EPL: Liverpool v Leicester match analysis

Opening of new main stand at Anfield Road and record attendance since 70s was a perfect stage for Liverpool clash with holding champions Leicester. Both teams had a shaky start to the season and found themselves in the wrong half of the table before the game. This fact made an already important match even bigger as both managers wanted to get on track and catch up with top teams.

Claudio Ranieri plugged the hole that opened when Nampalys Mendy got injured with Daneiel Amartey. Surprisingly, he omitted striker Islam Slimani who was signed for 30M. Luckily, Kasper Schmeichel recovered from hernia injury and was back to form a line up that won the Premiership last season. Without Kante obviously.

Although there is nothing new in way how Leicester plays this season, high tempo direct football with lots of long balls to Vardy, Klopp decided to replace injured Dejan Lovren (and Ragnar Klavan) with rather small Lucas Leiva in center of defence to cope with those high balls. Additionally, he also left out Moreno, probably to give him a rest after a tough spell he went through in recent matches. His replacement, though, was another surprise. A formidable and versatile midfielder James Milner but a player who probably can’t remember when he played left back last time. Despite a gamble with Milner, Klopp’s judgement proved to be very sound as intelligent professional Milner did his job to the highest level despite being up against Riyad Mahrez.

 

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Despite Leicester defence seems positioned perfectly, they fail to shift ball side fast enough which creates a gap between Simpson and Morgan that is exploited by Firmino to break the dead lock

Above you can see How disciplined and well positioned Leicester is in defensive phase. It is their strength from last season. However, there is a dire mistake in their positioning even if they seem to be as compact as ever. Notice the ball in the feet of Lucas Leiva, he is already in the left half space and Okazaki fails to close him down to give his team mates time to shift to the left. A quick ball to Millner finds Leicester compact defence on wrong foot.

This calls for a quick, chaotic, shift from Simpson who goes to close down Milner. However, as Sturridge is keeping Morgan occupied, this gives precious window of split second for Firmino to run into the gap between Simpson and Morgan. Another key player here is Milner who can execute a perfect right footed curled pass into space for Firmino that would be extremely difficult for left footed player and Liverpool breaks the dead lock in 14th minute.

From then on, Liverpool has all the confidence and although Leicester isn’t playing poor, Liverpool is simply brilliant moving on and off the ball.

 

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Again, Leicester defence is set up decently. However, they fail to cope with great off the ball movement from their opponents and Wijnaldum has all the time to pass. Even to change the point of attack through Clyne on the right wing.

 

Above you can see Wijnaldum in possession and despite Leicester being set up in good defensive block, Liverpool midfielder still has time and space to safely pass the ball towards one of his open team mates. If you take a closer look at positioning of Liverpool players you can see they are set up to break the opposition by quickly passing through them while Clyne is keeping change of point of attack as an option. This is normally not enough to break such a formidable defence. However, off ball movement of home team combined with flair made it possible for Liverpool to completely dominate the first half.

It wasn’t only offensive phase where Liverpool excelled in a match against holding champions. The way they played without the ball was as much important for control of the game since they prevented any threat to their own goal.

 

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Liverpool didn’t only play well on the ball, but their defensive work prevented all the dangerous passes forward. Leicester had only 47 per cent of completed forward passes during the first half.

Above you can see a chart of forward passes Leicester has made in first half. Only 47 percent of those found their target and literally none of them was into the dangerous positions. The problem Leicester has, and will have throughout the season if they don’t change something significantly, is they have no plan “B”. Direct, high tempo passing to Mahrez and Vardy can work as long as the defence manages to keep the clean sheet and opposition keeps attacking. Once Liverpool established complete control of the match Ranieri’s side had obvious trouble getting into any kind of scoring position. It took a poor touch from Lucas Leiva, a horrible sideways pass to Mignolet, to get Leicester back into the game and give them courage they could still do something.

The second half saw much more engaged Leicester that was closing down well but as time passed and they committed more men forward Liverpool was always more dangerous from counter attacks and in the end they punished the guests twice more to see out the match. While Leicester has serious problem in lack of different approach to their normal long ball, Liverpoo has shown the glimpses of a team they could and will be by the end of the season. At this phase they still remind of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle of mid 90s when they were chasing title by outscoring their opponents. As Newcastle back then, Liverpool at the moment is joy to watch when they are on the ball. However, they still lack consistency to keep their defensive game for 90 minutes but since they don’t need to chase European glory, they will surely have time to work on that as well.

