A run of nine successive defeats in a quarter-final across all competitions finally came to an end for Leicester City with a penalty shootout win over Everton.
Prior to the tie, Brendan Rodgers had briefly experimented with a narrow diamond (4-1-2-1-2).
However, the formation provoked a more end-to-end affair, which undermines the philosophy Rodgers is trying to instil.
Consequently, he reverted to the 4-1-4-1, reintroducing width through the additions of Marc Albrighton and Ayoze Pérez. The other change saw Caglar Soyuncu replaced by club captain Wes Morgan at the heart of the Foxes’ defence.
The ideology behind Leicester’s attacking play is creating triangles across the pitch, hoping to gain a numerical superiority against the opposition (three vs two).
The narrow 4-1-2-1-2 formation is the perfect formation to accommodate this. Ironically, Leicester manage to form triangles more naturally in their 4-1-4-1 formation. This is partly due to their familiarisation with the formation but also how well-acquainted each player is to his specific position. The control in the first-half showcased just that.
Wes Morgan and Jonny Evans played an integral role in the building the visitors’ attacks. Morgan played multiple passes to tear Everton apart, always finding James Maddison or Dennis Praet, beating the compact block Duncan Ferguson had used for the Toffees.
Prior to the game, there had been speculation surrounding Ricardo Pereira’s future after he had been highlighted as one of Jose Mourinho’s possible signings at Tottenham Hotspur.
Pereira’s performance provided further evidence of the qualities he brings to the table, most notably with his involvement in the first goal.
His partnership down the right side with Pérez and Praet was one of Leicester’s better triangles. Perez was ultimately replaced, as he normally is, around the 60-minute mark – his involvements will have gone under the radar, but his positional play was imperative to the first goal as well.
The two-goal cushion was halved in the 70th minute by Tom Davies, which prompted Rodgers to change his tactics. Only two minutes before the goal, Demarai Gray was introduced to replace Perez. The subsequent substitutions facilitated a back five for Leicester to close the game out. Soyuncu replaced Albrighton, while Hamza Choudhury replaced Praet.
Soyuncu slotted into the centre of Leicester’s back five and Choudhury played deep in the midfield alongside Wilfred Ndidi.
For the third time this season, Rodgers has attempted to hold onto a winning scoreline by employing a back five. This has worked on two occasions but this time, it didn’t. A slip-up was always bound to happen.
Theoretically, a back five system adds to the defence but it also reduces the overall output of the team. As a result, Jamie Vardy, a player adept at holding the front line single-handedly, is left with no support either and that paves way for an onslaught.
Such tactics normally mean more of the long hoof and less of building an attack, meaning possession is surrendered, which helps the opposition in forming another attack. This is what led to Baines’ late equaliser.
At first glance, staying in the 4-1-4-1 formation seems risky but it doesn’t provide the opposition with any more concrete chances than in a 5-4-1.
Leicester have the best defensive record in the Premier League for a good reason: they’re equally astute and smart off the ball as they are on it. In the closing stages of games, it’s their composure that will see out games, not just sacrificing attackers for extra defenders.
Of course, it was a superb strike from Baines, which Rodgers’ couldn’t have done much about; however, the defensive-minded tactical switch did allow Everton more time to progress forward.
With Liverpool and Manchester City around the corner, a back five seems logical, but you have to also bear in mind that both of those sides can do a lot of damage anyway.
If Rodgers gets Leicester playing like they did for the first half the other night, then there’s no reason his side can’t take maximum points from the these two fixtures.