Manchester City – Leicester City: Captain Kompany’s wonder strike gets City across the line (1-0)
Leicester almost turned the Premier League title race on its head. They nearly managed to steal a deserved point from the Etihad, striking a fine balance between stubborn defending and composed possession play. Despite being repetitive and well-contained, City’s attacking ways generally manage to find an exploitable weakness one way or another. In this game, however, the solution was far from typical of a Guardiola side.
Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.
Having seen Liverpool scrape past Newcastle United on Saturday to retake top spot, all the pressure mounted on Pep Guardiola’s men to respond. Equally, Brendan Rodgers’ side also had their sights set on a prize finish, with a win being the only way of keeping their hopes of clinching the final European spot alive.
Man City, for once, had the luxury of a fixture-less midweek. Thus, Guardiola could name the same starting eleven that beat Burnley 1-0 last weekend, which he did barring one change. Phil Foden came into midfield, with Bernardo Silva pushed out to the right wing and Raheem Sterling taking the spot of the dropped Leroy Sané on the left.
Leicester’s last match ended in a 3-0 victory over Arsenal, so it was hardly surprising to see Rodgers name the same exact lineup, here, keeping to their 4-3-3 system, much like their opponents.
Early Leicester efforts display an unexpected solidity
Given Leicester’s more attacking style of play under Rodgers, a goal-fest seemed somewhat a given. The reality was quite the opposite.
It was mostly a 4-5-1 formation from them, with particular emphasis on players picking up City’s inside attackers, so to prevent easy overloads. The Leicester players were great at tracking each wide rotation so not to be caught out.
On the left side, up against Bernardo Silva mostly, Hamza Choudhury was tasked with supporting Ben Chilwell. This could then relieve James Maddison of any key defensive responsibilities. Choudhury stuck very tight to Chilwell in the defenders’ attempts to stop Bernardo from cutting in so easily.
Leicester’s setup off the ball was strong, but the composure displayed in their own possession passages was equally impressive. In their 4-3-3 shape, Choudhury would move into left back, which would allow Chilwell to push on and Maddison to fulfill an attacking midfield role. The patterns of their buildup play were quite basic and demanded a lot of patience, which was ultimately a great way of frustrating City, who are not the best side, defensively-speaking, when the ball is out of their control.
Within their passages, they would lure City onto them by frequently playing backwards. In deeper positions, Foden would step out of the midfield to press high up alongside Agüero, creating an asymmetrical 4-4-2 shape. Leicester would continue to recycle it before being eventually forced back to Kasper Schmeichel. Thankfully for them, Schmeichel proved himself to be very adept with the ball, picking out the fullbacks and attackers in Ederson-esque fashion.
City’s pressing shape against Leicester’s 4-3-3 setup.
The issue, then, was a lacking threat ahead of the ball. In Youri Tielemans and Maddison, Leicester had two players who, despite being able to drive with the ball and be creative, operate better in tight spaces, generally-speaking. In the same vein, Leicester also lacked the kinds of wide players who could provide that same injection of power with the ball, or off it. So, Vardy remained isolated against two defenders for huge spells of the match.
Far-sided overloads express early warning signs
One of the most common parts of City’s approach is the diagonal switch from one center-back to the far-sided winger. So much so that Aymeric Laporte played eight long balls out to Bernardo Silva.
In order to open this switch up, first the attacking midfielders make runs through the channel to draw in the fullbacks. However, when the fullback goes for the wide receiver rather than following the inside attacker, it can leave a huge gap.
This was precisely the case in the eleventh minute when Chilwell moved out towards Bernardo far too early in anticipation of the switch. This left Foden completely open in the box, and Kyle Walker picked him out. Foden chested the ball down but in doing so lost his balance, resulting in a snatched shot on goal.
City’s threat on corners
City almost perfectly exploited Rodgers’ zonal marking setup. The initial aim was to have either Agüero or Kompany make a late run to the near post, where they could use their momentum to win the flick-on. The rest of the players would then be ready at the back post, with no-one in-between.
Another threat were the open players on the edge of the box. There were always at least two City players waiting on the edge of the box, completely open. So, when the visitors managed to get it away, it instantly came back at them.
The first real threat to come from City’s set pieces took place in the thirty-second minute when Agüero’s late run got the better of Vardy in the air, as his near-post header bounced off the underside of the bar and was then superbly stopped by Schmeichel’s dangling arm.
After seeing an assortment of inviting shots on the edge of the box from these players, we then saw, in the second half – as chances continued to be few and far in-between – Guardiola’s side put the second phase of the corner attacks to better use.
Having collected the loose ball and briefly recycled it into some space, Walker lofted a long diagonal ball towards the back post for David Silva to win, surprisingly. His header back across found an unmarked Sterling, who would not allow the ball to drop, meaning he could not keep his headed effort down.
Guardiola’s alterations push City ahead
The first slight, but important, adjustment Guardiola made for the second half was to push İlkay Gündoğan up just in front of the Leicester defense. For most of the first half he was unneeded, as Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kyle Walker dropped deep and narrow to provide the link across upon circulation to the far-side.
But now, pushed up, he was free of any marker as Leicester were so focused on covering City’s wide players. As a result, City could start to cycle the ball back around before quickly playing an incisive ball into the German, at a point when Leicester’s defense was still adjusting back into its normal shape.
This worked a treat in the sixty-ninth minute when Laporte’s quick pass into Gündoğan drew out Ndidi, leaving Silva’s run 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 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. completely untracked. His first-time ball was not super accurate but Jonny Evans’ poor control helped it on its way through for Agüero instead, whose lunging effort was well-stopped.
Guardiola’s second key change then came when he replaced Foden with Sané. Contrary to expectation, Sterling was not playing wide right; he was playing in the same role Foden had been playing, which kept Bernardo wide as he was best placed to control and maintain the ball following switches.
Here, he could provide a more direct threat on the inside, which Foden was not fully capable of doing in this match. In light of this change, Rodgers instructed Choudhury to man-mark Sterling, even if it meant becoming a third center-back.
This had its price, though, as, in the seventieth minute, Sterling’s positioning to pin back Choudhury gave Kompany some extra room to push up into.
Sterling pinning back Choudhury, thus entitling Kompany to lots of space in front.
Although City’s players are discouraged from taking on needless, time-killing shots from range – particularly the defenders, who had only accumulated one shot by this point – Kompany, on this occasion, rejected the pleas not to shoot and how right he was to do so. He cut across the ball to unleash a thunderous strike that no goalkeeper in the world had any dream of saving.
A momentous goal, from a momentous player, in a momentous title race.
City see out the match… just
Although the remaining twenty minutes were relatively comfortable for the hosts, there was one moment which would no doubt have stopped the hearts of every City fan.
Former City striker Kelechi Iheanacho was sent on with five minutes to spare. The Nigerian provided an instant impact, and one that filled Leicester’s aforementioned lacking secondary goal threat.
Following a City goal kick, Maddison managed to move it onto Choudhury. With Zinchenko being mindful of the wide player behind him, the two Leicester strikers were splitting open the channels with their runs. Choudhury squeezed it through as Iheanacho was presented with a glorious chance to equalize, but he appeared to take it on too early, seeing his finish curl wide of the near post. A let-off for City in the dying moments.
Kompany’s picture-perfect finish ensured City moved back to the top of the table, keeping their destiny in their own hands and upping their winning streak to thirteen(!) in the league.
Leicester will feel the pain of such a narrow defeat but it was a hugely positive display from them as it looks like Rodgers might have a real team on his hands ahead of next season.
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