The EPL is back, and the first part of an epic Sunday of Premier League football saw West Bromwich Albion make their first appearance back in the top flight when they took on Leicester City, who narrowly missed out on Champions League football last season. The Baggies were bouncing to be back and will try their best to stay in the division.
Leicester, on the other hand, will be hurt that they missed out on Champions League football and will be looking to replicate what was an impressive season last season. The likes of Jamie Vardy and James Maddison would have to replicate their standings from last season would continue, as not much business has been done from the King Power Stadium.
With Tottenham Hotspur playing Everton and Arsenal already winning earlier in the weekend, a win was vital for Leicester. Meanwhile, West Brom have made signings and will be looking to maintain some form and not go straight back down. It was an interesting rivalry which was going to be played out on an opening day.
In the end, Leicester City showed their quality and condemned West Bromwich Albion to a 3-0 defeat on opening day. Jamie Vardy scored two penalties and a debut goal for Timothy Castagne meant that Leicester started the season with a bang. They will be looking to replicate this form moving forward and hope to push for European football. West Bromwich Albion, on the other hand, will be disappointed with the result, but they showed good form throughout the game and will take positives with the hope of staying in the division. If they can turn their enthusiasm and effort into results, they have every chance of staying up.
West Bromwich Albion started in a 5-4-1 which varied to a 3-4-2-1 when attacking. Sam Johnstone started in goal. Dara O’Shea, Semi Ajayi, and Kyle Bartley made up the three central defenders. Kieran Gibbs and Darnell Furlong were the wing-backs, who would be looking to get forward and stay wide. Romaine Sawyers and Jake Livermore were the two central midfielders, looking to bring balance and stability. Matheus Pereira and Grady Dianganga were the inside forwards, with Callum Robinson leading the line.
As for Leicester City, they lined up in a 4-1-4-1. Kasper Schmeichel started between the sticks while Timothy Castange and James Justin were the full-backs. Çağlar Söyüncü and Wilfred Ndidi started as the two centre-backs, with the latter filling in for Jonny Evans who was suspended. Nampalys Mendy was the sitting defensive midfielder, with Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet slightly further in front. Harvey Barnes pushed to the left and Ayoze Pérez pushed to the right while Jamie Vardy was situated through the middle.
Though Jamie Vardy got man of the match, Tielemans was the player in a Leicester City shirt that was really pulling the strings from midfield. He had an 83% passing accuracy rate whilst also completing three dribbles. He was excellent throughout the game and provided Leicester with a real bedrock of forward-thinking, progressive play. His positioning was an interesting aspect of this.
When West Brom had the ball and Leicester were in a defensive shape, it was Mendy that would drop between the two centre-backs and provide defensive steel. However, when Leicester had the ball and were looking to move it forward, Tielemans would drop into the backline to pick up the ball deep and move the ball forward when it was possible. This allowed an increase in the build-up play that Leicester were able to produce and it also allowed the other attacking players to get more involved in the game.
When Maddison came to the game later on, it meant that he was much more involved as Tielemans was in total control of the game and allowed him to play through the middle. Overall, he was excellent and was a huge reason as to why Leicester won the game.
Below is an example of this. We can see Tielemans picking up the ball in the deep area of the pitch. We can see four West Brom players around him, which is evidence of his excellent positioning. He can get the ball, turn, and find a pass to the left side which allows Leicester to move forward on the transition. He was doing this throughout the game which allowed Leicester the freedom in attacking transitions.
Having a player like Tielemans is vital. When Leicester have the ball, it allows the team to get forward with the ball. When Leicester are at their best, their midfield is Ndidi, Maddison, and Tielemans – this is one of the most well-balanced midfields in the Premier League. It has defensive stability and an excellent amount of ball-playing technical ability which allows the other players in attacking areas to have the freedom to attack the opposition in many ways.
Due to injuries, Leicester have had to adapt and make changes which meant that Ndidi had to play at centre-back. This brought about the need to make personal and tactical changes which provided stability and attacking threats. Tielemans filling in these deep positions gave Leicester a huge amount of control during the game, hence their ability to find spaces when they moved forward into attacking areas.
Below is another example of this. We can see Tielemans dropping into the backline to pick up the ball. This allows the other attacking players to make forward runs and find themselves in positions whereby they are able to affect the game. Having a ball player that can find these positions was vital for Leicester on the day and it allowed total control of the game.
