Saiguhan Elancheran writes a comprehensive tactical analysis about the Premier League match that ended Leicester City 4-2 Manchester City.
After winning 6 out 7 league matches away from home this season, Manchester City went to the home of the Champions in search of three important points. A win would have kept them in touching distance of the league leaders Chelsea. On the other hand, Leicester were in 15th place with just 13 points from 14 games. Having amazed the football world last season with their swift counter attacking displays, they have been off-colour in the current campaign. This fixture would’ve been just the one that Pep Guardiola wanted after the loss at home against Chelsea or so it seemed.
Leicester City: (4-4-2)
Zieler // Simpson – Morgan – Huth – Fuchs // Mahrez(Matthew James 92’) – King – Amartey – Albrighton // Vardy(Demarai Gray 88’) – Slimani(Okazaki 78’)
Manchester City: (3-2-4-1/3-4-3)
Bravo // Sagna – Stones – Kolarov // Zabaleta – Fernando // Navas(Sterling 58’) – Gundogan(Nolito 68’) – Silva – de Bruyne // Iheanacho(Toure 58’)
Ranieri played the same team which lost 2-1 at the Stadium of Light whereas his counterpart rang in the changes. Guardiola drafted in Sagna, Zabaleta and Iheanacho for the suspended Otamendi, Fernandinho and Aguero. He also brought in Fernando instead of Sane. Guardiola preferred a back 3 instead of a back 4 since he always preferred Fernandinho as the one up front in the 4-1. Manchester City switched to a 3-2 consisting of Zabaleta and Fernando to provide support to his back 3 in the absence of Fernandinho.
During the initial stages and for the larger part of the game, City played with a back 3 as Fernando and Zabaleta played in front of them to aid support. But this deployment of a 3-2 defensive formation proved to be a failure for Pep Guardiola as his side conceded 2 goals inside the first 5 minutes. This is the first time since October 2006 that the team from Manchester have conceded 2 goals in the first five minutes. Credit must be given to the Leicester players and their manager for attacking City with their pace right from the start of the game.
It is evident from this instance that the link up play between the City defenders and defensive midfielders was very poor. The defensive midfielders stayed up the field to aid in attack when the possession was with the defence(in this case – John Stones). This allowed the Leicester forwards Vardy and Slimani to get in between the defensive lines, thereby cutting off Zabaleta and Fernando as passing options.
As their passing options to the next line were cut off, they had to play long balls or pass it side-ways in order to maintain the run of play. Leicester defended with two solid banks of four meaning that they were compact in the center. And hence Manchester City tried to build up from the wings on most of the occasions.
As the game progressed, this is how City players positioned themselves on an average with Fernando dropping deep and Zabaleta was more like an inverted full-back who played out of position in the forward direction. Silva who paired with De Bruyne in most of the build-ups moved to his more preferred central position as the structure became a 3-4-3.
One of the interesting points to note from this game from a Manchester City perspective is the positioning of Zabaleta. He was assigned in the role of a box-to-box midfielder where he has never played in the past. He started the game against Celtic at home in the same role and was astute in his game play. He joined the attack in the right half space providing channel for Navas to overlap in certain build-ups. This ploy of Guardiola raised questions as City have conventional wingers in Sane and Sterling.
Also, the gamble did not pay off for Guardiola. His high intensity passing system failed as his team lost the defensive battle. Their high line caused havoc as Vardy along with Slimani and Mahrez outran Stones and Kolarov. Particularly, Stones had a very poor game as he was out run by Vardy on most occasions, lost the second balls and displayed poor passing in the defensive third. This was highlighted by his poor game play which lead to the fourth goal. The overall defensive play was very poor and this was evident from the fact that the away side failed to win a single tackle in the first 35 minutes.
As the game progressed, Manchester City switched to a back four which gave them the control they needed. This was followed by dropping in of Fernando as split back between Stones and Sagna as Zabaleta and Kolarov fanned out when Manchester City were in possession.
Much should be said about the away side’s poor defensive display. City always looked vulnerable after losing possession. Their high line caused them problems and individual errors added more danger. Here John Stones was caught in two minds, whether to tackle Slimani or catch up with Vardy. His poor decision making allowed Slimani to play the ball as Vardy found himself in the huge space between Kolarov and Stones. Vardy collected the ball and outran Kolarov with pace winning a potential 1v1 situation. He found himself in a positional superiority in the 1v1 as he was towards the goal and the man chasing him was tucking inside from the wing.
