Tuesday night’s third-round ties of the Carabao Cup saw Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City claim an imposing 4-0 victory over Championship side Luton Town. The Hatters had defeated Cardiff City and Ipswich Town to reach the third round, while the Foxes had seen off Newcastle United.
Collectively the two sides made 17 changes to their starting XIs from their weekend fixtures in what almost became a battle of the B-teams. This tactical analysis will explain how both sides set up their tactics and use analysis to show how Graeme Jones’ Luton fell short of their Premier League opponent.
Luton lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation, differing only slightly to Jones’ preferred set up this season of 4-1-2-1-2. The Kenilworth Road club made ten changes to their starting lineup from the 3-0 home defeat to Hull City during the previous weekend; all but Manchester City loanee Luke Bolton was replaced.
City lined up in Rodgers’ preferred structure with the Foxes of 4-1-4-1, which he has differed from on few occasions this season. Leicester made seven changes to their starting lineup after their 2-1 home victory over Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend. Jonny Evans, Wilfred Ndidi, Youri Tielemans and Ayoze Perez were the four of the pack to keep their starting spot.
Luton’s overly defensive approach
While the Hatters may have lined themselves up in a 4-3-1-2, in reality, for the majority of the game it looked more like a 4-5-1. When Luton would lose possession of the ball they would transition into their much more defence-based shape, with Callum McManaman dropping on to the right side of midfield and George Moncur the left.
Here it can be seen how deep Graeme Jones’ men would drop with their defensive shape from early in the match. The picture shows Evans driving forwards with the ball going unchallenged due to the overly defensive nature of Luton’s tactics. Thus, Leicester could enjoy large spells of possession – of which they ended the game with 70% – and tire Luton out by shifting the ball across from left to right and back until finding a desired opening. This also allowed Leicester to create a far greater number of passes than Luton – 644 to the Hatters’ 276.
Whilst Jones’ deep defensive lines played into Leicester’s hands tactically, it also provided a difficultly for Luton when attacking. As can be seen in the above picture, when Luton did win back possession of the ball the majority of the team would still be positioned deep, meaning that Luton’s most advanced player on the night – Elliot Lee – would have to also drop deep to receive the ball, dragging himself out of position. With his back to goal and little by means of advanced support, Lee became isolated and often had to pass backwards as a result.
When defending corners or set-pieces, there are really only two tactics of how to set up: either to man-mark or to zonally mark. Man marking means that each defender will defend against one attacker, following their every move, and zonal marking is that each defender will defend an area of the field where an attacker may move into.
Jones picked the former of the two when setting his side up for their clash with Leicester and this ultimately led to Rodgers’ side being able to score the opening goal of the night. In the above annotation, Luton’s man for man marking can clearly be seen with each defender taking an available attacking player and one defender left to protect the front post.
Here, City have taken a short corner – which itself has the intended outcome of disrupting defensive structure in the box and allow attackers to break free from defenders. Due to the fast pace of Albrighton’s short-taken corner, three defenders in the box lose track of the attackers they are marking – one of which is Gray. Perez is able to slide the ball into his path, and due to being no longer marked by Bolton, is able to apply an unimpeded finish to open the score.
High full-backs the key for Rodgers
While Christian Fuchs and James Justin were stand-ins for Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira under the Kenilworth Road floodlights, both executed their roles to perfection. One thing that you can certainly guarantee from a Brendan Rodgers full-back is high work rate – as it is imperative to their system. As can be seen here, from early in the game Fuchs, and similarly Justin on the opposite flank, would look to make overlapping runs where possible.
These overlapping runs are vital in overpowering a perceived weaker opponent. Despite Luton’s deep defensive and midfield lines, the overlapping run would allow Marc Albrighton and Demari Gray to drive inside with the ball and challenge the full-back, while the supporting outside run offered Fuchs and Justin open space to cross from.
While this tactic did not directly translate to the goal success as seen here, the high position of Justin in Luton’s final third allowed the player to spot and take an opportunity. Having been stationed high up the pitch to support Gray, this allowed Justin to spot the opportunity to run between Luton’s defensive line and meet Youri Teliemans’ cross, to which he applied the finish to score the Foxes’ second of the game.
Luton’s playing out from the back insistence
Some of the greatest football sides of our time have mastered the art of playing out from the back and using goalkeepers as the first line of attack. However, due to the immense pressure that Leicester were applying to Luton’s back line, their insistence on playing out from the back presented Jones with more problems than solutions. As can be seen here from early in the game James Shae looked to play short and through the defence.
The Foxes began the game with high pressing tactics, and as can be seen here, pressed even higher due to Luton’s insistence of playing out through the defence. When performed to its purpose, playing out from the back is a sensible way of maintaining possession and slowly building an attack, as opposed to a long goal kick which has the potential to needlessly lose possession. However, Luton could have done with alleviating some pressure from their defensive line by playing the ball long and moving the ball closer to Leicester’s third of the pitch, rather than keep pressure on themselves in their own.
Brendan Rodgers will be delighted that his side have been able to progress to the fourth round of the competition and to have done so with aplomb. Graeme Jones will be disappointed with his side’s showing in the midweek affair, however, having made ten changes to his starting lineup his clear preference is maintaining Championship status. This tactical analysis has laid out how the two sides set up for their Carabao Cup clash and explained how Leicester were able to progress to the next round.
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