West Brom’s attacking setup
From a West Brom perspective, stopping Leicester playing their usual game was the most important aspect of the game. As mentioned in the lineups sections, when West Brom looked to attack, they moved forward with a front three. They had the freedom to go forward as there was a back five and a midfield two to cover them.
This tactic is one that could work for them going forward and getting the attacking players forward to score goals is something that West Brom will be looking to do. The front three, whilst not having any success from an attacking point of view, where extremely enthusiastic and put pressure on the opposition defence.
Had they had more quality on the ball, the positions they found themselves in were impressive and they could have scored goals. The front three was very narrow, which would allow them to be closer together when they looked to counter-attack. This was vital, as Leicester were likely to move men forward whenever possible.
Below is an example of this. We can see the West Brom forward three very close together when trying to counter-attack. As mentioned, they struggled to show any real quality when they had the ball and this, in turn, meant that they had very limited attacking success. Had they been able to move the ball forward quicker and had a better final ball, they could have caused problems for the Leicester back four. This could be the realisation needed to bring in extra quality in the attacking department.
The structure to which West Brom played from was also interesting to look at. As we have mentioned, the front three were very narrow and came to the inside channel when it was possible. This, in turn, allowed the wing-backs on the day to push slightly wider with the hope of creating two-vs-one situations in the wider areas. The hope was also that one of the central midfielders would move to their respective side and help out in this build-up play. This was accompanied by the three centre-backs spreading out and helping with the build-up play.
On paper, this seemed like a very sensible attacking setup which would displace key components of the Leicester defensive structure, however, as mentioned earlier, there was a real lack of quality and Leicester were easily able to deal with West Brom’s attack. The Baggies never created any clear chances and Leicester had a pretty easy defensive job throughout the game. However, the structure they had in place was a positive one and if they can build on this with quality, then they have every chance of staying in the division.
Below is an example of this structure in full effect. We can see Gibbs on the side with the other West Brom players attempting to support him and creating overlaps. As mentioned, had they provided more quality in these positions, they would have had every chance of scoring goals and causing problems for the opposition. This was the problem on the day and Leicester were able to defend with ease.
The first 35 minutes or so were tough for Leicester and they struggled to get into the game. West Brom didn’t do much to hurt them the other way, however, Leicester did not keep the ball well and lacked an offensive structure. They were unable to keep the ball and they didn’t hurt West Brom in any way.
This could be put down to the fact that Brenden Rodgers allowed too much flexibility in attacking areas and they were unable to find a structure which suited them. Players were out of position and they lacked a sense of understanding when they had the ball. Vardy was unable to get in behind and the likes of Barnes were not influencing the game at all. The changes they made will be discussed shortly, however, it is vital to understand the poor display they put up at the start of the game.
Below is an example of this in the first half. We can see the real lack of structure that they have in attacking areas. This could have been due to a missing of Maddison, who made a real difference. While they struggled massively for the first 35 minutes, they eventually managed to improve afterwards.
Despite this, after the 35-minute mark, Leicester made some changes which allowed them to have a structure of attacking play. This was important as it gave them some balance in the game. The noticeable aspect of these changes was the front three.
As opposed to them being all over the place for the first 35 minutes, they were organised and together as a forward three. The midfield three was a lot more structured as well which provided a balance. Barnes, who was nowhere for the first 35 minutes, came to light as he moved much more to the inside. Vardy was also much more involved which was beneficial for Leicester.
This carried on into the second half whereby Leicester completely controlled the game and showed a level of dominance which was not present during the first 35 minutes. The front three being closer together was vital, as they could be found more easily and they were in much better positions. As they continued this in the second half, it brought about greater rewards.
Below is an example of this attacking structure. We can see the front three extremely close together, thus allowing build-up play to occur. This trend continued into the second half which translated into goals and control of the game. West Brom couldn’t control this and it was a huge reason that Leicester were able to succeed.
To conclude, the quality of Leicester City eventually was too much for West Brom to control by the end of the game. It was a good lesson for the Baggies about the quality of the league itself and the tough tests that lie ahead. As for Leicester, it was a good start in what is a tough away game. They will be looking to build on this moving forward and maintain a run of form that they were not able to last season. If they can do this, they should be considered a strong competitor for European football next season. Whatever happens, it is looking like yet another fantastic Premier League season.