Ryan Quinn writes a detailed tactical analysis about the Premier League game that finished Manchester United 2-0 Leicester City
Manchester United and Leicester City played in this season’s third gameweek. Jose Mourinho’s side have begun the season in full flight, winning their first two games while showcasing a faster, more clinical style of football. Leicester City, in search of defensive solidarity, aimed to apprehend United’s attacking impetus.
Leicester City’s press & low-block halts opponent’s game plan
Leicester City opted for a 4-1-4-1 formation, which enabled for a instructed and organised press against Manchester United’s defence and centre-midfielders. The positioning of Shinji Okazaki between the four-man midfield and lone striker, Jamie Vardy, meant that Okazaki was required to support Vardy in a 2v2 press, and occupy space in midfield. United midfielder, Nemanja Matic, would drop into the defensive-third to receive possession, but would be met by Okazaki. Okazaki’s marking of Matic subsequently slowed down United’s transition from defence to attack.
Leicester’s two banks of four were narrowly positioned, and this particular shape suggested that Leicester were very aware of space that would have been occupied by Manchester United, who overloaded central areas to good effect in their first two games. All phases of Leicester’s press and their approach to spacing without possession was used to slow down the tempo of the game and to restrict United in build-up.
Leicester’s conservative approach to the encounter limited United to horizontal switches in order to circulate possession. Evidently, pressing traps executed by the Reds were not fooling Shakespeare’s rigid system. Leicester’s midfield generally formed a mid to low block, with central areas covered, limiting the passing ranges of both Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic.
The effect of the away side’s low-block was further enhanced by how Romelu Lukaku struggled to make runs into space to meet passes and crosses, as Leicester’s block prevented passes between lines and interchanges for large chunks of the game. Leicester players outnumbered United players in most areas within the Leicester half of the pitch. These aspects also impacted on the tempo of the game as play was very congested.
The structure and shape of Leicester, particularly in transition, was much more coherent than in comparison with West Ham United and Swansea City, who opted for either a numerically inferior midfield (West Ham; 4-3-3) or defence (Swansea City; 3-4-3).
Overloads on right-side cause positional problems, while Leicester use combination of zonal and man-marking
Manchester United overloaded the right-side, with two of three attacking-midfielders (Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan) drifting towards the Right-Back. Antonio Valencia. Both midfield players were forced to drop into space to receive possession, rather than being met with passes between the lines.
Yet, Leicester were aware of United’s overloads so Valencia, Pogba, Mata and Mkhitaryan were surrounded by Leicester’s press. Valencia had no space to overlap, though both full-backs were, again, the main providers of width. The limiting of Valencia’s movement made the Ecuadorian’s play predictable, which burdened United, as they lacked an alternate route.
A right-sided overload from both sides (Manchester United with possession and Leicester without) left the left-side open spatially. Daley Blind and Anthony Martial, though in greater space to receive possession, which resulted in the use of horizontal passes to circulate play, were isolated; the distancing between Martial, Mata and Mkhitaryan was far from ideal due to the, again, questionable positioning of Mata and Mkhitaryan. Poor spacing can make breaking down a low block a very difficult task.
Daley Blind was a main outlet for Manchester United in build-up, as Pogba often opted for the horizontal switch due to the lack of movement enabled by Leicester’s mid to low block, with various passing combinations including;
Pogba – Blind – Martial
Matic – Blind
Mkhitaryan – Blind
Regardless of the poor spacing between Martial, Mata and Mkhitaryan as previously mentioned, Mkhitaryan sparingly made good movement across the final third in order to support Martial on the left-side. One example was Mkhitaryan moving between Leicester’s midfield in order to link-up with Martial. But, for much of the game, Passes from/to Mkhitaryan were intercepted due to the lack of space to move into. Mkhitaryan’s tactical intelligence and consistency in a statistical regard will benefit United this season, and as shown previously, Mkhitaryan is more likely to shine in a much more “free” environment.
Minute 20:49 – Leicester were shown to use a combination of zonal marking and man-marking, covering space in numbers and players individually. Martial, though actually forming a trident in this situation, is condensed by Leicester’s overload.
Minute 10:15 – A 3v2 duel was enabled as a result of Leicester’s coverage of central areas, while sacrificing possession to United. United dominated possession statistics (69%). Leicester’s defensive line gradually moved up the pitch in this situation, in order to restrict time in possession and awareness.
Manchester United’s patience in build-up pays off while tactical switches prove effective
Manchester United dominated in terms of both possession and the amount of chances created. However, United were made to be patient by Leicester’s low block, and while Leicester pressed tightly, United eventually found a route to goal. Pogba, who functioned much more peripherally than expected, was forced to move into wide spaces during certain stages of the game. Otherwise, Pogba was at the heart of United’s creation of chances; the Frenchman completed 93 passes and 4 take ons, while tending to shoot from distance.
The second-half saw Manchester United aiming to increase the tempo of the game, and this was achieved through Leicester’s block deepening, and this space in front of the defence opening up for United’s midfielders to attack.
Perhaps the most impressive factor about this particular United performance, was Jose Mourinho’s ability to make substitutions and alter the formation at the right moments while using what seems to be a cemented group of players/tactic. The introduction of Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini resulted in a switch of formations from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1. The formation switch expanded United’s play, and did benefit from Leicester’s conservative approach. Central space was used to good effect, with Fellaini and Lingard notably interchanging and evading the block during the second goal. United’s ability to create chances against varying systems is impressive.
Leicester’s low-block restricts offensive capabilities
Though the intended game plan was executed well, Leicester thus sacrificed possession to United. While aiming to take advantage of the home side’s high defensive line through long-distanced passes, Vardy was isolated due to the deeper positioning of Okazaki and Marc Albrighton. Vardy’s lone runs brought the best out of Eric Bailly, who timed interceptions and jumps to clear the ball well.
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