In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting matches in football, providing you with an in-depth tactical analysis powered by Wyscout tools and stats. This time, we analysed the latest showdown for a UEFA Champions League qualification spot in the Premier League: Leicester City v Man United.
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As one of many fascinating clashes on the last day of the Premier League season, the Leicester City vs.Manchester United match certainly held extreme importance, for the winner would secure themselves Champions League football for next season.

Man Utd would eventually win the duel to qualify for Europe’s elite competition with a 2-0 win, with second-half goals coming from Bruno Fernandes and Jesse Lingard enough to see off the Foxes. In a tense, intriguing battle with so much on the line, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers lined his team up in a 5-3-2 formation, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer again opted for a 4-2-3-1.

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Leicester and Man Utd’s base formations.

With so much at stake, there was understandably an element of nervousness attached to both teams’ play, with Leicester more content to sit back and cede possession to the Red Devils in the early exchanges. While clear cut chances proved consistently hard to come by, there were still many interesting tactical aspects to observe throughout.

To start with Man Utd, and although they weren’t at their devastating best going forward, there was plenty of upside to be extracted from how they got at the home side. Possessing an exciting front four of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes, the quartet’s slick rotations and crafty movement to unbalance the Leicester backline saw them pose a significant threat.

By constantly interchanging with one another, and even the fullbacks on occasion, this caused dilemmas on who their nominal opponents should mark in what area. Not allowing their adversaries to settle into a rhythm and obtain reference points on how to combat them, this saw United drag their opposition rearguard out of shape to create openings for runs in behind.

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Martial breaking into the channel after rotating with Rashford.
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Rashford and Williams rotating while creating a 3v2 to progress.

Taking full advantage of any split seconds of indecision, how the away side frequently found options in behind and down the channels through not only the aforementioned but also through clever opposite movements and decoy runs was a major highlight.

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Martial’s superbly timed run to take advantage of the vacant spaces.
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Fernandes’ excellent depth run as Martial drops deep to draw his man to create the space.
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Fernandes drawing out his man before finding Greenwood in the vacated space.
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Fernandes’ tidy decoy run as he creates room for Greenwood.

Meanwhile, when it came to United’s build-up play, it was interesting to see how they attempted to generate conditions for progression against Leicester’s pressing setup. Seeing as Leicester were defending in a centrally focused 5-3-2, they looked to start the press with the strikers on the centre backs. The wingbacks would then be oriented towards the wingers, the ball near central mid pressed the nearby fullback as the remaining two mids were left to manage Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Fernandes with the defenders depending on their position. The back three were then left to monitor the multifaceted movement of the frontline, which saw the wingers often come infield onto the outside central defenders to form a dangerous 3v3 in the middle.

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Example of Leicester’s press setup.

The Foxes’ structure worked reasonably well, doing a solid job of frustrating United for large parts, as they blocked inside passing lanes, shifted across and often kept the ball away from dangerous central areas. They instead ensured the United fullbacks were allowed possession, which wasn’t anywhere near as ideal as their gifted attackers or midfielders being on the ball. It was also notable when Leicester pressed high how they created some excellent chances after forcing turnovers high up.

To their credit, though, the Red Devils did still manage their fair share of positive moments to go with their threat in behind. These instances predominantly arose when Matic would drop between the central defenders to give them a 3v2 overload and when they drew Leicester’s mids out of shape to find Fernandes between the lines. In doing the former, Matic helped generate a free man so one of the central defenders could dribble upfield and hope to engage a midfielder to press them to exploit the space they vacated.

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Matic forms a 3v2 as he drops into the backline.

Focusing on how Fernandes was used, and how he expertly found space to link play was a joy, with him masterfully avoiding opponents to be an option. The fact United’s speedy forwards pinned the Foxes backline, making them wary about leaving their post to follow him, and how United lured the Leicester mids out only enhanced the space Fernandes had to operate in.

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Fernandes receiving between the lines in a forward-facing posture.
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Fernandes sharply situated between the lines.
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Fernandes receiving on the half-turn between the lines.

Turning the attention to Leicester’s offensive efforts, and they produced their best work on the counter by using their incisive passing, clever route running and speed to make life uncomfortable for the visitors. Using their front two of Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho as excellent outlets when they recovered possession, this gave them a strong platform to burst forward. With Vardy a huge weapon running into depth and Iheanacho dropping deep, they’d usually be joined by the likes of Youri Tielemans and the wingbacks to breathe life into their transitions.

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Leicester driving forward on the counter as they manufacture a 3v2.
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Leicester breaking forward in a 4v4.

It was notable how they’d pinpoint the runs of wingback Luke Thomas, as he bombed forward into the space created by United right-back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, tucking inside to help his centre-halves deal with Vardy and Iheanacho too. Once in possession, the youngster could then assess his options before whipping crosses and cutbacks into the box.

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Thomas bombing into the free space as Wan-Bissaka tucks infield.

In a match where Leicester were without many key figures such as James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, Caglar Soyuncu and Ricardo Pereira, it’s hard not to think what could’ve been if they’d had their best eleven out there in this crucial fixture. Instead, United with their quality laden squad featuring many difference-makers got over the line, in the end, to take home a coveted top-four place.

Outdoing the Foxes in Expected Goals (1.4 to 1.1), possession (55.92% to 44.08%), accurate passes to the final third (49 to 31) and accurate forward passes (113 to 99), United narrowly held the edge through their offensive prowess in this tense tussle.

With this match signalling the end of an elongated EPL season that lasted a remarkable 352 days, United will now turn their attention to their Europa League efforts in August, and in Leicester’s case, they’ll look forward to a break after an overwhelmingly positive season that unfortunately ended in disappointment.

As two of the divisions most intriguing outfits, expect them both to be battling for Champions League places next term too.

 

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