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EPL: Leicester v Arsenal analysis, a game nobody wanted to win

It is never good to lose two in a row and it is especially bad if it happens to be first two games of the season. Arsenal and Leicester were both risking that faith before their clash at King Power stadium in Leicester. Neither of managers wanted that as hit on confidence could be determinant on current campaign in Premiership.
While Claudio Ranieri had his best players all available for the match, Arsene Wenger had to bench Mesut Oezil and Olivier Giroud as they aren’t fully fit after EURO. However, he got Laurent Koscielny back in defence and Granit Xhaka in midfield while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took place from Iwobi on right wing and Santiago Cazorla replacing injured Wilshire in attacking midfielder role. In comparison with match against Liverpool last week, Arsenal was stronger in defence and deep midfield position.

Although Kante went to Chelsea, Nampalys Mendy seems a good replacement and Leicester is strong in defence as they have always been. To counter that strong double block of four defenders Wenger occasionally employed Bellerin and Monreal to come inside instead of hugging the line.

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Lack of runners from deep was rucial in Arsenal’s ineffectivness to win the match

Above you can see Monreal drifting inside which left Oxlade-Chamberlain alone on the wing. However, as Cazorla has already left his attacking midfielder slot there are no runners from deep to further disrupt the Leicester’s defensive block. The fact that Coquelin and Xhaka were strictly tasked to cover for counter attacks and not to venture forward didn’t help Arsenal cause. However, we have already established that the goal was not to lose second match in a row so that is understandable.

While Arsenal had the advantage in ball possession in first half it seems their fluid movement of front players didn0t really work against Leicester. At point seemed as Sanchez had free role as he was often drifting into Oxlade Chamberlain’s space while Cazorla also moved laterally. Instead of creating confusion in Leicester defence at times it looked more like disorganized attacking that didn’t really threaten the hosts.

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Xhaka is becoming crucial in Arsenal build up. However, front two had so much freedom it hurt them (source: @11tegen11)

Excellent chart from @11tegen11 provides an insight in Arsenal offensive play and you can clearly see Xhaka was playing sort of deep lying midfielder and a heavy involvement of both full backs. The left side is clearly more active as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez and Cazorla are often drifting left to overload opposition. However, lack of runners from central area doesn’t destabilize the defence and there is very little to show for all the running.

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Arsenal failed to use the width of the pitch which made it easier for  Leicester to defend

Above you see Coquelin well closed down but real problem Arsenal has is that they are plying into hands of Leicester despite all the possession they have. Sanchez and Monreal are too narrow helping the defensive line stay compact and close enough to support each other. There is at least 15 yards of space on left flank Monreal and Sanchez should really use to stretch the defensive block and open up gaps for fast players such as Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain to run in. Additionally, positioning of Cazorla is completely out of place. Even if Coquelin wasn’t closed down, he would never be able to receive the pass and all he is doing is bringing defenders closer to Bellerin who is already in tight spot.

Second half opens up much differently as Leicester gets their pressing much higher up the pitch and closes down Arsenal really well. Suddenly it is the visitors who can’t get on the ball and Leicester high tempo gets Arsenal in lot of trouble.

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With second half Leicester played much higher and closed down well preventing Arsenal from creating much even when Oezil came on the pitch

You can see above how high pressing by Leicester really worked. Man on the ball doesn’t really have an option but to clear the ball aimlessly. As second half progressed Leicester won lot of balls high up field to launch quick counter attacks. If direct approach for Vardy couldn’t be used the ball frequently went to right side and Mahrez who would then go either one on one or search for a crossing option.

As game was quickly going out of hands for Arsenal, Wenger replaced Cazorla with Oezil while Oxlade-Chamberlain was substituted with Giroud and Coquelin went out to be replaced by Wilshire. This meant Oezil got more central role while Wilshire was more keen to make forward runs compared to Coquelin. While this might have worked in first half with Leicester sitting deeper, it didn’t really work last 15 minutes as hosts were high, closing down well and Arsenal didn’t have fast players as Oxlade-Chamberlain to exploit the space.

To conclude, Arsenal was way too cautious in the first half with two holding midfielders and while they had the ball Leicester was all happy to rely on quick breaks. Second half went all wrong for Wenger as Leicester players were always first on the ball and sprung attack after attack. In the end both temas will be satisfied with a point as that was the idea before the game.