From the above scene, we can find the position that Kolarov takes during the build-up phase. This is the position which he usually prefers when deployed as a left-back. For that to happen, usually Fernandinho or Fernando would drop deep aiding their CBs. In this case, 8 City players are in the attacking third meaning that it creates a 2v2 at the back with positional superiority for Vardy and Slimani. Due to the naivety of Kolarov, the defence got exposed due to long balls and through balls where Man City switched off.
This was the case when the third goal was conceded.
We can see that Vardy has ran past Kolarov and found himself on the blind side of Stones. One good long ball from Fuchs finds Mahrez in space who plays it to Vardy. These spaces in the defensive third were left wide open to be occupied as the Manchester City defenders played a very high line. Though the situation here is a 2v2, Leicester found themselves in positional as well as qualitative superiority which happened in most occasions during the game.
City started to attack from the wings as Leicester were so compact in the center. City always tried to under-load themselves in possession so as to deploy free men in the wings. This tactic was seen throughout the game but City failed to gain advantage of this situation as their crosses into the box were poor and absence of a target man in the box was felt badly.
Same was the case on the other wing when Kevin de Bruyne was left unmarked and he removed himself from the area of play to become the free man. This should be duly noted because if the ball could be played to Kolarov from the point of play, he would find the Belgian in acres of space which would then lead him directly on to the goal. But this didn’t prove to be much of a difference as City constantly lost possession of the ball when trying to utilise this tactic.
The below image shows the places in which Leicester(orange) and Man City(blue) lost possession. We can easily infer that Man City have lost possession in important areas. The square marks the most dangerous area as losing possession in this part of the field would lead Leicester directly on to goal given the high line City employed. The circle marks the area in which City lost the ball on numerous occasions in key areas when they tried to build up.
Right from the start of the game, Leicester defended in two banks of four as they have done in the previous season. They had no problem in ceding the possession to Manchester City. They allowed them to get in and hit them back brilliantly in counters with sheer pace.
The above two instances from the first and second half shows us the compact defensive structure of Leicester. Though they have been very poor defensively this season, it was surprising to witness their discipline in this game. They were tight, compact and never allowed City to build up in the central zone.
The key factors in Leicester’s defence were the displays of Huth, Morgan and Fuchs in the last line of defence. They were able to nullify Man City’s build-ups by making important blocks during the City attack.
This picture shows the numerous blocks made by the Leicester defenders in their defensive third. Both the full backs Fuchs and Simpson made a game high of 4 blocks. This means that they blocked the crosses played into the box from the wings. As they were very compact in the center, City had to play their way through the wings but failed to develop on the theme. This was because of the absence of a target man in the box and greater physicality of Huth, Morgan and Fuchs vs the likes of Iheanacho, Silva, Gundogan, and Navas .
The tight defensive marking in the center showed its effect as City failed to register successful passes in the zone 14 during the entire first half. Leicester attempted 27 tackles, made 44 clearances and 20 blocks during the 90 minutes. Though City amassed a mammoth 699 passes and had 78% of the possession, Leicester’s ability to see off their opponents made sure that City were unable to play telling passes which would prove vital. It looked as though Leicester carried their form from last season.
When out of possession the Leicester forwards were forming a high block in certain instances. When Man City’s defence were in possession, Mahrez would join the front two so that it would be 3v3 at the back.
In the below instance, Leicester players pressured the City defenders and denied them the chance to play out from the back. The three forwards caught each man nearest to them. Because of this Kolarov’s passing options were cut off, thereby forcing him to play the ball back to the goalkeeper.
From the above instance, we can identify the first line of pressure applied by the Leicester’s makeshift front 3. This made sure that Bravo was unable to play the ball to the defenders to start the attack from the back. He had to play those deep long balls, and as a result Guardiola’s men had to deal with the more physical Leicester players in the middle.
In comparison to the City defenders, Leicester defenders had very little work. All they had to do was to sit back and defend whereas City defenders were always asked to join in attacks. This required greater effort and energy in the field which would caused the players to wear out as the game progressed. Kolarov, in particular, on the left flank joined the attack in most of the occasions which left a 2v2 in the back. Below we can see the heat map of the back 4 of Leicester(left) and City’s back 3(right). We can see the huge difference in the system adopted by both the teams.
This was the first time in the short reign of Pep Guardiola in which Man City had conceded 4 goals. On the day, the defensive frailties which came up with the attacking system deployed by Guardiola were terribly exposed as Leicester looked like a team who found their form again. They badly missed their central spine – Aguero, Fernandinho and Otamendi. Part of the blame should be towards the players rather than the system as well. Individual errors and poor defensive displays at the back caused the goals.
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