Leicester City – Manchester United: United Secure Third Place Despite Lethargic Performance (0-2)
With key players missing, Leicester set up to try and counterattack against Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side were afforded space in non-threatening areas of the pitch against the 5-3-2 shape of Leicester and were unable to create much from their possession phases. Nevertheless, the pivotal moment of the match arrived for United with twenty minutes left, as they were able to capitalize on a turnover in Leicester’s half to win a penalty, which was converted by Bruno Fernandes.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
The race for top four in the Premier League was to be decided on the final day. To secure Champions League football next season, Manchester United only needed to avoid losing. Having held a top four spot for most of the season, due to recent results Leicester City found themselves in fifth place, in need of a win against United.
Aside from wins against the likes of Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, Leicester have struggled post-lockdown, including their FA Cup exit against Chelsea and 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Manchester United meanwhile started strongly after lockdown, demolishing the likes of Brighton, Bournemouth and Aston Villa with healthy scorelines. However, more recently they have threatened to run out of steam, being held to draws at home to the likes of Southampton and West Ham alongside their FA Cup semi-final collapse against Chelsea.
United started in the 4-2-3-1 system which they have used for much of the season. Nemanja Matić once again partnered Paul Pogba in central midfield in support of a talented front four comprising of Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
Leicester on the other hand were missing three of their usual back four as Ricardo Pereira, Çağlar Söyüncü and Ben Chilwell were all unavailable, as well as creative midfielder James Maddison. As he has done in recent games, Brendan Rodgers opted for a back three. James Justin, Wes Morgan and Jonny Evans were the three center-backs, with Marc Albrighton and youngster Luke Thomas as wing-backs.
United in possession.
Harmless United possession
United had the larger share of possession, particularly in the first half where in the first thirty minutes they had around 60% of the ball. Leicester mostly played in their own half and tried to take advantage of the counterattack.
Against the front two of Leicester, Matić often dropped between United’s center-backs or to their left in order to form a back three. This in theory gave them an overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. in the first line, and the wider positions taken up by the players on the side of the back three gave them the possibility to use the spaces either side of Leicester’s strikers.
Pogba then played in the next line, often positioned behind Jamie Vardy and Kalechi Iheanacho, or tilting out to the right to escape their cover shadows. Fernandes from the number ten position could also drop deep, as well as tilting out to the left.
United’s left winger Rashford interestingly found himself dropping deep into the left fullback space for United, picking the ball up and looking for diagonal passes in behind the opposition defense. Interestingly, this playmaking action seems to have been an increasingly frequent aspect of Rashford’s game.
The aforementioned fullback zones for United were generally the spaces afforded to them by the narrow midfield and forward lines of Leicester’s 5-3-2 formation, as United found it difficult to get through central areas.
United struggled to threaten from these zones though. Plenty of ball circulation went through Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams, but there was not much creativity. Despite having the majority of the ball, United only registered one shot within the first forty minutes.
Leicester hand breakthrough to United
The home side were outshooting United for much of the first half, and actually finished the game with twice as many shots as United. The caveat to this point would be that a fair few of these shots were from outside the box.
When Leicester had the ball, they moved out of their 5-3-2 defensive shape into a 3-4-1-2 structure. This was formed by Youri Tielemans moving up into the number ten position behind Iheanacho, who came off for Ayoze Pérez early in the second half, and Vardy. Meanwhile, Hamza Choudhury stayed deeper alongside Wilfried Ndidi.
Leicester’s attacking game was not overly interesting. There were some decent transition moments or occasions where the front three were able to pull United’s defense narrow and allow the wing-backs 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. At 0-0 though there was enough from Leicester to provide an underlying tension from a United point of view, given the league table situation between the teams.
As the game drifted past the hour mark without too much action to be had, it seemed that the last few weeks of many games with fairly little squad rotation might have been taking its toll on United. They looked a bit lethargic in spells, and their talisman January arrival Fernandes seemed particularly to be fatiguing.
Despite this, United were able to pounce on the opportunity given to them with twenty minutes to go. They pressed Leicester in the home side’s half, and Greenwood was able to rob Choudhury of the ball. It broke to Fernandes, who quickly played Martial in behind the defense. The Frenchman was fouled in the box, and the resulting penalty was calmly slotted home by Fernandes.
United see out the win
Rodgers immediately reacted to the goal with a triple substitution for Leicester. Demarai Gray, Denis Praet and Harvey Barnes were all introduced in place of Albrighton, Choudhury and Tielemans. Gray slotted in at right wing-back, while Praet essentially took Choudhury’s previous role in midfield. Pérez then moved back into the role previously occupied by Tielemans, so that Barnes could play up front alongside Vardy.
Leicester in possession after changes.
It was Barnes who had arguably Leicester’s best chance of the game as he hit a shot on the swivel from close range which was held by David De Gea. Other than that, the United defense was able to fend off Leicester’s renewed efforts for the most part.
Solskjær made a couple of more defensive minded changes. First, he brought on Jesse Lingard for Greenwood, then introduced Scott McTominay for Fernandes, which saw Pogba move into a more advanced role.
There was still action left in stoppage time, as Evans was first of all sent off for a reckless challenge on McTominay. Then, in the very last seconds of the game, Lingard chased the ball through to Kasper Schmeichel, who failed to clear the ball in time and was caught out by Lingard, who was left to roll the ball into an empty net to make it 2-0.
The performance in this game was not United’s strongest, but the result is obviously key as it secures their third placed finish. Given the problems they faced earlier in the season, the way that they have been able to improve in attack in recent months, inspired in large part by Fernandes. There’s still plenty of improvement still to do though when it comes to creating from open play. Overall, a third placed finish can be called a relatively successful season for United.
After Leicester had such a strong start to the season, a fifth placed finish seems underwhelming. However when put in perspective of expectations prior to the season, it is still a fairly decent return for Leicester and gives a platform to build on next season providing they can keep hold of key players.
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