Leicester’s diamond shines at Villa Park
Leicester City’s run this season has been as impressive as their run to the title in 2015/16, however with a different style of play, different players and a different manager. Sitting second in the table, they have only been bettered by Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool. Even Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City haven’t been as consistent as Brendan Rodgers’ team.
The technical ability of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans is protected by Wilfred Ndidi’s panther-like ability to recover the ball in midfield. The Nigerian also adds to the build up as he’s excellent in terms of switching play from one side of the field to the other as he demonstrated in the trip to St Mary’s.
It would take another one thousand words to elaborate how each player’s ability elevates this Leicester City team. The table doesn’t lie, they have been above and beyond. The coaching staff has to have their share in this as well. Since Rodgers’ arrival they have been on the rise, all the way to second place.
Blitzkrieg-ing through Southampton to a 9–0 win — the red card made a difference but that game could have been six or seven even with eleven players on the field. Thumping Newcastle United with a fiver. Jamie Vardy’s on a roll to match his previous record of scoring in 11 consecutive games. It’s definitely a Vardy-party at the King Power.
Rodgers’ Leicester play in a 4–3–3 utilizing Maddison and Tielemans as 8s to enable Vardy, and the overlapping full backs in Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira. The switch to a diamond featured briefly this season, heavily changing the course of the game against Tottenham Hotspur. Putting Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen’s pace to the test by changing the system to a 4–1–3–2 with Maddison behind Harvey Barnes and Vardy.
It eventually paid off. In the equalizer, Danny Rose was busy with Barnes’ run leaving Pereira untracked. Then Maddison blasted the second past Paulo Gazzaniga to double the scoring.
Another switch in shape against Everton turned the game upside down. A switch to a back three — pushing Chilwell inside as a left center back and bringing on Kelechi Iheanacho to accompany Vardy upfront — enabled Iheanacho to annihilate Everton’s defence and win the game in the dying minutes.
At Villa Park Leicester started with a 4–1–3–2 diamond featuring the creative trio of Dennis Praet, Tielemans and Maddison in midfield. Leading the line were Vardy and Iheanacho, and the rest of the lineup was the usual.
The diamond made sense as Villa utilize their left side by allowing Jack Grealish to drift inside, leaving the wing area free for the left midfielder and Matt Target to exploit. A diamond would keep the situation on that side in a 3 v 3 without factoring in Maddison dropping to support.
Pereira would defend the wing area ready for overlaps from Targett or Douglas Luiz. Meanwhile, Ndidi, Maddison and Praet would defend the channel and the center mainly tracking Grealish.
Villa also had problems in the build up phase as when Maddison shifts to that side it becomes a 4 v 3 with Pereira acting as a spare in his right back position.
In the example below, Targett failed to proceeds with the ball up the field. His only option was to go backwards.
The suffocation of Grealish and Villa’s left side was only part of the plan behind this diamond. Villa’s willingness to advance through the wing area leaves their center backs without cover in the the space the full backs vacate.
The diamond allows Leicester to put two pacey forwards upfront in Vardy and Iheanacho. The duo attacked the space behind Villa’s full back especially Iheanacho who benefited from Villa’s way of playing on that side. Moreover, as Vardy and Iheanacho were in a 2 v 2 duel Maddison sneaked in between the center backs occasionally.
To add the cherry on top, Iheanacho didn’t stop at attacking the space behind Targett. He dropped into the right channel to present an extra man in midfield helping Leicester by linking up play. Villa’s center backs were in a dilemma whether to track Iheanacho leaving space behind them, or leave the forward to drop in midfield allowing Leicester a spare man.
Iheanacho and Vardy positioned themselves outside of the center-backs, utilizing the space Targett and Elmohamady vacate.
As the center backs split, Maddison attacks the space between them and Iheanacho feeds him the ball.
Maddison’s shot is blocked by Ezri Konsa here and Villa’s defence pass the first test, just in the 3rd minute.
