It is not often that a manager spells out exactly how they will look to exploit their opponents on television before kick off, but that is what Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers decided to do before he inflicted a 4-1 defeat on Leeds United.
“There’s lots of space on the field,” he says while speaking with Sky Sports. “They want to attack, attack in numbers, but at times that will leave them exposed in space on the sides and central areas.
Brendan Rodgers' plan seems to be working so far ✅pic.twitter.com/wjOXpTZd7N— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 2, 2020
“Obviously we have the best counter-attacking player in the league in terms of Jamie Vardy; not just because [of] his goals, but his timing of his runs.”
That just about sums up at least some of the issues Leeds faced in a deflating defeat at Elland Road, despite a noticeable improvement after the half time interval which was rewarded with Stuart Dallas’ maiden Premier League goal.
Harsh scoreline but was seriously impressed with Leicester who executed their game plan perfectly. Excellent shape out of possession, excelled in transitions & put their chances away at vital moments. Leeds much improved after the break but error-strewn and lacked an end product. https://t.co/bmPwZh8mVH— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) November 2, 2020
Never before has ‘great character’ Rodgers looked so formidable, concisely predicting the future and almost leaving his opponents with no way to act on it.
Here are five things we learned as strikes from Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielemans and Jamie Vardy saw Rodgers stand victorious in his tactical battle with Marcelo Bielsa.
Leeds need to learn how to deal with teams who sit back
In hindsight, it comes as little surprise that Leicester’s counter-attacking approach to the match reaped the rewards. Although there are stark differences between Rodgers’ side and the Wolverhampton Wanderers outfit that won at Elland Road two weeks ago, both teams ultimately found success by sitting back and allowing Leeds to press high up the pitch.
While the constant rainfall and subsequent heavy surface made it difficult for the hosts to get into the swing of things in the first half, there was a certain degree of sloppiness from the Leeds players, with Klich in particular struggling to complete forced passes from deep.
Instant match reaction is that mistakes and missed chances cost us but Leicester's tactical approach was very good, particularly in the first half. Their wide players played narrow which meant Klich was over run with Koch and Cooper worried about Vardy's pace in behind. #LUFC pic.twitter.com/2Mydh1r54I— FocusOnLeeds (@FocusOnLeeds) November 2, 2020
Blue shirts were infesting the hosts’ passing lanes, and there was not enough ingenuity shown from Bielsa’s men to resolve this issue. The Peacocks’ loss was the Foxes’ gain as they looked deadly in transition and made the most of Vardy’s superb movement off the ball; indeed, the former England international posed a major threat both in and out of possession.
This placed extra prevalence on the man-marking approach to Leeds’ defensive gameplan, and too often Vardy was able to outsmart his marker. The fact that the 2016 champions were so switched on, paired with Leeds being struck by the headlights early on, meant that the visitors won possession in the opposing half five times during the opening 45 minutes.
Leeds with over double the amount of passes inside the penalty area but Leicester made theirs count in a far bigger way. Obviously it helped that Leeds’ defence was far more open than Leicester’s and we can’t say Pat’s chances weren’t great. A bad night. pic.twitter.com/LeHMNEQCId— All Stats Aren't We (@AllStatsArentWe) November 2, 2020
It is of major importance that Bielsa finds a way to deal with the likes of Wolves and Leicester. Their answer to defeating Leeds will be quickly inherited by other clubs unless the Whites formulate a method of nullifying its impact.
Man-marking has to be done right, or there will be consequences
Having looked like part of the furniture in Leeds’ backline in previous weeks, Robin Koch endured a tough day at the office after being tasked with marking Vardy.
From the tame backpass that was swept up by the 33-year-old prior to Barnes’ opener, to his slip while looking to clear the cross intended for Vardy leading to Tielemans’ first goal, there was certainly a lot for the Germany international to take away from the game.
