The story of the 3-5-2: An unsuccessful result but a successful experiment

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City reacts during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on February 22, 2020 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City reacts during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on February 22, 2020 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /

Leicester City’s head-to-head record versus Manchester City isn’t great. Remove the double from the title-winning season and they’ve won just once against the Citizens since January 2004 – after 18 games between the two.

Unfortunately for the Foxes’, Brendan Rodgers and his side were unable to turn those misfortunes around. VAR was a heavily debated topic at the final whistle, with a perplexing mixture of decisions that didn’t seem neutral. Regardless, there was more to the game than just VAR, so let us take a look at the tactical breakdown of the game, seeing how Pep Guardiola managed to beat Rodgers.

First off, the 3-5-2 formation. Even if unsuccessful in terms of the end result, it was definitely a successful experiment – expect seeing Rodgers utilise this formation during the latter stages of the season. The natural positioning of the formation provides defensive assurance either in the press or in a deep block, hence why it’ll be used more going forward.

Against City, the 3-5-2 helped Jamie Vardy press the City backline, with the added support of Kelechi Iheanacho. This neutralised the visitors’ progression of the ball. Ilkay Gundogan’s weak effort was their only real chance of the first-half. Compare this to the brave 4-1-4-1 formation that Rodgers opted for at the Etihad Stadium. City’s creativity wasn’t even comparable.

The two-striker set-up benefitted both Vardy and Iheanacho. Vardy had a close partner to link up with, which made his in-behind runs more impactful – that’s how the one-on-one was formed for Vardy, who normally scores a chance of that calibre.

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Iheanacho as a no.10 is one idea that has been entertained by many – Claude Puel included. James Maddison’s name is probably one of the first on the team sheet currently but playing in a front two gives Iheanacho the freedom to drop into the half-space between the opposition defensive-midfielder and centre-back.

Throughout the first-half, he did this excellently. Without a recognised attacking-midfielder, Iheanacho was able to make that position his own. His collision with City goalkeeper, Ederson Moraes, saw the Nigerian not feature during the second-half. Of course, it proved to be a devastating blow for the hosts.

The 3-5-2 also helped Ben Chilwell defensively as Rodgers opted for veteran full-back Christian Fuchs as the left-sided centre-back of the three, instead of January signing, Ryan Bennett, further highlighting how highly-rated the Austrian defender is.

The choice of Fuchs was probably due to the torrid time Chilwell had in the reverse fixture. The 33-year old ensured he was aware and confident to cover the space behind Chilwell.

However, it should also be noted that wing-back isn’t a good position for Chilwell in attack. Being the sole option on that side of the pitch removes passing exchanges that he benefits from when playing as the left-back. Receiving the ball in more advanced areas of the pitch also limits the space to build up his pace momentum. Without this, he struggles a lot, unlike Ricardo Pereira, who strives in a more advanced role.

The interchangeability of the central three in midfield was also good. When a high press was initiated, any of Youri Tielemans, Dennis Praet and James Maddison could push towards the defensive midfielder (Rodrigo Hernández) without freeing up the more advanced midfielders (Kevin De Bruyne and  Gundogan).

When one advanced, mostly Maddison, his partners would sit back – at least one of them. This outlined the abilities of Praet, who was simply fantastic. His versatility was highlighted in the position because playing in that midfield three required all facets of midfield play. The Belgian completed 96% of his 24 passes, 100% of his tackles and made three interceptions.

Considering that the majority of his game was spent dealing with the sensational De Bruyne, Praet was utterly magnificent – minus the penalty, of course.

As for Tielemans, he had a solid first half but is continuing to look jaded in the second-half. Rodgers needed to make changes in the middle of the park around the 60th minute, not in the 85th minute. It was a lack of tenacity in the middle that allowed Riyad Mahrez to drift through the heart of Leicester’s midfield to provide the assist for Gabriel Jesus’ winner.

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Rodgers will most likely revert to his standard 4-1-4-1 against Norwich City, especially given Hamza Choudhury’s availability and potentially, Wilfred Ndidi’s, too. However, the first midfielder on the team sheet should be Praet.