Leicester City – Manchester City: Passive And Press Trumps Bumpy Control (1-0)

Uncharacteristically, Pep Guardiola’s team began the game with little of the ball. Once Manchester City got the ball back, Leicester City quickly adapted to plug the holes. Although randomness broke the deadlock, Leicester were worth their win against an underwhelming City team missing several household names. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker. 

Community Shields and Super Cups alike pose a difficult viewpoint, in terms of its significance. A late pre-season feature or genuine silverware? Nevertheless, it’s the first glimpse of new ideas and reinventions, being on show for a wider audience.

Leicester’s smart recruitment, over the past few seasons, has seen them continuously trade punches against superior budgets. Signing Boubakary Soumaré and Patson Daka can lay down a significant marker, two exciting products that add great ability in the middle and attacking thirds. Serious injury to center-back Wesley Fofana dampens the pre-season mood, but Rodgers’ team have an excellent squad to compete for top places. 

That being said, Manchester City are still the team to beat. They strutted towards the title in their flexible fashion, blitzing through opponents with wide rotations and no fixed number nine. Despite this, Guardiola still felt the need to break the British transfer record for Jack Grealish. Though similar in profile and coming into an already stacked attack, Grealish will offer world-class creative ability and a natural fit in this Man City structure. 

Rodgers lined his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which consisted of Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Ricardo Pereira and Ryan Bertrand as fullbacks, whilst Çağlar Söyüncü and Daniel Amartey completed the backline. Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans started as the double pivot, Two central midfielders next to each other. with Ayoze Pérez, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes ahead. Jamie Vardy played in the striker position.

Guardiola was more experimental in his starting eleven. Zack Steffen was placed between the posts, with João Cancelo, Rúben Dias, Nathan Aké and Benjamin Mendy in front of him. Fernandinho, İlkay Gündoğan and Cole Palmer made the midfield three, with an attack which consisted of Samuel Edozie, Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres. 

Leicester’s deep circulation

One always expects a Guardiola team to dominate the ball from the start, but this was one of those rare occasions when his opponents stepped to the helm. After twenty minutes, Leicester had recorded 59% of the possession, mostly from comfortable exchanges deep in their half. 

With a wide split between the center-backs, close support from the fullbacks and a double pivot being the main focus for the opposition block, Leicester were able to move the ball easily on the outside of Man City’s 4-2-4 pressing shape. 

Cole Palmer was the Man City player who stepped up and joined the frontline. Their cover shadows When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. were able to cut off Ndidi and Tielemans, the two players who Leicester heavily rely upon to get the ball forward. Due to the close matching, Leicester always moved the ball on the outside and only fed their center-midfielders when the City forwards were deeper. 

The issue for Rodgers’ team was the fact that there was no real mechanism in moving the ball cleanly, into the middle and final thirds. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. There was no target man to contest the aerial duels or a supreme technical attacker to control difficult passes, in limited space and bring runners into the game.

13th minute: Example of Leicester beating Man City’s 4-2-4 press. With Maddison dropping deep, he was able to receive with no pressure and create an overload deep. Though Man City was able to keep compactness, a third man run from Tielemans enabled progression – a sequence which wasn’t used enough by Leicester.

One solution that Leicester had was when James Maddison dropped, as deep as the double pivot, which would create a three-versus-two overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. against Man City’s strikers. With both Fernandinho and Gündoğan forced deep to keep them balanced, Maddison could drop with no player tracking his movements and could also create space for Tielemans to make a third man run. A passing combination between two players, while a third player simultaneously makes a run, usually in behind the opponent’s defensive line. After the initial combination, the ball is quickly played in depth for the third player to run onto. However, Leicester did not utilize this sequence enough and lost Maddison further afield, which resulted in their wingers being outnumbered on the attack. 

Their most dangerous moments came in semi-transitional attacks, Maddison dealing with higher balls forward on the right, to feed Harvey Barnes on the left, who was afforded more room when the ball was on the other side of the field. Barnes offered excellent carries towards the box, but formulating shots was more difficult, with several Man City players still in the defensive line and not a lot of movements from other attackers to pull markers apart. 

Flexibility without fluency 

After the opening stages, City grew into the game and got more of the ball. This is where standard Man City got more involved, back in the 2-3-2-3 / 3-2-2-3 systems and usual flexibility that this offers. Cancelo and Mendy both operated centrally, whilst both wide center-midfielders and wingers exchanged positions within the buildup. 

Leicester’s press was more reactive than City’s. Out of the 4-2-3-1 formation, they offered more triggers out wide to encourage the opposition inside, whilst traps were set from the double pivot to close down the receiver. However, Palmer and Gündoğan could still receive on the blind side and Leicester toned down their intensity as the first half continued. 

