The League Cup semi-finals have always been an obstacle Leicester City have surpassed, but Dean Smith’s Aston Villa were able to stop that impressive run.
Unfortunately for the Foxes, this theme ran its course throughout the second leg – statistical domination, but struggling to convert their chances. In contradiction, Aston Villa didn’t require many opportunities to score their goals – four shots on targets, scoring three.
This lack of a clinical edge became detrimental, a 80%-90% fit Jamie Vardy could have played into this, however, that does a disservice to the performances and goals of Kelechi Iheanacho.
Tactical battle for Leicester City, Brendan Rodgers
Leicester City’s problems primarily stemmed from their finishing, 43 shots over the two legs, only managing to get twelve of those on target. Over the two legs, the Foxes did attempt a plethora of speculative efforts – with James Maddison and Youri Tielemans being the more prolific contributors, which inherently padded the statistics.
Across the two legs, Dean Smith won the tactical battle against Brendan Rodgers – quite impressively given the capabilities of the two squads, it was the advanced positioning of his fullbacks – Frédéric Guilbert and Matt Targett that proved to be the difference.
Aston Villa setup in a 3-4-3 formation, with the fullbacks helping to assemble the midfield-four. This facilitated their high-positioning and such explained how they managed to directly face-off against Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira.
This gave freedom to the wide players in Aston Villa’s front three, as both King Power fullbacks were essentially removed from the game, defensively.
To deal with Anwar El Ghazi and Jack Grealish the Foxes had two options; either drop Wilfred Ndidi and Tielemans (the two central defensive-midfielders) deeper so they can cover the advanced wingers or have both centre-back spread wide and deal with them – but with a focal point striker in Mbwana Samatta, that wasn’t possible.
The early exchanges saw Brendan Rodgers use the former approach, having Ndidi sit and cover Grealish, but, the goal from Targett impacted the Nigerian’s natural positioning. Instead of being slightly in front of the Foxes’ defensive line he was pushed into the centre of Leicester City’s midfield.
This shifted a potential 4-2-3-1 from Brendan Rodgers into a flat 4-3-3. As the game progressed, the midfield and attacking three played too flat. Rather than moving between the lines and operating in the pockets/half-spaces, the two banks played one-dimensionally – which Villa dealt with.
The introduction of Vardy did change this. Iheanacho moved from his central striker position and operated as a false forward on the right hand-side. His natural positioning placed him in the crucial half space between the Foxes midfield and defence.
Without the Nigerian’s positioning, Leicester were struggling to progress the ball through the midfield. Once Kelechi found that space, the Foxes’ started ticking and as a result scored an equaliser. If Iheanacho had remained through the middle, there’s potential he wouldn’t have found the space required to score Leicester’s goal.
Vardy’s introduction also freed up Maddison, who was able to find pockets of space behind Villa’s defensive-midfielder Marvelous Nakamba. This created a knock-on effect, as Tielemans started finding space deeper in the midfield and with his direct passing range, started to feed the ball into Maddison in dangerous areas.
Prior to the changes, the fluidity in Leicester’s play wasn’t there. A simple alteration became a great solution for the Foxes, until the unfortunate ending that saw the two Villa Egyptian’s combine for a 90+3 minute winner. It shows how slim the margins are for Leicester City currently, always drifting closely between the line of success and defeat.