Iheanacho’s movements in the right channel — dropping to create a free passing option — was often not tracked by the Villa defenders as they were afraid to leave their positions. What helped here as well was that Marvelous Nakamba was busy with Maddison and Tyrone Mings just had a hamstring problem.
Controlling the ball without pressure, Iheanacho then nutmegs Nakamba. Meanwhile, Vardy attacks the space between Mings and Konsa as Mings can’t possibly run with his hamstring.
Iheanacho feeds Vardy and puts him through on goal.
Vardy then manages to beat both Konsa and Mings with his pace.
The striker rounded Tom Heaton to score for the 8th consecutive game and put the Foxes in front.
Iheanacho’s dropping into the right channel was a regular, and here Konsa decides to leave the striker. Switching markers to Nakamaba
Nakamba moving out wide to challenge Iheanacho results in a huge gap in-front of the Villa defence where Maddison resides.
The challenge is won by Iheanacho, and now it’s time to strike ! He plays the ball into the space for Maddison.
Maddison advances and plays the ball to Vardy who’s attacking the space vacated by El-Mohamady.
Vardy’s control slows him down which puts El-Mohamady in a position to block his shot.
As Targett advanced, Leicester were ready to catch him out on the offensive transition. Here, once Praet got the ball Vardy immediately sprints into the space left by Targett.
Vardy beats Konsa for pace, and it’s now technically a 2 v 1.
Iheanacho fades away from Bjorn Engels to provide a far post option as well.
Vardy’s pass isn’t good enough and Engels intercepts it.
Iheanacho kept dropping, Maddison running in-between the center backs and Vardy mesmerizing Villa’s defence with his pace. In the snippet below Konsa tries to drop with Iheanacho, but he realizes he’s too far.
The defender stops in between, neither tracking back to his position nor keeping tabs on Iheanacho. Meanwhile in the center of the pitch Maddison is ready to penetrate
Iheanacho spots Maddison and feeds him the ball into the space.
Leicester are yet again in a 2 v 1 scenario without even factoring in Vardy’s pace which usually puts him ahead in the 2 v 2 scenario.
Unfortunately for Leicester, Maddison’s pass is poor and Engels intercepts.
Maddison also tried running into the space between Villa’s center-backs and defenders. His run in the second goal moves Engels out of position and results in a domino effect.
Poor body positioning from Engels gives Maddison the lead as Iheanacho sees the things on going on the other side of the pitch and starts his run.
With Engels out of position and Konsa concerned with Vardy, Iheanacho attacks the space behind Konsa.
Konsa manages to catch the ball, but the flick hits Iheanacho’s right leg and goes past Heaton into the net.
The avalanche kept coming and in a situation where Konsa decides to track Iheanacho, Pereira pounces. The right-back sees the space left by Konsa as Iheanacho drops and attacks it.
The ball is played into Pereira’s path, putting him in a good situation to score.
However, Heaton anticipates the ball and forces the ball into a corner.
The attacking partnership kept positioning themselves outside of Villa’s center back. Seeking to beat them with pace in the space left by Villa’s full backs.
Tielemans’ line-splitting pass finds Vardy, and what would you want in this situation other than the blistering pace of the English striker.
Vardy slows down giving the opportunity for Iheanacho to correctly position himself. The latter makes a run from Konsa’s blind-spot towards the near post
For the Villa defenders it felt like Groundhog day, runs outside of them in the space left by their fullbacks. Not even normal runs, ones that you would only find at Silverstone.
Vardy plays the ball horizontaly, but Konsa is first to it beating Iheanacho.
With the score at 3–1 Rodgers decided to switch off the diamond. He brought off Iheanacho who was arguably the best player on the pitch and brought on Barnes switching from a 4–1–3–2 to a 4–5–1 with Tielemans out wide on the right.
The switch back to the normal setup didn’t stop Leicester and Vardy got on the score-sheet again with a trademark Vardy goal.
Leicester’s flexibility adds another weapon to their arsenal. The diamond utilized Vardy and Iheanacho’s pace whilst destroying Villa’s left side offensively and defensively.
For all the noises around Manchester City’s issues, perhaps the real title contender is another team in a different shade of blue.