Leicester City hosted Crystal Palace on Premier League matchday 33 after a slow return since the restart. With the likes of Chelsea, Wolves and Manchester United breathing down their necks, anything less than three points would have been a dreadful result for the Foxes. Meanwhile, Roy Hodgson’s men who are well clear of relegation fancied their chances for European places.
An encouraging first half for Leicester laid the stone for what’s to follow. The opener from Kelechi Iheanacho and a double from Jaime Vardy made sure the hosts maintained their position in the league table.
After a 2–1 loss at Goodison Park, the 47-year-old manager changed both shape and personnel lining his side in a 4–3–1–2 formation. Dennis Praet and Harvey Barnes made way for Ayoze Pérez and Iheanacho with everything else unchanged.
Hodgson, meanwhile, stuck with his rotation policy even after back to back defeats. Palace lined up in a 4–1–4–1 shape with Gary Cahill partnering Mamadou Sakho in defence and Christian Benteke serving as a target man with Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew behind him.
The Statistical story
Being the home side and chasing Champions League places, the onus was on Leicester to push for three points. The football match ran its traditional course of the home side pushing with dominating possession in the opposition half while the travellers sat deep with a defensive low block trying to hit the opposition on the counter.
The opening goal would influence the direction of the game and with each passing minute, the trailing side would have to risk more to gain a foothold in the match. Such was the nature of the clash between Leicester and Palace where the game opened up after the hosts took the lead following a mistake from Vicente Guaita.
The above theory was evident in every facet of the game – be it attacking and defensive metrics, possession, or any other relevant statistic. Let’s have a look at the possession chart first.
As we can see, the Foxes started the game with close to 70% possession in the first quarter of an hour and ended up with an overall 58% in the first 45 minutes. They struck gold when Iheanacho found himself at the end of a Youri Tielemans cross in the 48th minute.
Consequently, Rodgers’ men shifted from their original strategy and decided to drop deep to preserve their one-goal advantage which saw their possession percentage drop to a mere 37% in the second half.
It caused a ripple effect as Palace saw a meteoric rise in their possession statistics jumping from 42% in the first half to 63% in the second 45. To further consolidate the analysis, let’s delve into the sides’ pressing patterns.
It’s conspicuous from the chart above that the Foxes were the better side when it came to pressing their opponent. Again that singular event of the opening goal proved to be a turning point in the game.
The Eagles were now chasing the game and were forced out of their defensive third. They averaged a PPDA of 20 as compared to 10.5 of the Foxes before the goal which was reduced to a far better 12.1 as Leicester’s PPDA took a hit ending up at 11.3 in the second half.
Other than possession and PPDA, the Foxes also outplayed the visitors in the defensive and final third recording an xG of 1.52 and 13 shots in comparison to Eagles’ 0.53 xG and five shots.
Leicester’s buildup and attacking play
The hosts built up from the back in a fluid 3-2/2-3 shape with the right-back James Justin dynamic in his movement alongside the two centre-backs and the double pivot.
Ben Chilwell moved up in attack alongside Pérez, Iheanacho, and Marc Albrighton aiding Vardy in the attacking third. Justin also joined the quartet offering passing lanes as they pinned Palace in their half.
Leicester planned their attacks in two ways – going direct in search of Vardy upfront exploiting the spaces behind or recycling the possession from one wing to another to generate spaces for a pop at goal or an opportunity for a cross inside the box.
The second approach was far more effective and common before the first and second goals while the first one came in handy on occasions and after the hosts had a lead to protect.
As we can see in the image above, the Foxes created overloads with Chilwell moving up forcing Hodgson’s men to shift towards the ball side to counteract the numerical superiority. As soon as Palace’s defensive lines shift towards the ball side, Tielemans switched play to Albrighton on the opposite wing.
They repeated the same pattern with Chilwell on the left-side to attack Eagles’ penalty box. This at times also opened up spaces in the centre which led to Justin rattling the Palace crossbar in the 14th minute.
Looking into the attacking patterns of the Foxes, it’s quite clear that all of their 35 attacks were scattered all across the pitch with 11 of them resulting in shots.
The trio of Perez, Tielemans, and Chilwell/Albrighton was too much to handle for the visitors as they conjured up most clear cut goal scoring opportunities for Rodgers’ men.
Crystal Palace’s hollow attacking strategy
The Eagles followed a passive/aggressive approach from the start and were successful in keeping the hosts at bay until the half-time whistle. However, a string of mistakes for the first and second goals took the game away from their grasp as their hopes of European places suffered a massive hit.
Hodgson’s men preferred the direct approach and often went long in search of Benteke as they sought to play to their strengths. The Belgian was at the end of 23 passes from his teammates, most of which were hoofed from the back.
The idea was simple – To get it down the pitch where they could win second balls and simultaneously getting it as far as possible from their goal. This tactic, however, didn’t work as they had hoped and Palace ended up with only a single shot on target.
Whenever they found the opportunity, Hodgson’s men did try and build up from the back but met strong resistance from Leicester who pressed high especially until the opening goal of the game.
Luka Milivojević dropped in between and alongside the two centre-backs with the fullbacks stretching the pitch and moving high forming a 343/352 shape. They formulated 40 attacks in total, four of which resulted in a shot which says a lot about their futile approach and excellent defensive work from Rodgers’ men.
Its no doubt that their schoolboy mistakes cost them dearly but being so ineffective in the opposition half only welcomes trouble and cannot be justified. 21 of the 40 attacks they formed ended up in <0.01 xG which sums up their effort over 90 minutes.
Defending and Pressing structures
As we have discussed above, the game started in a certain flow. Before the opening goal, Palace defended in a 4–5–1 low block with everyone behind the ball except Benteke.
Then in the opening minutes of the second half, Palace’s conservative approach took a hit as Iheanacho nudged one into the back of Eagles’ net. This reversed the roles and made Hodgson’s men leave their nests to fight it out in the middle.
Immediately after the goal, the Eagles lined themselves up in the attacking third thirsty to win possession for their side. In the two instances, we can see the reaction of the Palace’s players pressing Leicester high in the middle and attacking third.
As a precautionary measure, Leicester decided to defend with numbers to not give their opponents any chance of a comeback.
We can see a 5–4–1 shape with the wing-backs aiding the first defensive line and double pivot dropping deep to provide a cover. Vardy is left alone upside for the chance of a counter-attacking opportunity which did arrive during the stoppage time.
Anyone who has watched the full 90 minutes would agree it’s a fair result. Leicester dominated the game from the first until the last minute totally in control of most events happening on the pitch especially in their defensive third.
Palace, on the other hand, was opened up time and again. Between Justin hitting the bar, Vardy not able to get the ball under control in front of goal, and Iheanacho missing a sitter in the opening quarter, they were lucky not to concede five or even six goals.