The English Premier League Match Day 21 finds Leicester City travelling to St. James Park to take on Newcastle United on New Year’s Day 2020. Steve Bruce’s Magpies have one of its worst runs of the seasons. Newcastle sit 11th in the league and are closer to the top four than to the relegation zone. They were looking to regain the form that they had when they beat Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the season. Leicester seem to be enjoying their football and find themselves in second place one point ahead of the 2018/2019 Champions Manchester City.
With veteran Jamie Vardy leading the charge this season the Foxes campaign is going well. They still find themselves 14 points behind Liverpool with one more game played. Brendan Rodgers has found the right tactics this season to move his team forward, and create a well-oiled winning machine.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at how each team’s tactics matched up and provide an analysis of how each team progressed through the game in a 3-0 a match where Leicester completely dominated the game.
Rodgers came out in a 3-5-2. Vardy was left out of the team this past weekend due to his wife giving birth to his new daughter, and was not recalled to the team to face Newcastle. Kelechi Ịheanachọ and Ayoze Pérez were called in to fill the void. With Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, and Wilfred Ndidi behind the front two, Newcastle were in for a long day.
Newcastle came out in a very defensive low block of a 3-4-3 but turned into a 5-4-1 during most of Leicester’s attacks. The centre-backs Florian Lejeune, Federico Fernández, Fabian Schär would need to find a way to close down space in behind them for the Foxes lethal counter-attacks. Leicester without Vardy, the league’s top scorer with 17, would prove to be a difficult side to keep out of the net.
Bruce’s tactics were clear from the start of the game. They would give up possession of the ball in hopes of striking on the counter-attack. Newcastle would drop in five players on the back line when defending. This showed in the first 15 minutes of the game where Leicester had 72% of the possession. Leicester did not give up much throughout the game and ended the match with 70% of the possession. While Newcastle’s defending average formation line continued to withdraw throughout the game from 48 meters to as low as 37 meters. Many times the back line did not get cleared of their own box before Leicester would recover the ball and start another attack. As you can see below Newcastle gave up a lot of ground and with it space in the midfield.
Newcastle’s centre-backs stayed very central but how they organised was problematic. They did well in taking away space in behind but failed to mark well when Leicester forwards came into their zones. The way the centre-backs moved to handle the midfield runners were a problem as well. They seemed indecisive on who would take the players or when they should eave the line to cover the player. Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden were trying to stay more central to cover the centre-backs.
Their defensive shape would make it more difficult for Leicester to play through the middle. This would make Leicester play wide and through the outside channels. This worked early but failed tactically as 73% of Leicester’s attacks came through the middle. Below is an example of how close the back three were playing and how they were trying to avoid space behind them.
Newcastle would depend on counter attacks to breakdown Leicester. As they fell deeper and deeper into their defensive shell they struggled to gain attacking support from the midfield. Leicester’s wing-backs Ricardo Periera and Ben Chilwell pushed forward and forced Newcastle to cover their runs with Miguel Almirón and Yoshinori Muto. With their deep play they were not able to support the forward attacks as the ball was pushed into Joelinton.
Leicester put numbers around the ball faster than Newcastle could and they recovered the ball very quickly. Newcastle’s average possession length was 12 seconds versus Leicester’s at 26 seconds. The image below shows Almirón and Mutoj at the back side of the triangle. They are separated from Joelinton trying to cut down passing options for Leicester.
Leicester’s work off the ball
This season Leicester has been deadly at counter-attacks. Now they face a team playing a low block. This is when a team allows the attacking team possession in their half of the field. The forwards try to direct play by pressing the attacking team’s defensive backs to one side. This is in hopes to make play more predictable for Newcastle’s backline. Leicester had trouble initially breaking down the defensive tactics that Newcastle put out. Leicester’s three centre-backs had a lot of time on the ball and a lot of space in front of them. Ndidi played a pivot role for the team and helped draw out the Newcastle centre-midfield players. He also completed 66/68 passes for a 97% passing accuracy. In the two images below you can see how Maddison’s and Tielemans’ movement off the ball helped open up space in the outside channels to support Ndidi.
Tielemans and Maddison started to pull wider and make runs in the channels to force the centre-backs to pick up and go man on man. The Newcastle centre-backs were very worried about the ball over the top and were late on closing down the Leicester players that were in space between the defensive and midfield lines. As the Newcastle’s centre-backs were slower and slower in closing down these attacking players, it began to open up the channels for Leicester to play in. The next two images show how Maddison found space outside and how the Newcastle centre-backs did not close down the ball when played.
Leicester’s defense won the game
Leicester’s defence won the game for them. It was late in the first half when Newcastle’s mistakes lead to two goals. Leicester were pressing well, but Newcastle had not taken many opportunities to build out from the back. Newcastle would strike early with long balls forward and not risk losing the ball deep in their half. Leicester pushed numbers into their attacking third while Newcastle was trying to keep possession. Once Leicester outnumbered Newcastle they cut down the passing options.
Once locked in they benefited from poor execution on the ball by Newcastle backs. Leicester’s first goal came as Newcastle became overconfident and tried to build out of the back after an unsuccessful long ball attempt from Leicester. All the Newcastle players were moving away from the ball except Shelvey, but he was well covered. Once Newcastle tried to square the ball, a lateral pass between two players, across the backline they were sunk. Pérez intercepted and put Leicester ahead.
The second goal came from good forward pressure where Leicester outnumbered Newcastle in the attacking third. Once they intercepted the ball they were able to mount a very effective counter-attack that outnumbered the defence. Maddison unleashed an unstoppable shot to put Leicester up by two.
Leicester is playing well, but in this case, it was not their counter-attack that won the game for them. It was the ability to pressure the ball with numbers high up the pitch. If they continue to do that, they will continue to have success with most of the teams in the league. The real test for the Foxes will be the top teams that are able to play out of their pressure. Newcastle had the right tactics to face the Foxes, but through poor execution at the back fell short. If Bruce continues to help this team improve it can move up the ranks in the league.
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