The 2nd and 3rd-placed sides in the Premier League table respectively going into the matchday – Leicester City and Aston Villa squared off for Sunday’s final fixture. The Foxes were keen to bounce back from a disappointing 3-0 defeat against West Ham, while the Clarets wanted to maintain their 100% record and continue the momentum they had found following that 7-2 thrashing of Liverpool.
After a slightly underwhelming encounter, Aston Villa carved out a 0-1 victory thanks to Ross Barkley’s late goal. Here, we will take a look at the tactics and setups of both sides in a tactical analysis.
Before we begin the analysis, let’s take a look at the lineups.
Leicester City fielded a 4-2-3-1 with Kasper Schmeichel in goal. The back-four was comprised of Timothy Castagne, debutante Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans and James Justin. Nampalys Mendy was partnered by Youri Tielemans in holding midfield, while Dennis Praet was in front of them. Ayoze Pérez and Harvey Barnes provided width, with Kelechi Iheanacho replacing the injured Jamie Vardy at the sharp end.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, deployed a 4-2-3-1 with Emiliano Martínez in between the sticks. Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyron Mings and Matt Targett were the four defenders, while the double pivot in midfield involved Douglas Luiz and John McGinn. Ross Barkley was the attacking midfielder, and he had Trézéguet and Jack Grealish on either side of him. Ollie Watkins led the line for Dean Smith’s men.
Similar defensive shapes
Both sides switched to a similar shape when they didn’t have the ball. Neither team looked to heavily press the opposing backlines, as they were content to stay compact and prevent the opposition from playing their way through.
Leicester City achieved this by moving to a 4-4-2 off possession, with the attacking midfielder pushing up and the two wide attackers joining the midfield line.
Initially, Aston Villa tried to defend with a 4-3-3, with Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley joining Ollie Watkins up front.
This allowed Castagne to get forward, move into space and cause some problems in Villa’s defence.
Although that pass didn’t quite come off, Dean Smith saw that as a clear warning and decided that he would have to change things.
After that, Aston Villa switched to a formation close to a 4-4-2, with the key difference being that. Douglas Luiz dropped in between the midfield and defensive lines to create a 4-1-3-2
As you can see above, Jack Grealish pushed forward as he did previously, but Ross Barkley crucially moved to the left of midfield with John McGinn staying central. Ollie Watkins and Trézéguet were in their usual positions.
Thus, both sides’ defensive shapes were quite similar, and they were equally disciplined too – making the match slightly boring.
Aston Villa’s tweaks in midfield
Aston Villa’s game didn’t start too well, as they struggled to break past Leicester and were second-best for the first quarter of the match.
Initially, their midfield in possession saw John McGinn and Douglas Luiz stay back while Ross Barkley pushed forward as a number 10, as is evident below.
However, that didn’t quite work as McGinn and Luiz lacked the flair and quality to be able to carry the ball further up the pitch. Instead, the pair of them were just sitting deep and passing the ball around aimlessly until Leicester pressed them and the keeper punted a long ball up the pitch.
Dean Smith sought to change that, so he asked Ross Barkley and John McGinn to switch roles around the 20th minute, as you can see below.
This allowed the Chelsea loanee to use his quality to his side’s advantage as he saw a lot more of the ball and participated more heavily in the midfield battle.
Below, you can see how Barkley uses his delicate touch to pluck the ball out of the sky and set Douglas Luiz away.
With a slick piece of control, Barkley was able to send Douglas Luiz into space.
Because of Barkley’s good work, all Luiz had to do was play a simple pass to John McGinn to effectively take the Leicester midfield out of the game.
McGinn’s pass was just about nudged away, but it was evident that Barkley’s influence in midfield could sway the match.
Leicester City’s openness after the substitutions
Leicester didn’t look anywhere near as good in the second half as they did in the opening stages, so they knew that they would have to change something to get back in the match. Ever since Aston Villa switched to a 4-1-3-2 off possession, Leicester failed to play their way through. Brendan Rodgers sent James Maddison on in the 68th minute in a bid to add a spark in his side’s attacks. Three minutes later, Islam Slimani joined the fray too. Finally, in the 78th minute, Hamza Choudhury replaced Nampalys Mendy.
Formation-wise, the substitutions changed nothing, as is evident below.
However, Islam Slimani’s presence changed one thing – the fact that Leicester’s attack would be able to transition really quickly as he acted as a target man. The Algerian international linked up well with James Maddison, who enjoyed pushing forward.
Above, you can see Slimani taking a long ball down. He cushions it into space for Maddison, who can then use his dribbling ability to run at the defence. In this manner, Slimani was able to bring the Englishman int the game.
The side-effect of this, though, was that the front-four were often disjointed from the rest of the side in transition, meaning that if Villa were able to move the ball quickly, there would be space to exploit between Leicester’s lines.
Above, you can clearly see the belt of space between Leicester’s attack and midfield as the ball is being turned over. Villa have three players positioned to exploit it, and things can’t end well for Leicester if the ball reaches anyone of them. In the end, it reached Jack Grealish of all people, but luckily for the Foxes, there were no major ramifications after that.
This disjointedness proved to be the difference in the end, as Villa were able to play their way through Leicester before scoring the match-winning goal.
It all kicked off when James Maddison (with his fresh legs) tried to apply pressure on the ball. This forced Hamza Choudhury to push up from holding midfield in order to make sure that Douglas Luiz didn’t have a lot of free space.
Above, you can see the absurd amount of space that Ross Barkley has been afforded. Because Maddison and Choudhury pushed up, Leicester ‘mid’field trio was concentrated on their right, but two of them were behind the ball. Villa’s next objective was to get past Tielemans and feed the ball into Barkley’s space. They started that as Matt Targett passes to John McGinn, whose forward position was put into good use here.
McGinn then helped it onto Ross Barkley, who remained in an acre of space and far clear of Hamza Choudhury. The 26-year-old midfielder carried it forward and moved into a shooting position.
Leicester’s centre-backs kept backing off, and although Choudhury got close, he couldn’t get close enough to prevent Ross Barkley from finding the bottom corner and sealing the three points for Aston Villa.
The clash between two of the most well-drilled sides in the English top-flight panned out just as expected – with few goals and solid performances all around the pitch. Neither side suffered any defensive lapses and the tactical decisions and tweaks made by both managers worked just as they would have wanted them to. In the end, Leicester City’s push for a winner led to their downfall.
A strong performance from Leicester City went unrewarded, but the better side did win in the end. As for Aston Villa, they remain the only side in the Premier League with a 100% record this season, so is the title challenge on?