Leicester City’s plateau in form continued, as they were second-best against Fulham on Monday in the Premier League. This was due to a combination of Leicester’s lack of ideas in possession and sharp tactics from Scott Parker’s team.
Fulham’s setup was aimed at stopping Leicester playing to their strengths. They were, moreover, effective on the counter, as Leicester were noticeably lethargic at times. Ultimately, the match rewarded Fulham’s refreshing discipline and underlined Leicester’s fatigue from earlier in the Europa League.
This match report provides a tactical analysis of a contest that affected the top as well as the bottom three in the league. Our analysis delves into the inherent counter-attacking tactics from the flanks.
Fulham’s formation paid a ton of respect to Leicester’s quality. Parker opted for a 5-4-1 for the first time this season, but the average position of each player was unlike a traditional 5-4-1.
On the ball, their setup often transposed into a 4-2-3-1, with Bobby Reid pushing into an advanced wide role. With routine overloads on the right, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Ademola Lookman were agents of counter-attacks on the left. The 5-4-1 was, therefore, dynamic in nature.
Leicester lined up in their signature 3-4-2-1, with James Justin and Luke Thomas as their wing-backs. They were notably high up the pitch, as Wesley Fofana and Christian Fuchs routinely moved to full-back positions to cover spaces. James Maddison and Dennis Praet were positioned to operate in between the lines and provide creative support to Jamie Vardy up front.
After trailing at the break, Leicester switched to a 4-1-3-2. This was primarily meant to add an extra blue shirt on each flank. Consequently, Cengiz Under and Harvey Barnes looked positive in tandem with Maddison and Vardy.
The following sections shall further dismantle the opposing forces that contributed to the outcome of the match.
Ball possession was a crucial statistic in the match, as it personified the opposing approaches advocated by both teams. Leicester’s 68% possession in this game is notably higher than their average of 51.2% in the Premier League.
Additionally, Fulham happily obliged, as they defended in two large defensive lines that formed a chain. This adopted catenaccio style is corroborated by their higher than average passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA) of 17.45.
Both ends of the spectrum have distinct requirements. The team in possession must be wary of excessively lateral passes. This may make them predictable and drain their sense of urgency. That possession doesn’t necessarily translate into breaking lines, as is illustrated in the following image.
The majority of Leicester’s pass combinations are between their centre-backs. Furthermore, the lack of a consistent passing link in the final third is quite evident in the above map.
Thus, Leicester were fairly lateral in their possession chains. Their extra possession may have arguably hindered their attacking phase, as they were unable to utilise transitions in a way that would create substantial chances.
Conversely, the team without possession must influence the game through their transitions. Consider Fulham’s pass map in the following image.
In addition to having significantly fewer passes, it is noteworthy that the top pass links for Fulham are vertical in nature. This was evident in Fulham’s sharpness during transitions.
Anguissa was crucial in executing these transitions. His ability to hold and recycle the ball was telling in his pass accuracy of 92.3%. Furthermore, both of his shot-creating actions were goal-creating actions. His box-to-box work rate was immense in the way Fulham operated as well.
His interplay with Lookman stood out. While Anguissa initiated counter-attacks, Lookman performed decisive actions in the final third. His total progressive distance of 209 yards was more than any other white shirt on the pitch, and his four shots merited an individual xG (expected goals) of 0.6 as well.
Among several lacklustre performances from the Leicester players, Youri Tielemans was the best player in a blue shirt. He recorded one second-assist, six shot-creating actions and 14 passes to the final third. Furthermore, one of his three shots hit the post.
Despite Tielemans’ influence, Leicester had 1.28 xG, as opposed to Fulham’s 2.04. The following sections shall provide a tactical breakdown of the overarching statistical outline.
Leicester in possession and Fulham’s defensive chain
Leicester held a notably high line and progressed the ball through their centre-backs, with Fulham allowing them to freely do so. The following position encapsulates this.
Nampalys Mendy, Tielemans and Maddison capture the 6, 8 and 10 roles for Leicester respectively. Moreover, whenever Thomas and Justin get forward, Mendy routinely tucks in as a right centre-back, forming a back four.
