Isolation of Mahrez and faster change of play to the wide men destroy Leicester City

Standing miles away from Liverpool in the Premier League table, Manchester City and Leicester City faced each other at the Etihad stadium on Saturday. A 2nd place encounter that was pretty hyped due to Leicester’s recent form and City’s resurrection at the Emirates a week before.

The show Kevin De Bruyne put on against Arsenal was something you would call extra-terrestrial. City played in a 4–2–3–1 shape that eventually morphed into a 2–3–4–1 or 3–2–4–1 depending on Kyle Walker’s positioning. It wasn’t needed though as 15 minutes into the game De Bruyne roaming into space blitzed the Arsenal defence.

The return of Benjamin Mendy allows City to operate in that shape while still keeping the width — only him and Leroy Sane can provide that width on the left side. The same shape was again fielded against Leicester. The new tweak though was the introduction of Bernardo Silva in a deeper role next to Ilkay Gundogan in the double pivot instead of Rodri.

Raheem Sterling would move inside into the left channel as De Bruyne roams from the number 10 position to the right channel making sure City are occupying the five lanes with Mendy and Riyad Mahrez out wide.

City focused their build up on the left side using Bernardo Silva. This moved Leicester horizontally but Mahrez still kept the width. Meanwhile, Sterling and De Bruyne operated behind Youri Tielemans and James Maddison who was man-marking Gundogan in the first half. This provided Wilfred Ndidi with a dilemma whether to pick up Sterling or De Bruyne. Ndidi decided to pick up the one near the ball, leaving the other for the defence to occupy.

With De Bruyne keeping his place inside, Ben Chilwell left a huge gap between him and Mahrez who hugged the touchline throughout the game.

This often left Chilwell in a place in between De Bruyne and Mahrez, neither pressing the first nor containing the second. Walker’s inside positioning also didn’t help as Harvey Barnes was more keen to be inside the field rather than on the wing.

De Bruyne’s alertness of Mahrez’s positioning and quick passing found Mahrez out wide with space between him and Chilwell in a 1 v 1 situation. The place you would want Mahrez to be in.

Mahrez’s shot was blocked by Caglar Soyuncu this time.

City were playing towards the far post willingly. Mendy’s cross a few minutes later was high and far towards the far post for Mahrez to pick up. The 4 v 3 situation in the box before the cross keeps Chilwell busy giving Mahrez more time on the ball when it goes wide towards the far post.

When the ball is played wide Mahrez is ready, and Chilwell’s positioning is miles away from Mahrez. Even Vardy’s closer to the Algerian !

Mahrez’s ability in a 1 v 1 situation is notorious and Barnes drops to support Vardy leaving De Bruyne free.

The goal would have been text-book considering City’s game-plan on the day, but only the post denied De Bruyne’s curling shot.

It was rinse and repeat throughout the first half. City’s build up on the left side with the help of Bernardo Silva shifted Leicester horizontally but Mahrez who’s way down in the screenshot below — You can only see his head — always kept the width. Additionally, Chilwell and Barnes were busy with De Bruyne and Walker’s movements inside the pitch.

Once the ball was back to Otamendi four seconds later he didn’t think for a moment and played a cross field diagonal pass into Mahrez.

The snippet below showcases Chilwell’s problem he doesn’t know whether to keep tabs of De Bruyne or stay wide against Mahrez damaging Leicester’s horizontal compactness and leaving a hole in the defensive line.

Mahrez takes his time until Chilwell closes down then his trickery gets him past the left back.

Attracting three Leicester defenders, Mahrez squares it back for Gabriel Jesus whose finish isn’t the best and the score stays 0–0.

City go down 1–0 and Vardy had another chance to double the lead but City still had their momentum. Following a corner, Mendy played a long diagonal pass to Mahrez.

Space again between the Algerian and Chilwell, making the first comfortable when attacking the defender.

Mahrez goes on, twisting Chilwell inside out before eventually going inside.

His shot this time goes past Kasper Schmeichel albeit with the assistance of a deflection.

Operating in the double pivot was Bernardo Silva and Gundogan. The duo makes it easier in terms of reaching the wide men through diagonal cross field passes. Gundogan from right to Mendy wide on the left, and Bernardo Silva from left to Mahrez wide on the right. A double pivot simply makes it easier to switch play as having only one player would mean he would need to adjust his body shape before switching the ball from one side to the other. Another thing is that with both playing on their dominant foot, diagonal passes don’t require them adjusting their body shape.

Aided by Sterling’s movement inside in the left channel attracting Leicester’s players, Mendy is free out wide and Gundogan finds him with a pass over the Leicester players.

Only two City players can provide that width, Mendy and Sane. With the latter injured it makes more sense for City to start their shape from a double pivot to let the width come from the left back. In oppose of the left back (Zinchenko normally) going inside into midfield. Also, the personnel and their characteristics make it different. Gundogan and Bernardo are far better than Zinchenko/Walker in terms of diagonal passes.

It’s noticeable how Mahrez is so wide in the snippet below that he’s not even featuring in it.

Mendy’s cross is deflected by De Bruyne’s header and falls into Mahrez who’s coming untracked from wide. His shot goes near the post keeping the goal difference to only one.

Sterling’s movement inside regularly caused Leicester issues by freeing Mendy, not helped here as well by Jesus who’s pinning Ricardo Pereira.

As Sterling receives the ball he’s rushed by Marc Albrighton leaving Mendy who’s out of the picture completely free. The advantage of Bernardo Silva here in a double pivot is that he gives the option to Sterling to play it back for Bernardo to find Mendy quickly.

Sterling does it himself but the idea of the 2nd pivot provides this solution while still having De Bruyne and Sterling in the right and left channel.

Mendy squares it back and again it’s easy to see that Mahrez is keeping his width — not featuring in the picture — waiting to attack from wide.

Mahrez’s shot weaves through the defence but Schmeichel manages a showstopping save to keep Leicester in the game — Only from a scoreline perspective.

The time Chilwell left his normal positioning and charged down Mahrez it emptied space for De Bruyne as Ndidi can’t cover due to the positioning of Sterling.

De Bruyne forced his way through Leicester’s block, switching between his left and right foot. There was simply no stopping of the Belgian cyborg. Whilst that is happening, Sterling’s movement inside allows Jesus to sneak towards the far post.

Finally, De Bruyne plays one of his ethereal low cross balls for Jesus who earlier moved towards the far post as Sterling occupied the central space. 3–1 and the curtains are down.

City’s offensive performance deserved applause. It was the complete offensive set, every tactical tweak enabled the other. Using Bernardo Silva in the build up made it easier building from the left side which moved Leicester horizontally whilst Mahrez kept his width. Width that gave him time and space as Chilwell was busy with De Bruyne’s positionig. The movement of Sterling inside as well allowed Mendy to attack the wing where he can be found through diagonal cross field balls from the double pivot of Gundogan and Bernardo Silva. All that was happening as De Bruyne was just doing his daily thing.

As Overwatch’s Junkrat would say it, “Brings a tear to my eye”.

English Football. United