The Premier League is a league that is capable of the greatest delights and surprises. Thus, when Burnley and Leicester faced off against each other, it was bound to be a treat for football fans everywhere. Leicester were coming off the resurgence through their new coach, Brendan Rodgers. As is often with new managers, it was critical for Leicester to get off to a winning start to build morale and belief. Sean Dyche, after a great campaign with Burnley last season, has suffered. What was supposed to be a fight for Europa League spots has turned to a fight to stay above the relegation spots. This ordinary mid-table Premier League match transformed into a must-win for both sides. In this tactical analysis, we will attempt to show you the tactics behind Dyche and Rodgers. Furthermore, through statistics and analysis, we will showcase why Leicester ultimately prevailed over Burnley.
Burnley lined up in their characteristic 4-4-2. The only change for Dyche’s men was that Jeff Hendrick, who had starred in the 4-2 demolition by Liverpool, had been replaced by Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson. For the Foxes, Rodgers lined them in a 4-1-4-1. This was a tactical shift from the 4-3-3 that was employed by them against Fulham. In terms of personnel, there was no change. Simply, Wilfred Ndidi became a central defensive midfielder while the normal wingers and the surrounding midfielders formed a line of four behind Jaime Vardy.
The Original Gameplan
For the first minutes of the game, the original game plan for both teams was evident. Leicester City held a high line and continuously looked to find the attacking quadruplet. The preferred option was long balls. One of the centre-backs would kick a long ball to one of the wide men. While doing so, Vardy and one of the respective central midfielders came close to create a triangle. This would be succinct in creating a 3v1 or 3v2. From quick 1-2s and incisive passing, Leicester would be in the final third of the pitch.
Another approach from Leicester City was to utilise buildup. Burnley, in the first stages of the game, were pressing aggressively. The front three were providing the impetus through which the midfield would follow through. To deal with this, one of the midfield from the attacking four would drop in deep. Thus, you would have the centre-backs wide apart. The full-backs were pushed up but not too far. Between the full-backs and the centre-backs were the two midfielders.
These midfielders would work to create numerical superiority but most importantly were positioned to be gateways for releasing the ball. These midfielders would use their technical skills to quickly advance the ball to the running full-back or the attacking midfielders. From there, Leicester employed the creation of triangles and incisive passing to direct the ball to the flank.
Burnley’s main approach was to defend deep and quickly counter-attack, using diagonal runs to widen the gap in the defence and create a 2v1 or 1v1 against Leicester. It was this tactic that would lead Harry Maguire to clip Guðmundsson. It would lead to Maguire getting a red card. With this, the tactics for both teams changed in a drastic manner.
Burnley’s inability to adapt
The main strategy of counterattacking still held but, now, there were more players arriving in the box. Moreover, Burnley were attacking with intent. Every switch of play and pass became much faster. One of the advantages of numerical superiority was the space they found on the wings. Before, they would confront a triangle on the wings. After the red card, the triangle got reduced to a line of two players and by simple movements, Burnley were able to get deeper into Leicester’s defensive third and use more dangerous crosses.
Another tactic, in terms of counter-attacking, was the fact that the second striker would go behind to make to a 4-5-1 for Burnley when attacking. The main goal of this formation was to link the midfield with the attack. Having no man connecting the two blocks of the formation would lead to an ineffective attack. This would be because no one would be present in the half-spaces or the central corridor.
Despite the one man advantage, Burnley were sloppy in their attack. Often times, their attack was too predictable. Often the centre-backs would try to find a single pass to the winger to cross. While their xG for this game, 1.3, was decent, it was not acceptable against a team that is one man down. It was almost like the red card switched up their game plan more than Leicester’s. They were relying on their original game approach and not trying new creative options. A testament to their poor attack was their attacking statistics. Comparatively, they outperformed Leicester in the total shots. However, comparing the shots on target, Burnley only have 2 from 13 while Leicester have 4 from 9.
A testament to this sloppy attack is their only goal in the game. The goal did not come through counter-attacks, crosses, or switches of play. The goal came through a slip-up from Morgan. This allowed the lone striker, Chris Wood, to attack and then hold up the play. In the meantime, six Burnley players converged onto the attack. As mentioned before, Burnley developed the ball on the flank (in this case the left). With a numerical superiority of 6v5, the Burnley wide men cut back onto the free left midfielder, Dwight Mcneil, who struck one time onto the bottom right. After this shot, Burnley would create no other shot on target. Considering the advantage and options they had, this was very poor from Burnley.
Leicester’s tweaked their attacking plan
With being down by one man, Leicester were left with numerical inferiority in every passage of the play. As an instinctive change, in the sixth minute, Demarai Gray was switched out for Wes Morgan. This was a tradeoff. While Leicester would lose an attacking presence, they were gaining a defensive veteran. Leicester’s go-to approach became long balls as buildup could not work as effectively. Kasper Schmeichel was charged with launching balls to the running full-backs. More often than not, the recipient of the long balls was Ben Chillwell. Leicester’s attack was based on simple combinations between the midfielders. After receiving the ball, the impetus was to quickly test Burnley through 1-2s and crosses. On more patient attacks, Leicester attacked through both fullbacks and employed patient possession in the middle of the pitch. It was this patience that would lead to James Maddison getting a dangerous position for an attack and curling one in.
One tactic to change was the intensity. If the Foxes lost the ball, the surrounding players would aggressively press the Burnley player. This was only employed in the final third where the consequences of getting past the press were not going to affect the Foxes’ defence.
In terms of defending counter-attacks, the now reduced, midfield had to stay narrow. If they strayed far, Burnley could find dangerous vertical passes. While adding protection to the Leicester defence, they were there for the aftermath of Burnley’s crossing. As soon as one of Dyche’s men lost the ball, the ball was given to these midfielders. They would advance further upfield, trying to get combinations with fullbacks or Vardy. More often than not, this approach was ineffective mainly due to the fact that Leicester would always be missing the third person to combine with. This made the attack much more difficult and would lead to losses of possession
Towards the end of the game, with Burnley sitting back more and more, Leicester were afforded spaces to attack from. After utilising a 2v1 on the wings, Youri Tielemans put in a curving ball. Wes Morgan headed it in, in the last minute, to put Leicester in front.
In the end, the game boiled down to who could attack and finish. Leicester’s defence worked so hard to deny Burnley’s attacks. In the end, it was a matter of will and determination. Leicester, being one man down, gave it their all. Burnley, whilst being one man up, failed to bring tenacity to the game. Rodgers will be pleased with this performance. Not only did it build character for this emerging Leicester side, but it also gives the fans confidence. Dyche, on the other hand, will have to have a long hard look at his tactics. His inability to be flexible in the circumstances cost his team in the end. He will be looking to win his next game as Burnley try to stay out of the relegation zone.