Leicester City’s fantastic run was ended by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side on Saturday. Claudio Ranieri’s team were beaten by a single goal scored by Christian Benteke.
Liverpool started with a 4-2-3-1 system with Simon Mignolet in the goal, Dejan Lovren – Mamadou Sakho partnership in the central defense, Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne as the wingbacks. Jordan Henderson and Emre Can played behind the attacking midfield trio of Coutinho, Firmino, and Adam Lallana. Divock Origi started as the striker with the goal scorer Benteke starting from the bench.
Ranieri went with the same 4-4-2 system. Kasper Schmeichel guarded the goal. Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan, and Danny Simpson formed the first line of four. Marc Albrighton, N’Golo Kante, Andy King, Riyad Mahrez formed the second line of four. Jamie Vardy played as the striker. Shinji Okazaki shadowed him.
Leicester City’s defending.
Leicester prominently focused on keeping a tight defensive unit to fend off Liverpool’s chances. Ranieri side played in a very disciplined manner while defending and executed the plan properly for the most part of the game.
Leicester City’s defending can be broken down into three phases or steps:
Phase 1: Blocking the center by occupying the central midfielders.
When Liverpool were building their attacks from the back with the intention of playing the ball through the heart of the pitch, the strikers Vardy and Okazaki were occupying the central midfielders of Liverpool while the rest of the team was staying narrow. This was leaving spaces in the wide zones and forcing Liverpool’s center backs to pass sideways to the wingbacks.
Phase 2: Zonal shifting
Leicester players were then shifting to either left or right based on the direction of the pass made by Sakho or Lovren. The wide midfielders, Mahrez, and Albrighton, were pressing the space near Liverpool’s wingbacks when the ball was arriving at them. Okazaki and Vardy were adjusting their position by falling back or moving up to cover the passing lanes connecting the wingbacks to the central midfielders.
Phase 3: Reinforcing the center.
With no options, the wingbacks were lofting the ball over the midfield line of Leicester. One of Kante and King was moving deep to cut out the passes and while the other was waiting to attack the second ball, win it and help in the quick transition from defense to attack. Kante and King were shadowing the attacking midfielders of Liverpool who were drifting in and around the Zone 14.
Here’s a video which shows the disciplined defensive approach adopted by Leicester. This approach of Ranieri is very helpful in breaking down attacks and quickly launching counter attacks due to the use of quick wide-midfielders.
Liverpool change their formation.
Liverpool enjoyed nearly 65% of the possession. While attacking, after being shut down by Leicester City in all the possible routes, the home team slowly started displaying its flexibility in switching between formations. Liverpool’s midfielders, with their ability to play in multiple positions, made these transitions look easy.
Liverpool initial formation was 4-2-3-1 with a very fluidic attacking midfield.
Finding it difficult to break down Leicester, Liverpool started pumping men higher up the pitch to disturb Leicester’s defensive block. Klopp’s team were occasionally changing to 3-3-4 during attacking build-ups, with either of Alberto Moreno or Nathaniel Clyne advancing forward.
Liverpool also changed momentarily to 2-5-3 with Coutinho and Lallana tucking in closer to the striker Origi while Clyne and Moreno provided width.
Lot of ball circulation but with little penetrative action
Although Liverpool enjoyed a majority of ball possession and circulated it between the players, the home side very rarely managed to penetrate Leicester’s defensive structure. In order to make way for passes through the center, Origi, Lallana, Coutinho, and Firmino were swapping positions rapidly to pull a defender or two out of position. Huth, for example, fell into this trap and created an opening for Liverpool. There were a few incidents like this.
Here’s an instance where Liverpool have changed to 3-3-4 but due to blocking of Henderson and Can by King and Kante the back three find no proper forward passing option into the space behind Leicester’s forwards (which was the first line of press).
Liverpool were finding it hard to play through balls and their positioning around Leicester’s defensive 4-4-2 shape was the main reason for this problem. Klopp’s Liverpool faced the same glitches as faced by Klopp’s Dortmund last season. Here’s a case from the 29th minute where all the Liverpool players are surrounding Leicester. There is no home team player in the middle and even if one had arrived he would have been pressed by nearly five opponents (the blue zone). All Henderson could do was pass the ball sideways to Can who repeated the same action.
Due to time constraints, I have only explained a few aspects of the game in detail. There are many interesting characteristics to both the playing styles of both the teams like Leicester occasionally changing to a diamond in the midfield, Liverpool using the width to cancel out Leicester’s horizontal compactness, Liverpool using square passes to attack the tight spaces around the 18-yard box (a similar theory for crosses has been explained in Inspire.football) , Leicester high press which was quite successful in this game, and their problems in transition against Liverpool.
This win highlighted the weaknesses of both Liverpool and Leicester. Liverpool dominated the ball but found it hard to open spaces in the crucial stages whereas Leicester defended comfortably and attacked on the counter.