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Leicester City 1-3 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

All we do is win, win, win, three on the trot!

Leicester City v Chelsea FC - Premier League
My favourite moment of the game
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

This would be our first chance of grabbing a Premier League double against Leicester City since the 2016-17 season (we also knocked them out of the League Cup that year), right after they had both won the league and then sold N’Golo Kanté to us - so let’s all take a moment to imagine the impact a fully-fit Kanté would add to this squad...ah, refreshing, isn’t it? Let’s hope he’s ready come back in time for our next Champions League match, because his role will be important to achieve what Potter is apparently ready to do!

But first was Leicester, and, as it happens, Brendan Rodgers has only won 1 from 16 against Chelsea as the opposition’s manager, and that 6.25% win ratio is his lowest margin against any club, which is especially ironic considering the four years he spent at Chelsea managing the two youths squads after coming in from Reading in 2004. Perhaps he still loves us and this is subterfuge at its finest, we may never know.

Graham Potter would continue with the recently successful 3-4-3 formation via a few tweaks forced from injury, as Mikhailo Mudryk and Ruben Loftus-Cheek would replace Raheem Sterling and Reece James, but essentially try to fill their recent roles anyway. Potter continued the emphasis of his attack being focused either on or through Kai Havertz and to a lesser extent João Félix. The connection to Havertz continued to be reliant upon either the wings or Enzo Fernández, who continues to look like a good investment. Again it worked, and Havertz’s repetitive starts finally are starting to seem justified.

Starting XI’s

Brendan Rodgers has seemingly become the new tinkerman. The last time he didn’t reshape his starting formation to match his opposition was when they emphatically won 4-1 against Tottenham on the 11th of February. His formation has since shifted each match between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 to mirror his opponent, with no consistency, and he has lost each time. They hadn’t played in a back three in that entire time (or for quite some time before that), and yet Rodgers still chose to match us in that formation. A lack of familiarity likely contributed to why, with more possession and xG, they didn’t win the game - as we have learned the hard way, a consistent attack is certainly helpful.

The midfield is almost always where a result is determined. When a match is as open as this one was, tactics tend to become less important and a three other facets can often have their say on the outcome: defensive organisation, an in-form keeper, or clinical finishing. All three played a role.

In defense, while were were not as solid at defending in the first half - it did get marginally better as the game wore on, at least in terms of quantity if not quality of the chances we conceded - it became better and even needed to shift from a 3 to a 5 to a 4 at points. Contrarily, their defense was not able to pick up the runs from our striking force no matter their formational shifts, so while they were having a decent defensive midfield presence, once that was bypassed, they had no recovery.

In goal, the fact that Kepa kept out a few shots that were of genuine quality while Leicester continues to flounder in front of net also contributed greatly, but he wasn’t the deciding factor either. Both of those two things have happened before this season and we have drawn or worse.

On clinical finishing, this game was determined by the fact that finally, FINALLY, it seems like the scoring part of that equation is coming into a relative groove - especially if you consider the number of times we have hit the post or been ruled out for nigh negligible offsides offenses in recent matches, it is as tantalising as it gets to assume they might soon be even more regularly converted.

First (left) then second (right) half xG maps

The left-side, despite contributing only 33% of the attack, did yield 4 crosses and 2 shot assists. One direct assist did come from a cross from that side, and even though it was Chilwell’s goal, it was also following a corner he himself took from the right side, so it was not at all part of the left-sided attack. 50% of the attack came down the right and yet, because the play had more coordination and build-up to get into their box, lengthy crosses were not the patterned design. It then comes as no surprise that 5 of the 7 crosses from the right side did not connect with their intended target. So how did that side end up with so many chances created and 4 shot assists? Because short passes and especially carries into the box, where there were 11 from the right side and only 5 from the left, were extremely successful.

The reason we are converting chances has multiple variable factors, but certainly one of them is that we are getting into better scoring positions. Of our 12 shots, only 6 were on target, which is good but not great. However, 9 of those 12 were taken from inside the box, and 5 of those 9 were taken from a central position around the penalty spot. 2 of them resulted in goals. Lest we mention that those two were taken from significantly greater chances and provided cushion only after the belter from Ben Chilwell, who certainly has no love loss after ditching foxes for a lion, and one who certainly does not concern himself with the opinions of his former fans. And hey, another free kick goal and counting!

Immediately after the goal, Leicester would kick into gear. In fact, after threatening in a dangerous area and earning this free kick, I dare you to explain this marking scheme.

Definitely no need for 4 at the near post with a wall in place...

With Kepa and Enzo blocked off by a single cover, a 2v1 at back post, and nobody marking anyone parked just outside the box, take your pick how they might have scored from this. The fact that Daniel Amartey didn’t score is just good fortune, but how anyone organising that line, whether it be Kepa, captain Kovačić, or Koulibaly, there needs to be more decisiveness taken.

Our defensive territory map is all-encompassing, even down to the corner flags, because we were quite literally that stretched and decently responsible in cover while being on the back foot. When our team has 18 clearances, 42 tackles, and 25 blocked shots, yet the opposition still manage to get 17 registered shots on the books, we were clearly the less attacking side. But that has been Potter’s agenda lately, and Chelsea have done decently well at influencing the game without possession. This aggressively pressing defense has made it much more difficult to play between our lines, and Potter is utilising the pace of Koulibaly as a fast anchor. The biggest threat through aggressive defense is a ball over the top, and Koulibaly has the pace to get back that perhaps the greatest free signing in transfer history (Thiago Silva) does not.

Defensive maps and stats
McLachBot and FBREF

32% of the match was played in our defensive third, 47% in the middle third, and, you guessed it, only 21% in their defensive third. Unlike against Dortmund where we also didn’t have a dominance of possession but dictated the play decently well, we did to a much less comprehensive effect against Leicester. We only hit 40% of our passes in their half of the field, but the threat lies not in how many more times they entered our half (59) than we did theirs (44), but how many entrances we had into the box (14) than they did ours (11). That sort of direct play on the ball is largely due to Enzo Fernández’s impact from a deeper position and the fluidity and movement of the front three, who, even with Mykhailo Mudryk replacing Raheem Sterling as the deeper runner, had a general understanding of what to expect from one another.

After the late first half goal, Potter made the adjustment to remove Félix for the industry of Conor Gallagher, who seemed to be on a man marking task of James Maddison to prevent Leicester from getting back into the game. The game continued in a frantic style before and after Potter changed players and formation again, adding Christian Pulisic and Trevoh Chalobah for Chilwell and Loftus-Cheek. Formation also shifted to a back four after this, and Potter was now mirroring the changes that Rodgers had made with his triple change on the 66th minute.

But Enzo and Havertz would continue to be the deciding factors on the day, and their link up combined with the relentless endeavour of Mudryk (who had also had a goal just slightly ruled offsides) and Kovačić to get into the box as surely was instructed to all players, the game would be sealed up. It is fantastic to note the position of those two in this photo to see how there is a clear charge into the box after Leicester’s pressing for a goal showed how easily a quick transition cut them open.

Our defense was not great, but this is an absolute shambles

At this point, most of the players that would typically be deemed attackers were also very good pressers, and they did their job extremely well to finish out the game. The wealth of riches on Potter’s bench are finally able to be exploited, and adding Benoît Badiashile in the latter stages of the game to shut down shop shows that depth.

Now, after such a long wait for three in a row and with more relegation fodder upcoming on Saturday, is a fourth win forthcoming?


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