Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Tactical Preview: Leicester City vs Chelsea 11MAR2023

Chelsea should remain consistent and play in the 5-2-3 formation that has brought them success in their past two matches, while Leicester City will look to tightly man-to-man mark in a 4-2-4 out of possession and force turnovers, so they can unleash their talented forwards against Chelsea’s solid back-line.

This is the starting eleven I would pick for both Leicester City and Chelsea in their match at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, March 11, 2023. The lineups are 60% a prediction based on what I think the managers will do and 40% what I think they should do. They are influenced by past team selections and recent minutes played. However, my expectations for how the teams will react and perform in this configuration are a prediction.

To establish and maintain a winning rhythm, Chelsea needs to have a more consistent starting eleven, like they have in the past two matches. They have a very large squad, and the schedule will require them to rotate the lineup due to the short turnaround between matches, but it would help if they could get away with only making two to three or fewer changes.

The 5-2-3 formation fits Chelsea perfectly because it’s straightforward and easy to understand for the players. It’s the same formation in and out of possession, everyone knows their role without thinking or providing the more complicated instructions they’ve had to deploy in past matches when they were in a 4-2-1-3 formation.

To switch from a 4-2-1-3 formation in possession to a 5-2-3 or 5-3-2 formation out of possession shape, they had the right wing-back shift back to play as a right center-back and the right-wing fell back into the space the right wing-back occupied.

The simplicity of the 5-2-3 formation in possession is important when the lineup constantly changes from match to match because there are only a limited number of players capable of rotating to fill the defensive positions. The double pivot, right wing-back, and right-winger can focus on attack, while the three center-backs will always be there to defend and help outnumber the opposing team’s front line during build-up play. One of the two midfielders in the double pivot, especially Enzo Fernandez, won’t need to worry about falling back into the defensive line to assist in build-up play.

Graham Potter, Chelsea manager, made only two changes on Tuesday in their 2-0 win against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League after their 1-0 win against Leeds United. To keep that consistency going while giving players a rest, I chose to use Denis Zakaria instead of Mateo Kovacic and Benoit Badishile instead of Marc Cucurella.

Leicester City will be missing the following key players due to injury:

  • Harvey Barnes (LW)
  • Youri Tielemans (CM)
  • Victor Kristiansen (LB)

Victor Kristiansen’s absence will force Timothy Castagne to play at left-back with Ricardo Pereira at right-back. The rest of their lineup remains unchanged from their 1-0 loss to Southampton on March 4, 2023.

When in their own defensive end, Chelsea will remain very rigid in a 3-2 structure moving side-to-side building up from the back. I would argue that makes them more predictable and easier to press because they won’t deviate from that rigid structure.

Leicester City will press every Chelsea player man-to-man aggressively to not give them an easy pass out and force a quick turnover. Chelsea should look to play the ball long rather than short to bypass Leicester City’s first-line and quickly outnumber Leicester’s back-line.

If Chelsea plays it short, Leicester City will rely on their close man-to-man marking to force Chelsea into an error to start an immediate counter-attack, like they did against Tottenham on February 11, 2023. Of note, Tottenham also uses a 5-2-3 formation in possession.

They closely marked Tottenham man-to-man, allowing the ball to be played short out-wide to Ben Davies.

Davies’ pass was off the mark, and center-back Wout Faes followed center-forward Harry Kane into the left half-space to make the tackle and force a turnover.

Tottenham’s second-line was caught flat-footed, allowing Kelechi Iheanacho and James Maddison to easily work their way into the box 2v1, on the counter versus Japhet Tanganga, for the Leicester City goal.

In past matches, like the above example from their match against Southampton on March 4, 2023, Leicester City hasn’t committed a lot of players to defense, so teams have found it easy to outnumber them in transition.

<a href="https://twitter.com/datobhj">Chelsea vs Dortmund Territory Map by DatoBHJ</a>

Chelsea vs Dortmund Territory Map by DatoBHJ

Chelsea can take advantage of Leicester City’s lack of numbers in defense by having wing-backs Ben Chilwell and Reece James push higher up the pitch. Their wing-backs pushed high in their 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. The forwards and midfield remained narrow to give the wing-backs space up and down the wings.

Chelsea should feel safe to push the wing-backs forward because they will always match Leicester’s rest-offense 3v3 to 4v4. If Zakaria gets further forward, Enzo can shift over to cover Maddison. Joao Felix can drop deeper if needed to overload 3v2 the double pivot of Nampalys Mendy and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall.

