It was another win for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United as the Red Devils took on Leicester City in the Premier League. Leicester, who had taken points off league leaders Liverpool earlier in the week, took the game to Manchester United, resulting in a difficult 90 minutes for Solskjaer. In this tactical analysis, we will focus on one of the game’s key battles.
Manchester United made four changes to their starting lineup versus Burnley. Andreas Pereira was dropped in favour of Ander Herrera, Romelu Lukaku gave way for Jesse Lingard, Eric Bailly came in for Phil Jones, and Alexis Sanchez was given the start ahead of Juan Mata. Solskjaer opted to revert to a system that utilised Jesse Lingard as a false nine, pushing Rashford and Sanchez as two high and wide strikers.
Leicester made one change from their trip to Anfield, dropping Marc Albrighton for Harvey Barnes. Instead of playing a 4-4-1-1 as they did against Liverpool, Leicester went for a more offensive 4-2-3-1. James Maddison came inside from the left to play behind Jamie Vardy. Harvey Barnes took his spot on the left side.
Neutralising Jamie Vardy
While only registering seven goals and three assists this season, Jamie Vardy has proved dangerous against top-six teams. Before facing Manchester United, he had scored 13 goals in his last 17 appearances versus Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool.
But of the 22 players who started the match, only Kasper Schmeichel had fewer touches than the English striker. Throughout the game, Bailly and Lindelof haunted Vardy, giving him no space to receive the ball.
Many of Vardy’s goals come from finding pockets of space between defenders then exploding into empty space within the 18-yard-box. But in this game, Bailly and Lindelof stayed so compact that Vardy really had no space to find. Let’s take a closer look at how the defensive partnership set up to neutralise Leicester’s biggest threat.
In the above image, we see how Bailly and Lindelof stay tight together. There is no option for a pass into the English forward. Should a pass come in, Lindelof could step in to intercept or make a challenge. Bailly would hold his position to sweep up any loose balls.
Even while Demarai Gray sits wider on the line of the last defender, Bailly and Lindelof stay focused on Vardy. In this Leicester attack, the ball eventually moves out Gray, but still, Bailly and Lindelof focus on their man. When the ball is played into the box Lindelof is well positioned to head it out.
What did the note say?
In the 84th minute, Kelechi Iheanacho replaced Nampalys Mendy. But before he came onto the field, Iheanacho was handed a note by Leicester manager Claude Puel. Iheanacho handed the note to Jamie Vardy. We can’t know 100 percent what the note said, but after the 84th minute Vardy found more space for himself
When Leicester attacked wide areas, Vardy would drive into space, pulling Lindelof and Bailly with him. As soon as he had committed his defenders, he would pull back into space, leaving himself unmarked.
Late in the game, Harvey Barnes chases a pass down the left side of the field. Eric Bailly must defend the wide area which creates distance between himself and Lindelof. Vardy recognises the rare 1v1 opportunity and decides to commit Lindelof by pulling him inside creating space behind to run into.
After committing Lindelof one direction, Vardy pulls back into the open space. Lindelof does well to pick up his run, but in doing so, creates more distance between himself and Eric Bailly. Leicester are now in a 3v3 situation with Luke Shaw tracking the run of Kelechi Iheanacho in the centre of the park.
Recognising that Lindelof must continue his run into space, he stops his run, creating distance between himself and his marker. If Lindelof were to step back into the space that Vardy occupied, it would create dangerous space for Iheanacho to run into.
Harvey Barnes effectively finds the pass to Vardy, who squanders one of the only good chances he, or any other Leicester player, had during the match. The goalscoring opportunity came after the striker held his run in the box, avoiding the temptation to run into open space behind the defensive line.
As stated earlier, the note from Puel to Vardy could have said anything. But given Vardy’s positioning, it likely directed him to occupy space in front of the defenders rather than behind it.
While United won the game with brilliant linkup play between Paul Pogba and Marcu Rashford, it was the partnership between Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof that ensured all three points. Had Claude Puel given Vardy instruction to find alternative space earlier in the match, he could have created more goalscoring opportunities for himself.
After getting back to winning ways, Manchester United will be thrilled to face bottom feeders Fulham next week. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be happy with a solid defensive performance today and will hope his attacking players can put further pressure on Chelsea in Premier League Matchday 26.
Leicester, on the other hand, will face their third top-six test in a row, travelling to Wembley to face Tottenham. Tottenham have narrowly won their last three games, meaning Jamie Vardy will look to continue his fantastic record again top-six opposition and help the Foxes climb up the table.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the January issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.