nurses a stress fracture in his back. He will be the only alternative to Jamie Vardy if Kelechi Iheanacho and Patson Daka, who still hasn’t featured yet this season, are away at AFCON. The options at Maresca’s disposal must be the envy of every manager in the Championship.
When Bristol City visit the King Power Stadium on Saturday Maresca is almost certain to rotate his attacking options once again.
Exactly how he does it remains to be seen and even the players won’t know until they arrive at the stadium.
It is becoming very difficult to second guess Maresca, but Leicester’s results are more than justifying his approach.
(Top photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)