With Liverpool running alone in the first position, the fight for the second position was the Premier League game to watch, as they said if you can’t take gold take silver. On this tactical analysis, we will be doing the analysis and taking some tactics insights of this high tempo game that did not defraud the audience even though only one goal was scored.
Leicester City arrived at this game with two negative stats that would prevail, Brendan Rodgers has never defeated a Guardiola’s team and Jamie Vardy hasn’t scored for Leicester City since last game at Etihad at Christmas time. Manchester City has lost two in the last three visits on this ground but came from defeating West Ham on the week and still being the reigning champions until the maths sentence the championship for Liverpool.
Leicester City started with his captain Kasper Schmeichel who arrived on this game after finishing with clean sheets last Friday, but without the same outcome for the last five home games. Rodgers’s strategy on this game was to play with a back five-line, with Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy, not available, Dennis Praet played on the defensive midfield position with Youri Tieleman and James Maddison. Two strikers, Kelechi Ihenacho and Vardy forming the 1-5-3-2. Only after Man City scored, The Foxes ended up playing as usually with five on the midfield, leaving a back three line in a: 1-3-5-2.
On Guardiola’s 4-4-2 formation, three changes from the last victory against West Ham, on the back-line Fernandinho returned to the starting line-up. David Silva replaced by İlkay Gündoğan and the Argentinian Sergio Agüero took Gabriel Jesus’s place as number nine. Benjamin Mendy continuing on the left-back with Oleksandr Zinchenko now available after being suspended. Former Foxes champion Riyad Mahrez start against his old team makes his 150th Premier League start.
Manchester City dominance on ball possession
This game was not the exception for Manchester City dominance in ball possession, with a 67% of ball possession over the whole game. This was achieved due to Rodgers’s strategy to wait for Man City on their own half, being compact with the defensive and midfield lines with a low pressing attitude. At the same time, Guardiola’s strategy to press high with four players allowed the ball to be easily recovered.
The Citizens build-up from the back with a line of three, releasing Mendy on a higher position. Rodri Hernandez dropped back creating a 4v3 in their whole own field. Leicester City pressing on Man City half was not effective, as it was a 4v3 and any of the back 3 line or Rodri could end up running forward into the middle third with ball control. The Foxes forwards Vardy and Iheanacho were the ones in charge of pressing, one shadowing the pass between The Citizens centre-backs and the other marking Rodri. In the next picture, we can see also Madison helping on the pressing near Kevin Walker. On the right flank was Tielemans the one in charge of pressing Mendy, when he stayed deep in the own half instead of positioning on the left-wing.
If needed the Sky Blues also used either Gündoğan on the right or Bernardo Silva on the left, dropping back and creating an even higher overload. Rodger’s strategy was not to win the ball on Man City half but to be compact on their own half, preventing City combination play on the front third.
The Citizens also forced this high ball possession, using the front three and Kevin De Bruyne on the high pressing. The Foxes known as a team used to build-up from the back was forced to play long balls to either flank. As being a team not used to play in this direct way, all those balls were easily recovered by Man city and possession was recover again. The high pressing was not only from goal kicks but every time their were in possession on their own half, the front three of Guardiola’s team will be close to the back three and De Bruyne following as close as possible to Praet creating a 4v4 in which only long balls were allowed.
With Rodger’s strategy allowing Guardiola’s team to dominate the ball possession, the only way of scoring was on fast transitions, we saw that clearly in the first 10 minutes of the game. Vardy was positioned between Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho, ready to exploit their back when the ball was recovered on the middle third. The first situation shown in the next picture was before the 2’, with a ball recover by Ricardo Pereira after pressing with Tielemans’ help on Rodri, the ball was placed on Laporte back, but with great peace Laporte recover that ball arriving just in time. This play showed the reasons why Guardiola missed him so much when he was out due to injuries, always being secure on this 1v1 running backward with great peace to recover. Laporte record this season is interesting to highlight, playing just six games which won five and draws one, with four clean sheets.
