On a rainy Monday night, the in-form Leicester City gave Leeds United a Premier League reality check. Leicester enjoyed an impressive 4-1 win over Leeds at Elland Road. Leicester move up to the second position in the table after a fourth consecutive away win. This was also the home side’s heaviest defeat of the season. If and only if Leeds were more clinical in front of the goal, Leicester might have run up an even more painful score. Youri Tielemans struck twice and Jamie Vardy’s involvement in the first three goals were enough to continue their blistering form in this season, similar to what they had last year as well.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine the tactics implemented by Brendan Rodgers because of which Leicester were defensively solid and lethal on counter-attacks. This analysis will also highlight how Leeds tried to gain momentum in the second half but clearly failed to deal with Jamie Vardy and James Maddison when he came on.
Marcelo Bielsa set up his team in his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation. Illan Meslier remained in goal as he has been excellent this season. There was one change in defence, Liam Cooper, the captain returned to the starting lineup. Mateusz Klich started in place of Kalvin Phillips as the anchor of the team. Jamie Shackleton made his first Premier League start alongside Pablo Hernandez, who makes a return to the starting line-up replacing Rodrigo. Patrick Bamford led the line of attack for Leeds, who had six goals in six games.
The former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers opted for a 3-4-2-1 formation. James Justin, Wesley Fofana and Christian Fuchs started as the centre-backs in front of Kasper Schmeichel. Luke Thomas and Marc Albrighton made their first starts in the Premier League at left and right wing-back positions, respectively. Dennis Praet and Harvey Barnes started up top, just behind Vardy.
Leicester’s defensive organisation
Rodgers may have set up his team in a 3-4-2-1 formation, but off the ball, they kept a very compact 5-4-1 shape. This shape was ideal for Leicester as they could hit Leeds on the break. Their priority was to protect the spaces in the central areas and offer them less to no gap in between the lines. Wesley Fofana was playing as a sweeper in behind the back four and Vardy was up top, playing as a lone striker.
While in possession of the ball, Bielsa set up his team in a 3-1-3-3 shape. In the absence of Phillips, Leeds played Klich as the anchorman. But because of the shape, Leicester were playing, Klich was not offered any space to expose the game from that pocket of midfield.
As you can see here in the above picture, Vardy is using his shadow to mark Klich. Although Vardy was playing alone up front, he was handed the task to mark Klich and to not allow him to dictate plays from the central midfield.
Throughout the match, Leicester were very quick in shifting across from one side to another and the entire team would get behind the ball. As you can see here, the entire team has moved to their right flank to stop Leeds from attacking that flank. Leicester could match up with the speed in which Leeds switched flanks. Hence, they were able to create overloads on the flanks and did not allow Leeds to attack from there.
Problems for Leeds
As we know, Bielsa has deployed a high intensity and partial man-marking pressing scheme at Leeds. To break this pressing scheme, Rodgers had two ways. One of them was to play a long pass to Vardy and win the ball back as soon as possible. The other way has been shown in the above picture. Leicester often used their keeper in the build-up play, as they would pass it back to him. As you can see here, Shackleton is pressing Schmeichel and Bamford is using his shadow to cover Fofana. Hernandez is marking the third centre-back, Fuchs. Leeds have left Justin open on their left side, which is because Jack Harrison and Helder Costa were committed to their defensive duties, marking Albrighton and Thomas, respectively. Thus, Justin had a huge acre of space in front of him to run in to whenever Schmeichel played the ball to him.
Vardy was given the freedom to remain in the high and central areas, tasked with pinning the opposing centre-backs. As you can see in the above picture Leicester hit Leeds on the counter, Koch and Cooper drop off to delay Vardy and allow other players to fall back and help in defence. Vardy was very influential in this match as he got a goal and an assist to his name. He used his pace well to burst towards the opposing box and often found himself on the end of inviting passes from Tielemans, Barnes and Maddison. He was a constant menace for the opposing defence. It was a very commanding performance from Vardy as his pace, touch, balance and runs in behind caused the defenders problems on a slippery surface.
As we know, Leicester played a very low and compact defensive block. In the second half, Bielsa made a few changes. He brought on Ian Poveda for Shackleton and deployed him as a right-winger. Harrison moved into the central areas in place of Shackleton, and Costa moved out wide on the left flank. Leeds tried to attack through the wide areas to go around the defensive block and get into the opposition’s box. Most of the attacks came from the left flank where Harrison, Costa and Dallas combined to find a way into the final third but Leicester defended perfectly on the flanks.
As you can see here, Albrighton is marking Costa while Praet presses Harrison. In the process, Justin stepped out from the backline to close down Dallas, and Fofana was also present there to sweep away any through passes if needed. Such a scheme was followed on the other flank as well, where Fuchs would step out to close down Ayling. Thus, Leicester could block any incoming crosses and forced Leeds to play back. The stats show that Leeds completed only two of their 17 attempted crosses throughout the game, which is a shocking 12%.
