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Premier League 2019/20: Manchester City vs Leicester City - tactical preview tactics

Premier League 2019/20: Manchester City vs Leicester City – tactical preview

This Saturday, a huge clash awaits in the Premier League, as second-placed Leicester City visit the Etihad to take on third-placed Manchester City.

Last year’s champions, Manchester City, have not hit the form, and more importantly the consistency, of the prior two seasons in the league. Having already dropped more points this season in 17 match-weeks than the entirety of last season, they have a mountain to climb if they want to win their third league title in a row.

On the other hand, Leicester City are having an exceptional season, especially when comparing where they were this time last year. They are 10 places higher in the league, and 17 points better off than they were last December under Claude Puel. Brendan Rodgers has transformed the club, and it was unexpected that they’d be challenging for a Champions League position, let alone the title. It is yet to be seen if their lack of squad depth and experience will see them drop off.

This tactical analysis will be a preview that will use analysis to look at the tactics that both teams are likely to employ, and key players that can make a difference for each side.

Manchester City’s likely line-up

Pep Guardiola is not known for changing his lineup and initial set-up against most teams in the league, and he’s likely to stick to his tried and trusted 4-3-3.

Premier League 2019/20: Manchester City vs Leicester City - tactical preview tactics
Manchester City’s expected line-up. The 4-3-3 that becomes a 2-3-5 in possession focuses on the front five constantly making runs, and attacking the opposition’s defence until they can break the deadlock.

The team, however, has been hit with a multitude of injuries, and many of Guardiola’s first-choice players will be unable to participate. Crucial players like Aymeric Laporte and Sergio Agüero are likely to be unfit for the match, which forces Guardiola to turn to his bench options, like Gabriel Jesus and Nicolás Otamendi. Otamendi has especially been overlooked by Guardiola in recent weeks, preferring defensive midfielder, Fernandinho, to partner John Stones over him. But now that Stones is also injured, he is the only other option.

David Silva may also miss the match because of fitness issues, and Guardiola will likely turn to İlkay Gündoğan to replace him alongside Kevin De Bruyne. This may not be a bad thing necessarily, as Gündoğan is much more defensive-minded than David Silva, and with a team like Leicester City, whose attacking threat is one of the best in the league. Having someone like Gündoğan, who will naturally sit a bit deeper, can help neutralise that threat, and ease the pressure off of Manchester City’s already weakened defence.

Leicester City’s likely line-up

Rodgers adds a bit more variety in his lineups, and there are a number of ways he could approach this match. His preferred formation in his managerial career has been the 4-2-3-1, which sees a very dynamic front four, lead by the current Premier League’s top scorer Jamie Vardy, devastate teams. However, this line up maybe a bit too attacking for Manchester City away. A 4-2-3-1 is best used when a team will dominate possession, and it is unlikely that Leicester City dominate that statistic over their opponents in this clash.

Because of this lack of defensive stability in a 4-2-3-1, Rodgers may look at lining up in a 4-1-4-1, a formation he has mostly used this season. This formation stretches the pitch out, allowing Leicester City to cover the flanks more while in defensive mode – a better option when coming up against the current Champions.

Premier League 2019/20: Manchester City vs Leicester City - tactical preview tactics
Leicester City’s possible 4-1-4-1. This formation gives them more control of the wide areas, which would allow them to nullify a lot of Manchester City’s play from the flanks.

Finally, Rodgers has lately been dabbling with a 4-3-1-2, lining up his team this way against Aston Villa, Norwich, and Everton in the EFL Cup. This tactic is interesting, because, instead of the use of the lone striker up top, he has another striker supporting Vardy, and a #10 in James Maddison behind them. This formation could be useful against Manchester City’s makeshift centre-back pairing since having to defend against two strikers is a much harder task, especially with Maddison running in behind them, centrally.

Premier League 2019/20: Manchester City vs Leicester City - tactical preview tactics
Leicester City’s possible 4-3-1-2.

