Leicester City were looking to climb into second in the 2019/20 Premier League when they travelled to St Mary’s to take on Southampton who were looking to improve what had been a disappointing start to the season. The Saints were looking to build on a respectable 1-1 draw against Wolves in the previous match week, whereas the Foxes were looking to build on a 2-1 home win against Burnley. Leicester had bagged an impressive 17 goals thus far in the league and were looking to get a Southampton defence who had conceded 16 goals at this early stage in the season.
Leicester destroyed Southampton in a record-breaking 9-0 victory. This victory by Leicester recorded the biggest ever victory by an away side in an English top-flight league match in the 131-year history of the Football League. Ayoze Pérez and Jamie Vardy both scored hattricks, with Ben Chilwell, Youri Tielemans, and a world-class free-kick from James Maddison adding to Southampton’s embarrassing defeat. Leicester put in a perfect performance and used all their attacking quality to destroy the Saints’ backline. This tactical analysis will pay tribute to this performance and will highlight the ways in which the Foxes were able to dominate the game from the first kick to the last. This analysis will also look at the tactics used by both managers which led to this result.
Southampton started the game with a 5-3-2 formation, with emphasis on strong wing play. Angus Gunn started in goal for the saints, with the array of attacking talent Leicester had he was sure to be busy. Maya Yoshida, Jannik Vestergaard and Jan Bednarek made up the three central defenders, looking to provide defensive solidity. Ryan Bertrand and Yan Valery were the two wing-backs. Their role was substantial for this system, as they were a key source in terms of getting at Leicester. Oriol Romeu, James Ward-Prowse and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg were the three central midfielders for the Saints, they were looking to provide energy and creativity in the most important area of the pitch. Nathan Redmond and Danny Ings were the two central strikers for Southampton, who would attempt to cause problems for the Leicester defence which lacked pace.
As for Leicester, they lined up in their traditional 4-3-3 formation. The ever-present Kasper Schmeichel started in between the sticks. Jonny Evans and Çağlar Söyüncü were the two central defenders on the day, who looked to provide stability when Leicester were defending. Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira were the two full-backs, their intention was to always get forward and provide themselves as options when Leicester were looking to attack. Wilfred Ndidi played as a holding midfielder, his job was to provide defensive support for the back four and use his excellent passing range to get Leicester up the pitch. James Maddison and Youri Tielemans were the two central midfielders looking to provide the creative spark and to be the real anchors of the central midfield. As for the front three, Ayoze Pérez and Harvey Barnes were the two wingers, however, they operated as narrow forwards as opposed to the traditional winger role. Jamie Vardy was the central striker, his movement in behind was sure to give the Southampton backline some serious problems.
An interesting development throughout the game was the role of the Leicester City full-backs. Particularly in the second half, they would get forward and in behind the defensive line often. Both Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira would make decisive runs on the overlap from the respective wingers who would come narrower in order for this transition of play to occur.
This was helped by the fact that Southampton were down to 10 men and the full-backs had more space to run into. Brendan Rodgers clearly used this tactic to exploit the lack of pace in the Saints backline. He also had Wilfred Ndidi as a protective midfielder which allowed them to get forward more regularly without the threat of being counter attacked.
As we can see below, Chilwell is able to make a direct run in behind the Saints backline. Barnes allows him to overlap him from the inside which leads to him putting in an excellent cross which leads to a headed goal from Jamie Vardy. This highlights the effectiveness of having attacking full-backs in this Leicester team. By having narrow wingers it further allows this play to be in motion.
The attacking full-back approach was used on both sides by Leicester. This meant that Pereira was also getting forward a significant amount. By having both full-backs making these runs in behind the defensive line it meant the foxes had multiple options when attacking.
This, therefore, can be seen as an explanation as to why they were able to blow the saints away when attacking. As we can see below, Pereira makes an excellent sprint from the right-hand side into the space behind the Saints defence. This again stretched the Southampton defence and meant that they had more options when going forward. Rodgers clearly tweaked this in the second half so that they did this more often in order to cause more opportunities on goal.
Leicester’s Front Three
Another reason as to why Leicester were able to destroy Southampton in this game was the role of their three forwards. As mentioned in the Lineup, Leicester started with a 4-3-3 formation. In a traditional sense the two wide players in the front three would play very wide.
However, in this system, Brendan Rodgers has the two wider players playing as narrow forwards. In this game, this fell to Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Pérez. Throughout the match, they were both very narrow and close to the central striker Jamie Vardy. This was to prevent him from getting isolated which happened a lot under previous manager Claude Puel. Ayoze Pérez both got hattrick’s in this particular game which highlights how effective the three of them were together.
In terms of looking at the best in the world at using this system of three narrow forwards we of course look at Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohammed Salah who play extremely narrow and use link-up play to create chances. Brendan Rodgers is clearly trying to replicate this by having Harvey Barnes, Jamie Vardy and Ayoze Pérez as narrow forwards.
As we can see in the image below, the front three are extremely close to each other when in attacking transitions. This again means that chance creation is much more likely. It also means that the full-backs can overlap in certain situations. The image below clearly shows the effectiveness of having a narrow front three like Leicester operated with.