Maddison was introduced into the game around the hour mark. While in possession of the ball, Maddison would drift into the central areas from the right flank. Thus, Leicester would form a 3-5-2 shape in which Barnes would move upfront with Vardy, as you can see in the above picture. He was brought on to restore a numerical superiority in the attack. He would drift inside and pick up the ball in space in the middle of the Leeds half, which dragged Dallas with him. Because of Leeds’ man-marking scheme, Dallas had to follow him and this left a gap in the defence for the opposition to attack. We’ll see how this movement from Maddison was effective in the next section.
Leicester’s lethal counter-attack
It seems like Rodgers had already decided that Leicester will not dominate possession as they enjoyed only 33% possession of the ball. Leicester played to their strengths like they used to do before. They defended deep to use Vardy’s pace as an obvious threat on the counter. We’ll now try to break down the most dangerous counter-attacks made by Leicester.
The above scenario started off with Schmeichel grabbing on to the ball, which was headed straight at him by Bamford. Schmeichel quickly started an attack by playing the ball to Fuchs on the left-hand side. Fuchs had exactly two seconds to make a decision or the moment would have passed. The Austrian defender sent a straightforward ball down the left flank. Barnes and Vardy exploded quickly to gain an advantage of the disorganisation of the opposing team at the back.
Koch got on to the ball first and had a chance to clear it. But Koch lost his bearings when Barnes challenged him. It allowed Barnes to get goal side.
An under hit back pass from Koch reached Vardy. After claiming possession, Vardy flicked the ball back into the path of Barnes to cut out both Koch and Meslier. Barnes finished into an empty net to give Leicester a 1-0 lead. Leicester opened up the Leeds defence in their first attack with only three minutes on the clock. The early decision from Fuchs worked out quite well, and the support provided by Barnes enabled Leicester to go 2 v 2 in a counter-attacking situation.
Leicester got another huge opportunity in the eighth minute when a Schmeichel goal-kick fell straight on to the head of Barnes who knocked it off to Vardy. Then Barnes made a run forward straight at the opposing defence. Vardy takes a touch with his left foot and puts in a perfectly weighted through ball for Barnes, who races forward and is one-on-one with Meslier. Just a little heavy touch from Barnes allows Meslier to get there between Barnes and the goal.
Barnes quickly recognised the developing play and saw that the opposition’s defence were too static as they didn’t engage or drop off to stop the attack. This allowed him to break through and explode into the space in between the defenders.
The above situation arose when Justin won the ball on the halfway line and Tielemans claimed possession of the ball. He started the move by breaking forward and played the pass to Albrighton on the touchline. Albrighton took a touch and looped a cross into the opposition’s box. Vardy’s movement inside the box allowed him to lose his markers and make a diving header to force Meslier into a save. Meslier parried the ball into the path of Tielemans, who then finished from point-blank range and made it 2-0.
Leicester remained a constant threat on the break, as we saw in the above situation. They regained possession of the ball in the middle third and made a quick offensive transition to the final third extremely fast as Tielemans started and finished the move.
Cengiz Under replaced Barnes in the 71st minute and switched flanks with Maddison. Once again, the move started with Schmeichel. The keeper played the ball to Fuchs on the left flank. Fuchs recognised the developing play, as Thomas was up high and wide. While Maddison dropped into the half-space in the middle and received a threaded pass from Fuchs.
As you can see here, Leicester pounce on the break, as Maddison has enough space to turn in between Leeds’ box and the centre circle. Maddison breaks forward and plays a perfectly weighted pass in between Cooper and Dallas, only to find Under running from behind Dallas. Dallas got up in time to block Under, but the Turkish winger lofted the ball over Dallas and Meslier and, to no-one’s surprise, Vardy had placed himself well for a tap-in to make it 3-1.
The substitutions worked out well for Leicester, and the credit goes to Rodgers. He brought on Maddison, a more creative player than Barnes, and Under in place of Praet, who is a more direct winger. Maddison’s movement dragged Ayling out of the defensive line, and Under’s well-timed run from the halfway line allowed to open up the Leeds defence once again.
Rodgers’ Leicester looked sharp, ruthless and clinical throughout the match, whereas Leeds looked shaky when in possession of the ball and indecisive off it. Leeds could not deal with Vardy’s runs in behind their defence and tried to get back in the game in the second half. But after Maddison was brought on, he made a huge impact as he regained control for the visitors and created opportunities with his direct passing. Leeds are now 12th on the table, but only three points outside the top four. They have matches against Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Everton coming up, which will give us a better idea of where this season is heading for them.