After Harry Maguire was sold to Manchester United in August 2019, many wondered who would be able to fill the centre-back position at Leicester City alongside Jonny Evans as the Foxes moved into Brendan Rodgers’ first full season in charge.
But Turkey international Caglar Soyuncu, who endured a challenging maiden campaign at King Power Stadium, has made that position his own since the opening game of the campaign against Wolverhampton Wanderers. He has gone on to start 28 of their 29 Premier League matches during 2019/20 so far, and has also made seven appearances in the Cup competitions.
Leicester’s return to Premier League action is very much on the horizon when they take on Watford this weekend, and they are looking to cement their place in the top four. A key part of that push is Soyuncu whose contribution has been outstanding in the back four all season.
Challenging first season
However, it hasn’t been all positive since the 24-year-old arrived at the Foxes from Bundesliga outfit SC Freiburg back in August 2018. His first season in English football was a tough one having rarely featured during Claude Puel’s reign and in Rodgers’ opening few months at the helm.
Soyuncu's first taste of Premier League action came in a 1-1 draw against West Ham United three months into the campaign, where he started next to Maguire. The central defender only went on to make just five more league appearances throughout 18/19.
The standout performance of his first season at the Foxes was in the Carabao Cup quarter-final against Manchester City, where he dealt with the threat of Sergio Aguero with relative ease and ensured they would take the holders to penalties, but he missed his spot-kick in the shootout.
New lease of life at the Foxes in 19/20
Following the departure of Maguire for a reported club-record sale, Soyuncu has stepped up and put in some terrific displays – many to the surprise of a few Leicester supporters this term. As well as standing out with his personal performances, the defender has helped the Foxes up to third in the Premier League with a strong chance of European football for the second time in as many seasons.
His partnership at the heart of defence with the experienced Evans has been vital, but the ex-West Bromwich Albion ace has helped Soyuncu develop his game into a composed but fierce defender. Leicester have conceded the third-least league goals this term having shipped just 28, three behind Sheffield United and seven more than Liverpool.
A run of five clean sheets in six games between the end of October and start of December earmarked the strength of City’s back-line this term, and there is no doubt Soyuncu has helped with that.
While his defensive capabilities have been important and crucial at the heart of the City defence, Soyuncu has impressed on the ball too. He has made the sixth-most completed passes in the Premier League this season with 1862, which is also the highest out of his Leicester teammates. Rodgers’ style of play involves being confident with possession and passing from the back, and Soyuncu has flourished under his management and suited the way Leicester start attacks from defence.
The Turkey international has made the most blocks out of any Foxes player this term (19) – one ahead of Evans, but his passion and determination while playing in a Leicester shirt cannot be questioned. In his 34 Premier League matches to date, the 24-year-old a has tackle success rate of 65% and has won 192 duels which implies his strengths in those areas.
While also being a rock at the back, he has also shown signs of being a danger from set pieces at the other end, and bagged his first Foxes goal in a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace back in November. He guided home a James Maddison corner to get Leicester on their way to an important victory in South London.
Defensive record against opposition in the run-in
Looking ahead to Leicester’s Premier League run-in and matches they still have to play, Soyuncu can be vital in their charge to Champions League football.
City’s first two games back are versus Watford and Brighton & Hove Albion – teams who Leicester have conceded none against this season. In fact, Leicester have given away just five goals in their nine reverse fixtures against the sides who they still have to play in the league before the end of the campaign, keeping clean sheets on four occasions. The Foxes back-four looked rather stern in the matches against Everton, Crystal Palace and Arsenal in particular who follow after the opening couple of games.
If Soyuncu can replicate his form from the first three quarters of the season and shows the same amount of intensity in his game, then it is likely that he can help spearhead the Foxes to a second European campaign in four years and be a crucial part of that.