Tactics Session: How Man City dominated Leicester City

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This past weekend’s game between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad was a highly anticipated matchup. Both sides had plenty at stake, and both sides not only a lot to lose, but also plenty to gain.

Man City sat 11 points off the top of the table coming in, and any more slips could prove deadly not only to their already slim title hopes, but also to any thought of finishing second, which still remains important to the club after winning back-to-back titles and not wishing to fall behind anyone else. Leicester City came in also looking to stay in the title hunt with Liverpool seemingly pulling away, and also looking for another statement win that entrenches the Foxes as a legitimate long-term threat to the top of the table.

Leicester City went in front early as Jamie Vardy continued his torrid stretch, but Pep Guardiola came away with the goods via a 3-1 comeback victory on goals from Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan, and Gabriel Jesus. Still, it was all about Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling. In the video above, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe break down the tactical change Guardiola made that left Man City firmly on top after the 90 minutes.

The 2 Robbies brilliantly illustrate how one slight change made all the difference for Man City going forward and left Brendan Rodgers to reconsider his approach moving forward. Guardiola left defensive midfielder Rodri on the bench, an unexpected move that left some scratching their heads before kickoff, instead selecting Ilkay Gundogan in the holding role and dropping Bernardo Silva into a true central midfield position. With both taking a step back, de Bruyne operated in a central attacking midfield role with Sterling also pinching in, a wrinkle for a Man City team that has unabashedly played out wide so far this season.

With de Bruyne drifting centrally, it left Wilfried Ndidi – who has been one of the best, if not THE best, defensive midfielder in the Premier League this season – to decide whether to mark Sterling or de Bruyne. Unable to do both, and with Youri Tielemans not prepared to be needed tracking back, Man City found its mismatch. Sterling created three chances, all in a central location in and around the penalty area, and de Bruyne was absolutely stellar pulling the strings. The Belgian’s best moment came on the final goal, turning Caglar Soyuncu into minced meat before a pinpoint feed to the far post for Jesus.

Credit Guardiola for identifying a weakness in the squad – even if it took a few months – and realizing the team is better when playing through the middle. Man City still delivered 15 crosses in the game, a hefty number for most top European clubs, but it was ultimately a decoy for the truly dangerous moments.