Key Players

Both Manchester City and Leicester City are great teams in their own right. Meaning that they do not have to solely depend on one, two, or even three players to get them through matches. However, these kind of matches are where the big players are expected to rise to the occasion. Two of both teams’ big players’ performances in this upcoming clash will be significant in deciding which team comes out on top.

Kevin De Bruyne 

De Bruyne was the star-man against Arsenal, scoring two goals, and assisting the third. Being in great form right now is a huge boost for Manchester City, and they’ll be hoping he’ll be at his best again vs Leicester City.

Against Arsenal, Phil Foden, Gündoğan, and Rodri along with De Bruyne were effectively able to completely neutralise Arsenal’s double pivot. The two players in the double pivot, which in this coming weekend could be Leicester City players, rather than Arsenal, were outnumbered and were left confused on which of the four to mark, press, and keep their attention on.

This lack of organisation from Arsenal’s midfield left Kevin De Bruyne ample of space to receive the ball, and turn. In front of him was only Arsenal’s chaotic and confused defence, as their disorganised midfield was behind him.

Premier League 2019/20: Manchester City vs Leicester City - tactical preview tactics
De Bruyne’s heat map vs Arsenal. Notice how much more he was in Arsenal’s half despite operating as a #8 (central midfield). He was easily bypassing Arsenal’s double pivot, a mistake that Leicester City cannot afford to do [via Wyscout].
Currently, Leicester City are a better team than Arsenal, but it is easy to fall into the trap of being dominated by Manchester City, primarily because of their likelihood to dominate possession. The midfield battle will be decisive for Leicester to try and control and neutralise so that Kevin De Bruyne cannot have the number of chances he did like against Arsenal.

Çağlar Söyüncü

Opposite of De Bruyne, Çağlar Söyüncü struggled against Norwich, which came as a bit of a surprise for two reasons. The first being that Norwich have been quite toothless in attack, and the second, more important reason, is that thus far, Söyüncü has had an excellent season. After the sale of Harry Maguire to Manchester United, many wondered how Leicester City would cope, but Söyüncü has transformed into one of the most complete centre-backs in the league, and certainly one of the best this season. Excelling at ball playing and having a massive physical presence, he is a large reason as to why Leicester City are in the position that they are in.

So what happened against Norwich? Söyüncü predominantly struggled against Teemu Pukki and his speed. Pukki was very direct in his play against Söyüncü, and the way Norwich were set up saw Pukki isolate Söyüncü multiple times.

With Agüero unlikely to start, it will likely be Jesus who occupies the role Pukki did. Because of the fact that he was rested against Oxford United in the EFL Cup, and he always has a point to prove as the second striker, Jesus should be fit and energetic enough to do the same to Söyüncü.

One thing that Jesus has over Agüero is his age, and therefore better agility and speed. This is worrying for Leicester City, because if Söyüncü does have another off-day, Jesus will be able to get in behind multiple times. Leicester City have to nullify the problem from before the ball even gets to Jesus. As mentioned above, ensuring that De Bruyne does not have time and space to pick passes for Jesus will help protect Söyüncü from dangerous 1vs1s.

Furthermore, Leicester City must be more cohesive as a defensive unit against Manchester City. This is where defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi comes into the equation. If De Bruyne does manage to bypass Leicester City’s midfield, which will bound to happen at least a couple of times, Ndidi must be able to come back as an extra man and either press him or ensure that runners like Jesus are not in a position to go 1vs1 with his teammates, like Söyüncü.

Title Race Decider?

A lot is one the line for both these teams. While it may seem impossible to catch Liverpool, a couple draws, or a loss for them means the gap is significantly cut down. This is a huge opportunity for both Manchester City and Leicester City to a) take points away from a potential third title challenger, and b) close the gap while Liverpool participate in the Club World Cup.

Tactically, the gamble comes more from the visitor’s side. Rodgers will have to make a decision on what he values more in this match: attacking threat, or defensive stability. This decision will ultimately have to be executed by his players to a T because despite their rocky form, Manchester City are still one of the best sides in Europe.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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