FT #PremierLeague #LUFC 1 (1.36 xG)#LCFC 4 (3.01 xG)— Infogol (@InfogolApp) November 2, 2020
A thoroughly deserved win for Leicester, who created plenty of big chances and took most of them #LEELEI
Interactive shot map https://t.co/xgbG5tUW3y pic.twitter.com/uxCSFkJCWV
Against Leicester’s number nine, there was no margin for error in regards to Koch’s positioning. Yet his decision not long after the opening goal to abandon his man, only to lose an aerial duel that led to an effort on target, set the precedent for arguably his worst display in a white shirt so far.
It is hard to judge the 24-year-old for being outpaced by Vardy, but he was at fault once more for the third goal, showing a lack of awareness as the striker surged past in anticipation of the open goal he would be met with. This was a result of Leicester exploiting Leeds’ high press, with Koch being drawn into possession high up the pitch.
Superb display so far from depleted Leicester City. Jamie Vardy ridiculously sharp. His awareness off the scale. Leeds CB Robin Koch won’t be able to sleep for weeks after this— Adrian Clarke (@adrianjclarke) November 2, 2020
Captain Liam Cooper, returning to the starting eleven after recovering from his injury suffered on international duty, was also guilty of some positional errors. Notably, the Scottish centre-half found himself in no man’s land when the Foxes looked to get the ball in the box on a couple of occasions (including the second goal) - not wide enough to impede the cross but not central enough to contribute to the man-marking system and thus leaving Koch exposed (pun intended).
No one can claim to have the answers for Bielsa, but his central defenders let him down and it was their lack of positional awareness that weakened Leeds’ last line of defence. Of course, all players have a bad day, and this will certainly act as a learning curb for the talented duo.
Sometimes simple is better, especially when Leeds are under pressure to get back into the game
Another aspect of this defeat which harks back to the Wolves loss was the lack of conviction and end product in Leeds’ passing play. Even when Bielsaball finally began to emerge in the second half, the Whites were unable to find the defence-splitting pass that they have found on so many other occasions.
This understandably leads to frustration, and ultimately tends to play into the opponents’ hands. Mateusz Klich was a star performer in holding midfield against Aston Villa, but when faced with a more stringent and bolstered Leicester defence his forward passes often felt too forced when he had simpler options alongside him.
One of the rare occasions that Bielsa got most things wrong, too...! Wrong starting MF and wrong subs for me. Would have brought on Struijk (for Pablo or Shack) to push Klich further forward and offer more protection for the CBs.— EastStandUpper (@EastStandUpper) November 2, 2020
There were few moments in the game where the hosts looked comfortable on the ball, but this could have been resolved with a simpler approach that would gain extra time in possession. Bielsa’s side are more than capable of producing patient build up play, tempting opposition players to press higher up the pitch to leave exploitable gaps.
Most times Leeds play the longball game, it does not pay off, and although some of Klich’s clever lobbed balls into the area had good intentions, playing a less attractive but potentially more practical short pass would do more to build pressure on the opposing defence.
Hernandez still has a major role to play, and the contrasting impacts of substitutes highlighted this
As a second half Leicester clearance fell to Pablo Hernandez at the edge of the area, his deft touch kept the ball at his feet. A nudge to the right set him up perfectly for a curling effort that harked back to the days of the 2018/19 season, when the Spaniard was the focal point of Leeds’ attack.
His shot found the top right of the woodwork, bouncing agonisingly to safety. Not long afterwards, the former Valencia CF playmaker was brought off for Tyler Roberts, a decision which was met with clear frustration by Hernandez.
Pablo Hernández (@phernandez19)— Pablo Montaño (@pabmontano) November 2, 2020
Leeds United 1-4 Leicester
⏱️ 67 minutos
77% acierto en pases
☄️ 1/3 balones en largo
⚔️ 2/3 duelos en el suelo
1 tiro al palo
️ 1/1 regate
@LUFC [#SPJ7] pic.twitter.com/76LSbIvrB1
Despite his age and limited first team role so far this season, the veteran still has important part to play in Leeds’ first season back in the top-flight, and this was epitomised by his hitting of the woodwork in a game where the Whites yielded few shots on target. His ability to last 90 minutes may fade, but his ability to single-handedly change a match - which was so important for the club’s promotion from the Championship - is everlasting.
