Last weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures saw Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City maul Steve Bruce’s helpless Newcastle United in an imperious 5-0 thrashing. The win for Leicester has seen them rise to third in the table, meanwhile, the continuation of a stagnant season for the Magpies saw them remain second from bottom.
This tactical analysis will highlight how Rodgers was able to overcome Bruce with ease at the King Power Stadium. The piece will take a look at the two sides’ tactics and analyse where Newcastle went wrong in their venture to the Midlands.
Rodgers’ opted for his preferred set up of 4-1-4-1, as he had done for the previous four league and cup ties. Despite remaining the same structurally, City made six changes to their starting lineup following their midweek 4-0 thumping of Luton Town in the Carabao Cup. Danny Ward, James Justin, Wes Morgan, Christian Fuchs, Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton were replaced with the reinstated Kasper Schmeichel, Ricardo Pereira, Çağlar Söyüncü, Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy. All the changes were like-for-like positional replacements bar Ayoze Perez’s move to the right-wing to facilitate the return of Vardy.
The Toon went with a change in structure, the like of which the Newcastle faithful had not seen until last weekend. Bruce selected a four-back formation with a 4-2-3-1 and ditched his, so far this season, preferred formation of choice in the 5-4-1 – which United had deployed in five of their seven previous league and cup ties. Alongside the change in structure, after their 0-0 draw with Brighton, Bruce made three changes in personnel – with Javier Manquillo, Jetro Willems and Jonjo Shelvey making way for Emil Krafth, Sean Longstaff and Yoshinori Muto.
Full backs still the key for Rodgers
As we explained in our analysis of Leicester’s midweek Carabao Cup victory over Luton Town, full-back is a key position for a Brendan Rodgers side. When attacking, both the left and right full-back – against Newcastle Chilwell and Pereira – are expected to heavily support the winger. When performing their job to plan the full-back will work in tandem with their winger, allowing the wide midfielder to drive inside, while the full-back makes an overlapping run into the area of space created by dragging the opposition full-back out of position.
As can be seen in the above annotation at the beginning of a Leicester attack, Chilwell and Pereira are already stationed high up the pitch. Barnes is then able to read the play; that Chilwell will play the ball back to Youri Tielemans. In turn, Barnes then inches forwards which drags Krafth out of position and offers a prime example of the Rodgers full-back and winger working in tandem. With Krafth now out of position, Chilwell has a large area of open space to move into down the left-hand side.
As can be seen in the following stage of the move, Chilwell made the pass to Tielemans and both full-backs then charged into the open areas of the pitch which created further passing options for the Belgian midfielder. Both Miguel Almiron and Krafth had their backs to Chilwell and coupled with the speed of his darting run, neither Newcastle player picked up the movement of the left full-back in this instance.
Bruce’s switch to a back four more of a hindrance
While the Toon had lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, when out of possession they looked to be in more of a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 shape. If performed well this transition, when out of possession of the ball, into two defensive banks of four should have allowed Newcastle to remain more compact and far less penetrable. However, perhaps, a case of square pegs in round holes became the undoing of Bruce in Leicester’s 5-0 route.
Here we can see that when Newcastle were defending deep into their own territory, the backline of four defenders would become compact and defend the primary objective – the goal. The midfield four should then have applied the pressure to the ball and if not making a tackle, should at the very least force the opposition back. However, as can be seen, Almiron – a more central player by nature – has shied away from his defensive duties leaving Krafth to charge down the ball and left Chilwell in a large area of open space. As previously stated, Leicester’s width and full backs are a key area for the Foxes and this tactical unawareness left Newcastle as masters of their own downfall.
Leicester’s patient defensive build-up play
Another pivotal area of Leicester’s attacking build-up play is to have defenders have time and space on the ball – which allows them to pick their moment of when to attack. Frequently during matches, the Leicester backline will shift the ball from left to right and vice versa, while they bide their time to find an opening. Shifting the ball across the field and then back again also allows for openings to be created – if the ball is shifted back across the defensive line quickly enough the opposite full-back will have an open section of the wing ahead of them to drive into.
Here, the process of Leicester moving the ball back and forth across the pitch can be seen in action. With the ball having come from the right-hand side to Chilwell, the Newcastle attacking, midfield and defensive lines have already shifted across the pitch, and then had to shift back across again when Chilwell played the ball back across the defensive line. Not only does this allow Brendan Rodgers’ side to bide their time before launching a forward pass or finding an opening, but it also tires out opponents and becomes a more successful tactic the later in the game it is; Leicester let the ball do the work.
As can be seen in this annotation in the build-up play to the Foxes’ opening goal, the ball has come from Jonny Evans, played through Söyüncü to Chilwell. Chilwell then played the ball back to Söyüncü, who then quickly moves it to Evans and then on to Pereira. The fast pace of the ball being moved back across the field opened the opportunity for Pereira to drive down the right-hand side of the pitch. The Portuguese right-back is able to dribble into the open space and continue with the ball before firing a pinpoint finish into the bottom corner of Newcastle’s goal.
Newcastle’s lazy press
When afforded time and space on the ball, Leicester will hurt opponents – and Newcastle provided it in abundance. As has just been explained, the Foxes have their killer tactic of biding their time when in possession of the ball in defence and it is clear that anything but a high press will play into Rodgers’ hands. Bruce deployed a tactic in which Newcastle would only press when Leicester reached the halfway line. As can be seen here, Joelinton and Muto do not provide any pressure to Evans who is in possession, which allows him two clear passing options (the red arrows). Joelinton and Muto should have applied pressure to the ball here and cut Evans’ passing lines to force a mistake (the yellow arrows), however, they did not.
It can be seen here, the lack of pressure from Newcastle continued into the second half. Both Joelinton and Christian Atsu allow the Leicester backline all the time and space they need on the ball to shift play from left to right until they found their desired openings. This tactical insistence from Bruce to persist with a low-pressure press whilst a goal down may have proved to be somewhat responsible for their hammering at the King Power.
Brendan Rodgers is certainly reaping the rewards of his positive attacking tactics and will be delighted that his side have been able to find the net on nine occasions over Leicester’s previous two outings. Steve Bruce and Newcastle United are slowly becoming entrenched in the mire of a relegation battle – with just one win so far this season – each passing week. He will have to find a formula that works for his Toon side or continue to face the wrath of the loyal Newcastle fanbase. This tactical analysis has detailed how Leicester were able to secure their convincing win against the struggling Magpies and analysed both sides’ tactics.
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