Leicester City hosted Manchester City at the King Power Stadium in a top of the table clash of sorts. There were concerns for Leicester that Ryad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy might be unavailable due to injury and a viral infection respectively. However, both started, and there was also a first start since September for Gokhan Inler. Meanwhile, City re-introduced Sergio Aguero into their starting line up, the Argentine having had a season hampered by injuries thus far.
The away side paired Raheem Sterling alongside Aguero with De Bruyne and Silva as attacking midfielders and Fernandinho and Toure as the two central midfielders. This is usually the formation which Manuel Pellegrini favours. Sterling caused a few problems for the Leicester defence with his speed, and was a good foil to Aguero. On occasions when City were under pressure, his speed was an out ball for them in the face of pressure from the Foxes. One such occasion was when Sagna was put under pressure and his clearance upfield played Sterling through beyond Leicester defence, which had pushed up to ensure compactness in the press. Sterling’s speed allowed him to get behind, although nothing came of the move.
Claudio Ranieri, however, decided to change from his usual approach of playing two centre forwards – either Ulloa or Okazaki alongside Vardy – in favour of Gokhan Inler, and as a result crowding up the midfield. This also made sense because of City’s creative players – De Bruyne, Silva and Toure – who are very adept at making combination plays between the lines. Inler’s inclusion was made to ensure that these guys would not have the opportunity to do just that.
While Inler did help stop City’s creative players from controlling the game to an extent, the Swiss was often poor in possession and gave the ball away far too many times.
Leicester held a relatively low bloc but were very aggressive in pressing Manchester City when the away side began play from the back. Kante and Drinkwater were very important in this aspect and would often push up to assist Vardy in pressing. Vardy was NOT tasked with marking the central midfielder that dropped deep to in the first phase of build up but rather to close off the passing lanes said midfielder might have to either Otamendi or Mangala. It was through pressing in situations like these that Leicester fashioned their best chance of the match.
Hart played the ball to Mangala, who could not play to Kolarov due to Mahrez’s positioning and therefore had to play it to Fernandinho, who dropped deep on that occasion. The Brazilian was too ponderous and Vardy managed to poke the ball to Drinkwater, who played in the Englishman only for him to blast over.
Mahrez and Albrighton also played important roles in these situations; their positioning often cut out the option of the full back for the centre back, ensuring that City could not play their way out quite so easily. Mahrez’s pressuring on Kolarov brought Leicester their first sight of goal when he stripped the ball of the Serbian before running at the defence and unleashing a shot that went just over.
This intensity, however, could not last the entirety of the game as Mahrez and Albrighton also had to track back a lot because of the attacking impetus of City’s full backs.
Introduction of Ulloa and change in emphasis for Leicester
In the second half Ranieri brought on Ulloa for Inler, and this meant Leicester were now playing with two strikers once more. Prior to the change, Vardy often cut a lonely figure up front on his own. The Englishman was given the task of running beyond City’s defenders onto long passes from long passes or clearances. He was expected to be a nuisance to the City defenders with his speed and tireless running, but this rather simplistic strategy did not really get the home side anywhere. The introduction of Ulloa meant two things; Vardy now was no longer all alone up front and that he need not run beyond the City defence from long punts by his teammates.
De Bruyne and Silva in the half space
De Bruyne and Silva were played as wide midfielders against Leicester. Both were tasked with moving into the half spaces to facilitate City’s combination plays – City created their best chance this way when De Bruyne played an exchange with Sagna, who then set up Raheem Sterling only for his volley to be saved by Schemeichel.
De Bruyne’s movement into the half space drew Fuchs out. The Belgian then nodded the ball to Sagna who continued his run; now that Fuchs was out of the equation, Huth had no choice but to come across and this in turn created that space for Sterling to be played in and showing the importance of the half spaces. Silva often dropped deeper than De Bruyne to help with the build up for City and aid them on their way further up the pitch.
The substition of Navas for Silva – and to a lesser extent Bony for Aguero – negatively affected City’s combination plays and as a result City’s play suffered.
City had the better of most of the match and probably just about edged it. However, Leicester made some decent opportunities too and a draw was probably just about the right result.
Leicester have most likely already secured safety for next season, so it will be intriguing to see if they can push on from that and secure European football or perhaps the unthinkable: winning the title. City on the other hand have dropped more points, but in context it really is not as bad as some would have you believe, and the Citizens are still well in the title race.