It is therefore hard to see what results Bielsa was hoping for when he replaced the former Spain international with Tyler Roberts, who has struggled in the central-attacking position lately - especially when Hernandez was visibly offended by the decision to take him off, suggesting that he felt he had more left in the tank.
Bielsa felt Roberts would provide more options by bringing him on for Hernandez. He did not think Pablo was dictating play at the time but is prepared to be proved wrong if others feel otherwise. #lufc— Adam Pope (@apopey) November 2, 2020
Roberts had little influence on the game, while James Maddison and Cengiz Under, introduced by Rodgers, played starring roles in Leicester’s third and fourth goals. This feels rather opposite to last season, when the introduction of Ezgjan Alioski and Hernandez would often turn the tides in Leeds’ favour.
In Bielsa’s defence, he was missing the likes of Rodrigo Moreno, to COVID restrictions, and Raphinha, to a knock, leaving him with limited attacking options on the bench - and the Argentine deserves praise for his tactical tinkering that got Leeds back into the game after the break. Even so, in situations where the opponents are winning the battle of the minds, substitutions have to count.
First half was Leeds' undoing - chances missed and mistakes playing into Leicester's hands. Had the opportunity to get something from the game in the second half but at 3-1 it was all over. Maddison the right sub at the right time for Leicester. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHay_) November 2, 2020
With his experience, Hernandez was the most likely player on the pitch to combat the sluggishness taking over the Leeds side, and when he departed the field it felt less likely that the Whites would clinch something from the game.
Harrison and Costa offer subtle strengths that limited the damage and offered Leeds more set-piece opportunities
There were few positives to take away from this loss, but along with Hernandez, Jack Harrison and Helder Costa did their part to try and keep Leeds in the game, both defensively and offensively.
Manchester City loanee Harrison did well to track back in the second half, even catching up to and winning the ball from Jamie Vardy, leading to a turnover in play that kept Leeds’ thin hopes of gaining anything from the match alive.
Been full of praise for Jack Harrison’s work off the ball this season, and that was a sensational recovery. #LUFC— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) November 2, 2020
Costa, meanwhile, contributed by winning free kicks in positive areas by encouraging opponents to stick in a leg or barge in with their bodies. The art of winning free kicks is a staple of the modern game which Costa brings to this Leeds side.
Unfortunately, the hosts were unable to take full advantage of either of the situations created by the wingers; clumsiness when passing the ball and an inability to take advantage of set-pieces (bar the one taken short which led to Dallas’ arguably fortunate goal) meant that the majority of the cards were in Leicester’s hands.
Still though, these examples of individuality in the players will undoubtedly serve to win points in future matches.
What to take away
As pointed out on Twitter, every player involved in last night’s match was part of our Championship squad bar Robin Koch, who replaces Ben White. It is therefore not worth going into meltdown; Leicester are a quality side who were set up to defeat us and made their tactical changes count to kill Leeds off in the second half.
There are many lessons to be taken away from Leeds’ last two home matches, and the positive to take out of Bielsa admitting his errors is that he will have learnt from those mistakes. With the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Rodrigo, Raphinha and Diego Llorente all set to return from their respective absences in the coming weeks, we can expect a stronger Leeds side to take to the field in the near future.
Starting line up was same as our Championship team with the exception of Robin Koch for Ben White.— Andy Leatham (@leedswhiterose) November 2, 2020
Our signing were either injured or isolating.
So tonight, Leeds were a Championship team playing against a very good Premier League team. #lufc
But these lessons must be learnt, or the recipe for defeating Leeds will be made available for all to see. Crystal Palace will have watched the match with great anticipation and the Whites need to be ready to respond.
Who was your MOTM vs. Leicester?
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What did you take away from last night’s 4-1 defeat to Leicester? Who was your man-of-the-match for Leeds? Vote in the poll above (viewable in browser) and let us know @ThruItAllLUFC.