Their relatively vertical positions are combated by Fulham’s defensive chain. In the above position, they are set up in a 6-4 (or 5-1-4) formation.
Fulham’s compactness in the centre, combined with the lack of a press, prompts Jonny Evans to play it wide. Passing options for the wide player are then limited, due to the narrowness of Fulham’s catenaccio.
Fulham’s defensive routine involved zonal marking and anticipating passes. Consider the following image.
Ivan Cavaleiro’s ability to connect with the first defensive line allowed Fulham to eliminate spaces in their own half. Harrison Reed’s initial position was wider – aimed at having a numerical superiority on the wing. However, his anticipation of Fofana’s pass permitted him to cover the distance between him and Maddison.
The free space for Maddison is a tactical trap because it encourages Fofana to make a riskier pass. If the pass is successful, then Maddison would quickly find himself in a 3 v 1 situation.
Leicester’s possession for a large period of time prompted Fofana to attempt the pass to Maddison. Consequently, Cavaleiro’s contribution to Fulham’s first defensive line of four permitted him to comfortably make an interception and initiate a counter.
Fulham in transitions
A combination of Leicester’s time on the ball and the advanced positions of their wing-backs made them particularly vulnerable to counter-attacks. Furthermore, Fulham’s first defensive line of four had the latent potential of exploiting the spaces between the wing-backs and centre-backs.
Leicester’s complacency due to having the majority of the ball is illustrated in the above position. Anguissa’s explosive pace, in conjunction with his ball-shielding abilities, permits him to complete a 25-yard dribble into the final third. The swift directness of his ball progression exposes the Foxes’ three centre-backs.
Teams with a high defensive line normally employ the offside trap on the break, but Evans instead normally plays in a traditional sweeper role. He is, therefore, incorrectly positioned here, as Anguissa’s pass to Lookman is decisive. Justin (nearly six to seven yards behind) needed to be more alert in order to track Anguissa’s run in this case.
In addition, Fulham visibly used the right-hand side of the pitch through a positional overload, caused by the versatility of Bobby Decordova-Reid. Off the ball, he was deeply positioned at the tip of Fulham’s defensive chain. On the ball, he routinely initiated a rotation with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ola Aina. The former drifts into the centre, while the latter fills into right-back in a back four. Consider the following position.
Thomas is so occupied by Decordova-Reid’s initiative that he’s unaware of half-spaces opening up behind him. Aina’s percentage ball puts Fuchs under pressure. This permitted Fulham to win the second ball and register a chance on goal.
The overload from the right caused unanswered problems for Leicester. Furthermore, Fuchs was routinely targeted in 50-50 situations. This inherent pressure ultimately led to Fulham winning the penalty for their second goal.
Leicester’s indecisiveness echoed in their defending too. The following image illustrates the fatigue that was apparent among the Foxes.
In a situation where Leicester had to track back, this was a case of ball-watching. A combination of indecisive actions saw Antonee Robinson not only enter Leicester’s penalty area but also deliver an accurate grounded cross.
Justin’s advanced position was once again exposed, as he was unable to close in on his man. As a result, Fofana was drawn out wide, exposing central spaces in the box. Moreover, Tielemans is ball-watching too, as he fails to track the central runners. The presence of free white shirts at the edge of the box demonstrates Leicester’s lack of solidity in transitions.
Modern football has demonstrated the importance of a player’s work rate. When a team’s work rate drops by even four or five per cent, it makes a considerable difference. The Leicester on Monday evening suffered from such a drop, whilst Fulham were quite the opposite and looked like they wanted to bounce back from the disciplinary errors they’ve suffered from.
This match report analysed how the disparity in ball possession between the two teams determined how they approached the game. Ultimately, Fulham won the match because they won the battle on the wings, and were always probing on the ball.
Scott Parker will use this momentum to string together a few favourable results moving forward. Leicester’s lost chance to close the gap on Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur may raise questions regarding their game management and Rodgers’s tactical solutions.