The 2017/18 Carabao Cup holders held their nerve from the penalty spot as they went on to beat a faltering Leicester City team. Pep Guardiola’s team took the lead through Kevin De Bruyne after early spells of domination before an emphatic finish from substitute Marc Albrighton equalised for under pressure Claude Puel and his team.
The number of lineup changes didn’t matter to the fluid Man City machine, who took their usual comfort levels on the ball recording 66% of possession. City recovered from an early scare as 20-year-old goalkeeper Arijanet Muric was almost caught out playing from the back midway through the first half.
A poor Leicester City showing lasted the first 45 minutes, which did little to lighten the home fans’ mood until Puel made changes soon after the break which saw his team take a foothold of the game during the second 45 minutes.
Despite clawing their way back into the tie, Danny Ward couldn’t produce the same heroics as in their previous leg in a poor penalty shootout which saw four misses out of eight attempts, including Raheem Sterling’s attempted panenka which sailed over the bar.
Leicester City and Manchester City named heavily changed lineups for the quarter-final tie in the Carabao Cup. Although, the visitors looked to have the more dangerous team out, with Aguero, De Bruyne and Mahrez all starting for the visitors.
Puel chose to start a number of fringe players including backup goalkeeper Ward, 22-year-old Turkish centre back Soyuncu and Algerian winger Ghezzal. Two of Leicester’s Premier League winners Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson came back into the team after struggling to hold down roles since the arrival of Puel.
Highly thought-of academy product Hamza Choudhury started alongside the experience of Ndidi and Iborra with Iheanacho replacing fitness-chasing Jamie Vardy as the lone striker. The Foxes started the game on paper in a 4-3-3 but a much more defensive shape took place in a 4-5-1 formation.
Guardiola set his Man City team up in their usual 4-3-3 formation and continues his commitment to younger players in cup competitions during a fixture-congested time of year. Muric (20), Garcia (17), Diaz (19) and young English starlet Foden (18) started alongside the experience of Otamendi, Walker, Aguero, Mahrez, De Bruyne, and Stones who took up a holding midfield role against the Foxes.
Leicester on the back foot
Given the Citizen’s superiority on the ball and Leicester’s lack of consistent form in all competitions, it’s not a surprise to see the depth of the central midfield trio of Choudhary, Iborra, and Ndidi.
In essence, Puel set up to play three central midfielders to protect inside channels. Which is classically where Guardiola likes to position his most dangerous and creative players: in this game, in the shape of De Bruyne and Foden.
This was indeed where the opening goal came from. With Simpson and young Choudhary on different wavelengths, De Bruyne picked up the ball in the inside channel between Leicester’s back four and holding midfield three before disguising his near post finish to beat Ward.
Man City on the front foot
Many would say that it’s suicidal to let Man City’s centre-back (young, old, experienced or inexperienced) have the ball at will. By choosing to play with three deep-lying central midfielders, this is exactly what Puel allowed on Tuesday night.
Man City’s positional play with Aguero finding spaces between defence and midfield lines along with De Bruyne and Foden managing to move Leicester’s defensive lines in two ways.
Firstly, by finding pockets of space, they were able to impact more players, drawing a centre-back and a central midfielder to them at any one time. Once this scenario was created, Zinchenko and Walker were able to overload wide areas of the field along with Mahrez and Diaz.
Indeed, it was Otamendi who assisted De Bruyne’s goal. Leicester lacked shape in midfield, providing no pressure on the ball. With flat lines to pass through, Pep’s centre-backs could once again pick teams apart with their passing ability.
Puel makes the moves
Claude Puel is a man under pressure at Leicester. Questionable team selections, struggling performances against ‘so-called’ lesser opposition, and living in the shadows of the Premier League winning story of 2016.
Foxes fans are demanding more. However, it’s Puel who deserves the credit for the Foxes second-half performance this time out.
1-0 down against a usually-dominant City team, Puel made changes through up and coming James Maddison and workhorse Marc Albrighton. With those changes came a change in formation, to a more positive 4-2-3-1. Maddison was given a central role at times to allow Fuchs to take up higher positions, a left-back who delivers consistently with his service into the box.
It was this sequence which led to the equalizer later in the game. Build-up from right to left through Fuchs in a high area with Gray in the inside channel. Iheanacho and Maddison overloaded Otamendi to create numerical superiority.
By forcing Zinchenko to cover inside, Ndidi picks up the ball at the top of the centre circle, picking out a diagonal pass over Zinchenko’s head for Albrighton to thump home his volleyed finish.
Although possession-based statistics all point toward another Man City dominant display with their standard 90% pass completion rate, Puel and his staff will look at the Foxes’ shots on target ratio and take comfort in their 33.3% rate to the Citizens’ 23.1%.
Guardiola’s mix of experience and inexperience didn’t change their typical dominance against a weakened Leicester side. Their usual positional superiority was on fascinating display with De Bruyne and Foden playing key roles taking up positions in behind Choudhary, Iborra, and Ndidi. Flanked by Diaz and Mahrez isolating Leicester’s full-backs, with the experienced Aguero easily occupying Leicester’s central defensive duo with his superior starting positions and acute movements between lines.
Pep’s football philosophy was clear for all to see. But Puel showed his tact to change the game in the second 45 against one of the best in Guardiola and his title-challenging City side.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Get your copy of the FIRST of two December issues for just ₤4.99 here, or the SECOND of the December issues with an annual membership right here.