The second opportunity and the clearest one for the whole game for Leicester City came 6’ after, again Tielemans and Ricardo pressing and recovering the ball on this case from Laporte, with Tielemans quickly finding Vardy into space behind Fernandinho. Vardy on an open run 1v1 against Ederson ended up hitting the post, we usually see Vardy scoring on this situation but instead, its negative scoring prevailed one more game.
The Foxes on their transitions also released much more Ben Chilwell than Ricardo. Mendy positioning higher in the pitch and attacking much more than Walker forced Ricardo to stay back. This attacking pattern either centrally after counter-attacks or by releasing Chilwell on the left flank is represented on the next picture, which shows that the more dangerous attacks were centrally after fast and direct transitions looking on Vardy attacking Man City centre-backs. Low danger created on the flanks, with twice as many attacks from the left than from the right but with less scoring chances.
Manchester City defensive block into fast transition
The Citizens deployed a compact defensive line the few times Leicester was in possession on the front third. Bernardo and Mahrez dropping back on the sides of Rodri and Gündoğan respectively. This created two compact lines of four not allowing spaces for Leicester City to play through the middle.
At the same time, this was the base for another weapon used in this game by Guardiola’s team, their counter-attacks. De Bruyne was released from any defensive task, so he was able to stay higher and ready for the counter-attack. In the next picture, we can see after the ball was recovered, De Bruyne positioning behind Leicester City centre-back Çağlar Söyüncü. At the same time, this picture shows one of Guardiola’s transition styles with Man City front line quickly transitioning into attacking positions running forward.
Manchester City combination play on Foxes half
As we said before The Citizens found it easy to get into the middle third, due to a low pressing from The Foxes. Guardiola’s team used Walker and Rodri on the middle third combination play, with Foxe’s midfielders dropping back to block any combination for De Bruyne and Gündoğan, the gap left on the middle third was huge. Man City used also one of the centre-backs, who ended up running forward and creating a 3v1 on that middle third, with Iheanacho being easily skilled in that middle third.
The problem for The Sky Blues arises in the front third, as there was no space given for their combination play. When Man City plays with Mendy, he ends up positioning as the left-wing with Bernardo Silva shifting to the left half. On the other side, Mahrez stays wide creating a front four line with Agüero as a striker. Gündoğan joins De Bruyne behind the front line, either of these two can easily attack any of the front five lanes on the combination play, usually, Gündoğan staying more than De Bruyne.
Rodger’s structure was to allow Guardiola’s team to play from the back, entering easily the middle third. Once in possession on the middle third, The Foxes defensive block didn’t allow The Citizens ball possession on the front third. This is perfectly reflected in Manchester city stats of 50% ball possession on the middle third. The next picture also shows the upfront line with Mendy creating the front four-line, with De Bruyne having higher participation in the front line than Gündoğan.
Leicester defensive block
Rodgers’s strategy was to block Man City combination play on the front third, with his low pressing always being compact on the back third, creating a back-line of five with the three midfielders blocking spaces for De Bruyne and Gündoğan. This was a success for Rodgers’s team not allowing Agüero to touch a single ball inside the box until the penalty shoot. Rodgers’s strategy success on the first half reflected a low 0.29 xG for The Citizens on the first half, even The Foxes having a higher figure due to its counter-attacking situations of 0.45 xG.
Manchester City’s ball possession dominance was not reflected on the result, only scoring after Mahrez dazzling individual run assisting Agüero’s substitute Gabriel Jesus for a 1v1 finish inside the box. If Vardy would have been on a positive scoring streak the story would have been different.
The Foxe’s defensive effectiveness dropped on the second half allowing The Citizens to create more scoring chances and loosing on this battle for the second position. Now only 6 points of difference with Chelsea with still enough difference after Tottenham defeat on London’s derby. Guardiola’s knowing that next Premier League game would be the Manchester derby and coming soon the Champions League playoff against Madrid, would have to start thinking on increasing the xG with teams that close on the back and be defensively ready for fast counter-attacks, something that Zinedine Zidane’s team is expert. Securing the second position, I would never say goodbye on a Guardiola’s team until the maths shows the contrary.