Tactical analysis Manchester United Leicester City 1-0 Premier League

Manchester United – Leicester City: Rashford penalty hands United narrow win (1-0)

Marcus Rashford’s early penalty was all that separated the sides in a game where both teams were energetic but neither was able to make many breakthroughs. Both teams defended in relatively narrow starting shapes, forcing much of the attacking play into wide areas. Leicester got stronger as the game went on and put United under some pressure, but Solskjær’s side were able to see out the win. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

Manchester United started the season well with a 4-0 home win against Chelsea, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side were yet to record a victory in the three games since then. Draws away at Wolves and Southampton and a defeat at home to Crystal Palace meant that United would have been eager to get a second win of the season on the board. 

United faced a few injury problems coming into this game against Leicester. Regular first team players such as Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial were ruled out. This meant Ashley Young continuing to start at left back and Nemanja Matić taking Pogba’s place alongside Scott McTominay in midfield. Ahead of them, Andreas Pereira started on the right side of the attacking midfield unit in their 4-2-3-1 formation, alongside Juan Mata at number ten and Daniel James on the left. Marcus Rashford once again led the line as the striker. 

If any team is going to break into the Premier League top six, plenty would tip Leicester to be the ones to do it under Brendan Rodgers. They travelled to Old Trafford with two wins and two draws under their belt so far in the season. 

Rodgers’ side started in a 4-3-3 formation with Wilfred Ndidi in defensive midfield, flanked by Youri Tielemans and Hamza Choudhury. Ahead of them was Demarai Gray and James Maddison in inside-forward positions behind striker Jamie Vardy. 

United in possession.

United in possession.

United take early lead 

The game had barely gotten underway when United took the lead through a Rashford penalty in the eighth minute, which resulted from a clumsy foul in the box by central defender Çağlar Söyüncü. 

United were attacking in a 4-2-3-1 system as they have been doing this season under Solskjær. The fullbacks are often quite involved in the buildup and have freedom to go forward and join attacks. In this game, the wingers were somewhat asymmetrical, as Pereira was more suited to drifting inside off the right, whereas James would often stick close to the left touchline to use his one-versus-one ability and speed, however he also had the freedom to move inside to central areas as attacks developed. 

Leicester’s shape was nominally a 4-3-3, however it might more accurately be labeled as a 4-3-2-1 in some phases of play due to the behaviours of the midfielders. Rather than dropping into a 4-1-4-1 or similar defensive structure against the ball, the nominal wingers of the system Gray and Maddison would instead stay in more central positions, close to United’s central midfielders. 

This could help force the ball wide first of all as United’s second line was harder to reach. It also meant that the central midfielders Tielemans and Choudhury would then be the ones to pressure the ball in wide areas with Gray and Maddison staying close to United’s central midfielders. 

United then would try to work the ball back inside from wide areas when they attacked, with the space to progress the ball being in these wide areas. They found this difficult though, and apart from the penalty they did not create a huge amount from their possession phases. A staggering total of 0.10 expected goals The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. from open play told the story.

Leicester’s possession game 

It was indeed the away team who had the larger share of possession over the course of the match, and they only continued increasing this share as the match went on. 

United again defended in their narrow 4-2-3-1 system, where the wide midfielders are encouraged to tuck into narrow positions to prevent progression through the center by opponents. Often the wingers will be seen pressing the center-back on the ball, curving their run to try and block the passing lane to the nearest fullback and force the opponents to one side of the pitch where United will attempt to trap opponents and win the ball back, which they are sometimes capable of doing to good effect. 

As has been seen in previous games already though, such as in the first half against Chelsea on the opening day, United allow a lot of space for the opposition fullbacks due to the narrow and advanced positions taken up by the wide midfielders. 

Leicester then were able to use the fullbacks, especially Ben Chilwell, as outlets to escape United pressure and push United back into their half. Leicester’s left side of the attack including Chilwell and Maddison was more active in general and was where they often looked to launch attacks from. 

Chilwell would push forward aggressively from the left back position, while Maddison drifted inside and picked up good positions between opposition lines as he usually does. Choudhury meanwhile as the left sided central midfielder would often drop into deeper positions alongside Ndidi to provide balance as Chilwell and Maddison looked to create attacks ahead of him. 

Leicester in possession.

Leicester in possession.

Tielemans, the other central midfielder, generally played a bit more advanced than Choudhury. Gray, like Maddison, did have licence to drift inside from the right, but was also more likely to stay in wider positions to try and get one-versus-one situations. It was also possible for Gray and Maddison to switch positions, in which case Maddison’s natural tendency to drift inside gave slightly more space for Ricardo Pereira to go forward. 

Still though, like United, they did not have that much to shoe from their open play attacks. There were a couple of crosses and shots from distance, but other than that they did not create many big chances. 

Leicester apply pressure but are unable find the goal

Leicester continued into the second half with the majority of possession looking for an equalizer with the scoreline still 1-0 from Rashford’s early goal. 

It took until just over ten minutes after half-time for Rodgers to make his first change. He introduced Ayoze Pérez in place of Choudhury. This shifted Maddison slightly further back into a left sided central midfield role, while Gray moved to the left side of attack to allow Pérez to play on the right. 

Leicester after Pérez’ introduction.

Leicester after Pérez’ introduction.

With Maddison in this role Leicester had a more creative influence from deep who would of course also burst forward into attacks where possible. Gray also had some decent touches after moving to the left. However Gray himself was substituted soon afterwards as Harvey Barnes came on in his place. 

United were increasingly defending in a medium or low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. 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. from their own half as Leicester looked to chase the game. Solskjær looked to respond to this by adding energy in the form of Fred and Tahith Chong, coming on for Matić and Mata respectively, who were two of the less defensively mobile players in United’s lineup. 

Chong would play on the left, moving Pereira centrally and James to the right. United were relatively compact in their medium block and Leicester continued to struggle to create openings against them as the clock ticked into the final stages of the game. United also maintained the threat at least of counterattacks due to having pacy players like James and Rashford on the pitch. In the end, United were able to do enough to hold out for their 1-0 win. 

Expected goals pitch plot Manchester United Leicester City 1-0 Premier League


Taking such an early lead through a Rashford penalty allowed United to get away with not doing a lot in terms of creativity in attack. Their defending was solid enough for the most part. There still remain some questions about their ability to break down defenses in open play, and this game has not really answered those in a satisfactory way. Walking away with three points against a tricky Leicester team is a valuable result nonetheless. 

Leicester competed well, and controlled the possession for much of  the game. If not for giving away an unnecessary penalty in the opening minutes, they would have been good value for a point given their overall performance. They were not overly impressive, but at the end of the day neither were United. The decisive moment in the game was seized upon by the home side, which was enough to give them the result. 

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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