The front three of Leicester were so effective in scoring within the game. It felt like every chance they created a shot on target was the result. This once again comes from them being in a narrow fashion. Southampton operated in a back three, which could have meant that the forward players could have been isolated due to amount of numbers back. By essentially having three forwards it meant that the defenders were always occupied, which once again meant that the likelihood of a goal was increased.
This is evident in the image below. The ball is in front of the three forwards and in a central area of the pitch. They are all in areas whereby if the ball comes into them they would be able to play the ball amongst each other to create a chance. The narrow forward three coupled with Leicester’s creative midfield shows why they were able to score a record-breaking nine goals.
The effectiveness of the narrow front three Leicester played with was evident for Leicester’s third goal scored by Ayoze Pérez, his first of his hattrick goals. The front three were close to each other which allowed Pérez to make a run from the right-hand side into space. Below is an image from this attacking movement seen in the build-up to the goal. The narrow nature of the attacking players meant build-up play with the likes of Maddison and Tielemans was much more likely to result in a goal.
James Maddison has had an impressive start to the league thus far. In the 2018/2019 season, he got 10 goals and nine assists. In nine games this season he already has three goals and two assists and will most certainly continue to pick up his game.
He is averaging 49 passes per match and at least 56 of them being key passes in the opposition half. This highlights how he is maturing as a player and it is understandable why the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool are all interested in signing him. In this particular game, however, it is important to analyse his role in creating chances for the foxes forwards.
In this game, his role was picking the ball up in deeper areas of the pitch and influencing the game from there. This was a key tactical usage by Rodgers to create more chances and have more control on the game. Maddison was essentially playing the Paul Scholes role by coming deep and using his excellent passing range to find his teammates.
Below we can see an example of Maddison picking up the ball deep in Leicester’s half. This was to have an influence on the game. Maddison was key in this role and had a great influence from deeper areas.
Maddison coming deep to receive the ball was a common theme throughout the game. His technical ability coupled with his midfield partnership with Youri Tielemans meant that he had a real influence on the game. Below we can see another example of Maddison coming deeper to get the ball and spring a pass forward. This once again highlights why having a player like Maddison in this role is helpful when looking to break down teams to take down the low block.
Another aspect of Maddison’s game which was on show in this match was his ability to find space. Maddison was able to find space in areas of the pitch which would hurt the opposition severely. This was key to Leicester being able to score 9 goals in the game, as Maddison was constantly finding spaces to be able to play passes into the likes of Jamie Vardy. Finding space is something that attacking midfielders often struggle to do effectively. However, Maddison was able to find space numerous times throughout the match which was damaging to Southampton. Below we can see an example of this whereby Maddison picks up space In between the lines of the opposition midfield. This is the most important part of the pitch, which highlights his ability to find space in more detail.
As mentioned previously, Maddison’s ability to find space was on show throughout the match. Below is a further example of him being able to find space in a critical area of the pitch. By finding space in these areas it meant he could release the attacking forwards who knew when to make the important runs to hurt the opposition.
Maddison’s positioning was also important in this game. He was always centrally based when Leicester were in attacking areas. He and Tielemans would always be parallel to each other which meant they could create more chances when in possession. This is similar to how Manchester City play with the two more advanced central midfielders in order to bring the wider forwards into the game. Maddison had a clear influence from this role and was furthermore able to feed the forward players with chances. Below we can see this once again, with Maddison in a central area Leicester are able to create much more space and attack with freedom.
Leicester’s Build Up Play
The final way in which Leicester were able to destroy Southampton in this game was through their excellent build-up play. When trying to play out from the back there would be a triangle shape that formed with the two centre backs and Wilfred Ndidi, the defensive midfielder. This was to allow the full-backs to push up and allow extra cover when one of the two central defenders stepped out.
When Southampton went down to 10 men it meant they had only one striker pressing the central defence. By having these triangles in position it meant they could beat the press by playing out from the back instead of going long. This furthermore meant that they could keep possession of the ball, which is in line with Rodgers philosophy of playing. Below is a great example of this. By having Ndidi back near the centre backs it meant that Evans could play a pass into multiple avenues.
A further example can be seen below, Leicester are more advanced with the ball and are looking to build from the back. By having this triangle in midfield it means that one of the centre backs can move forward with the ball with the extra protection of Wilfred Ndidi to cover for them. It is also evident in the image that the full-backs are allowed to push much higher up the pitch.
To conclude, Leicester obliterated the Southampton defence and were clinical in their attacking transitions. Leicester played with flair, attacking quality and most importantly desire. Southampton, on the other hand, did not show any qualities of a premier league side. Understandably going down to 10 men did not help matters however, to concede nine goals is simply a disgrace to the fans. In terms of the analysis, it was hard to find any good points of their game. Going forward it will be vital that they find form so they can survive relegation. As for the foxes, they will seriously be considering a top-six finish given their excellent start and the form of the likes of Manchester United and Spurs.
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