Man City’s flexibility came on the left side of the field and created the most danger. With Gündoğan still deep and Edozie pinning markers further afield, Mendy was able to provide underlapping Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. runs out of central positions into the halfspace. If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. Leicester had a big issue in dealing with these moves, Mendy often received unmarked and delivered a couple of good balls towards the box, but City struggled to turn this into good shot quality.

15th minute: Aké’s pass to the unoccupied Gündoğan triggered an underlapping run from Mendy out of the central position. His run went unmarked, due to Leicester players on the side matching with Man City players out wide and Mendy’s cross was skewed by Söyüncü, just over the crossbar.

Such flexibility on the left created space for Palmer on the right. When he collected the ball in front of Ndidi, Palmer had a difficult time in beating the Premier League’s ultimate duel-winner, but circulation on the left encouraged Ndidi to focus on Gündoğan or Fernandinho, meaning Palmer was able to receive behind the midfielder.

Despite Man City gaining more control, they struggled to move the ball back inside and into more dangerous positions. There were very few penetrative runs behind the defensive line and Torres did not offer the central pinning to glue the center-backs to him. When Leicester was deep, Man City exchanges were too slow to pull the opposition shape apart. 

Like Rodgers’ team, their best moments came in the transition. Their fastest moves came when one of the double pivot would lose the ball, which created a central overload in front of the center-backs. A couple of occasions saw Gündoğan feed a separated Edozie inside the box, but Man City failed to make these moments count. 

Here comes the conservatism 

Leicester transitions created the games better opportunities. Before the first half was over, a sloppy Fernandinho pass was intercepted by Ryan Bertrand and his diagonal dribble created room for Barnes to cross. Vardy slipped past a ball watching Aké and his close shot was saved onto the post. 

Into the second period and Leicester were noticeably deeper, in comparison to the second. Rodgers’ team went from smart inside presses to passivity in the 4-4-1-1 medium block. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. This would be spearheaded by Maddison, who tracked one of the Man City pivot’s, whilst Vardy man-marked the midfielder ahead.

Man City’s 2-3-2-3 system versus Leicester’s 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 medium block, as seen throughout the second half.

Leicester still had a couple of transitional moments, thanks to Barnes being in space when Man City counterpressed, After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. but both quantity and quality of these moves declined. Barnes was forced to carry across a longer distance and with options also moving from a deeper position. Man City nullified these phases, as their counterpressure increased, but failed to break down the opposition block. 

Guardiola’s team remained in their 2-3-2-3 / 3-2-2-3 system, but had no ball back inside and failed to engage with the Leicester center-backs. The flexibility that we saw glimpses of in the first period did not show for the second, which led to predictable passing and a real lack of shot creation. Without either team having the methods forward, a fruitful first period, the game state was replaced by a drab affair, as two blocks cancelled one another.

Substitutes take little effect

Guardiola made changes to the personnel, but not to the tactical blueprint. With Gündoğan replaced by Rodri and Jack Grealish being deployed, one would expect Mendy to overlap. When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. However, this did not happen, Rodri and Fernandinho remained central, whilst Palmer sat inside and Grealish glued to the touchline.

The inclusion of Grealish could have had a massive impact, within the halfspace where we see his offensive versatility at its best, but on the touchline, his influence is significantly reduced. In combination with a relatively slow formation with limited runners inside and Guardiola’s substitutes fail to change anything. 

Leicester changes were also personnel driven, as Rodgers changed five of the players starting in his front six his starting front six, with Ndidi being the exception. They too made no real change on the game state, with the team remaining compact and allowing their opponents to pass on the outside of their block.

When the game falls into these periods, one begins to assume the penalty shootout will come or a completely random moment to break the deadlock. For this occasion, the latter produced ahead of the former. With minutes left, poor ball-control from Aké forced him to foul Kelechi Iheanacho inside of the penalty area. The former Man City striker converted the spot-kick, winning Leicester the English Super Cup and sending a warning shot to the rest of the league.


Leicester did not play pretty, but we have seen this type of performance from them quite a lot against team’s that control the ball against them. They need to unlock their transitional potential in these matches, yet  the weaponry is there and stronger than last season. A great start to the campaign for a viable contender for the top four. 

There was no dream cameo for Grealish, but there was not a lot to look back on from this Man City performance. Granted, they were without the bulk of their assets, but the prospect of more games like this, with no central focal point, is still very real. However, if anyone can compensate for the lack of a striker, it is Guardiola, after all, they had just won the league without a consistent presence.

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Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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