Enzo Fernandez is on the left side of the pivot for two reasons:

  1. The pocket of space behind Kelechi Iheanacho should be large, so that will give him extra room to operate within.
  2. Dennis Zakaria will push forward to help overload Leicester City’s backline in the right half-space, as he has before. His defensive instincts, strength in the tackle, and ability to dribble out of trouble when he wins the ball will be important when he marks either Kieran Dewsbury-Hall or James Madison.

Chelsea should take advantage of Leicester’s man-to-man marking scheme by having the wing-backs, midfielders, and forwards rotate and change position to cause confusion and open up spaces between the lines. In the past couple of matches, they’ve been playing incredibly quickly, almost like the ball is a “hot potato”; the ball carrier seems anxious to get the ball out of their feet. If they can play a bit slower and advance the ball methodically into Leicester City’s defensive end, with some positional rotation, they should be able to create high-quality chances.

Leicester City should look to commit more numbers from their rest-offense to defense to avoid these overloads in the midfield and on their backline.

When Leicester City is in possession, Chelsea won’t press them aggressively. Their counter-press is lackadaisical and, at times, nonexistent, which could be intentional to remain conservative and ensure they have enough numbers back to defend.

To counteract the lack of a counter-press; once the ball gets into the middle third, Chelsea will collapse on the ball carrier with one defensive midfielder and one center-back. You can see two good examples of this in the first 15 minutes of their Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund on March 7, 2023.

The ball is played forward into the middle third, then both Mateo Kovacic and Marc Cucurella rush to win back the ball. They successfully win the ball and play it to Raheem Sterling.

Once Sterling turns, both Felix and Havertz are ready to quickly counter while Dortmund is caught flat-footed. The ball can either be played into Havertz or Felix, in space, and Sterling chose Felix.

On the other side of the pitch, two minutes later, the ball is played forward with both Enzo Fernandez and Kalidou Koulibaly collapsing on the ball carrier, winning back the ball.

The ball eventually finds its way into Joao Felix where he clips a ball over the top to Kai Havertz, beyond Dortmund’s backline.

Chelsea should look to replicate that double-team pressure in the middle third. It’s important that they pressure the ball carrier while maintaining their defensive structure, man-marking, to ensure if the ball is played past the two-man press, they will maintain numerical superiority.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (LDM) in particular is incredibly shifty and press-resistant so it will be difficult to stop him from progressing the ball forward. The four forwards in Leicester’s rest-offense don’t normally drop back to help in the buildup, if Chelsea takes both of Leicester’s defensive midfielders out of the game, Leicester will find it difficult to create any chances.

Once the ball is worked into Chelsea’s defensive end, I would expect them to stay in a low block, inviting pressure and clogging the midfield to maintain a numerical advantage in the middle. That will force Leicester City wide, where the wing-backs will attempt to win back the ball 1v1 or 2v1 with the help of the ball-side center-back.

In this example, Dewsbury-Hall plays the ball out to Praet, who is closed down by Reece James. Iheanacho will begin his run to the back post, anticipating a cross, while Maddison will check to the ball to help provide an outlet.

If Wesley Fofana, the right center-back, helps close down Praet, there will be an exposed gap behind to exploit and play James Maddison into the box. If that opportunity to play Maddison in is ignored, Praet should be able to swing a cross into Iheanacho. An example of this pressing structure from Chelsea came in their match against Borussia Dortmund.

The ball was played down the right-wing, and both Marc Cucurella (LCB) and Ben Chilwell (LB) closed down the ball carrier. Cucurella left to help Chilwell double-team the player out wide because he knew they matched Dortmund 3v3 inside the box.

I like the idea of forcing Leicester City out wide and clogging the middle because both James Maddison and Kelechi Iheanacho are their most dangerous offensive threats, and they like to work the ball through the middle. Dennis Praet and Tete aren’t the most effective crossers of the ball, and Tete likes running at defenders, so if Chelsea can force them to cross instead of trying to play through them, they should find more success.

Keys to the game:

  • How effectively can Chelsea build-up in their own half when pressed man-to-man?
  • Will Chelsea turn the ball over too easily because they are trying to play too quickly?
  • Will we see positional rotation from Chelsea to take advantage Leicester City’s man-to-man marking scheme?
  • Can Chelsea close down the ball carrier in the middle-third to not allow Leicester City to retain possession?
  • Will Leicester City be hampered offensively if they’re forced out wide by the narrowness of Chelsea out of possession?
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