Manchester City and Leicester’s respective journeys to the summit of the Premier League could barely be more different, and so it's unsurprising that their tactical styles clash so harshly; this could be one of the most intriguing – and important – games of the 2015/16 season.
By now, we all know how Manchester City will play. Manuel Pellegrini’s tactical philosophy has never been particularly controversial or idealistic, instead formulated on a standardised possession-centric mantra; they play in a narrow 4-2-3-1 system that utilises inverted wingers (to overload the centre of the pitch and increase short-passing options) and high full-backs (to offer width on the overlap). Leicester, their polar opposites, should have the edge for three major reasons.
Firstly, as proved by the 0-0 draw with Pellegrini's side earlier in the season, Leicester’s narrow defensive shape should be well suited to nullifying the hosts' central-focused attacks. They conceded just twice in matches against Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs and Liverpool this season, with the primary central attacking playmaker (Oscar, Juan Mata, Christian Eriksen and Adam Lallana) making just one key pass each.
The main reason for this is N’Golo Kante’s defensive work in the middle. He makes more tackles and interceptions than any other player in the league (4 tackles, 4.1 interceptions per match) and shows no sign of slowing, having amassed 11 interceptions against Stoke and Liverpool.
In order to match their energy in midfield Pellegrini may choose to field Fabian Delph, but if he leaves Yaya Toure in a deeper midfield position then they could have major problems on the counter. Toure rarely tracks back, and given the speed of Leicester’s counter it is vital that Manchester City work hard to close down as soon as possession is lost.
On the break
Secondly, Leicester’s counter-attacks are based on long passes into the channels for Jamie Vardy to chase, and there should be plenty of space on Saturday thanks to their opponents' high full-backs. As Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy are lured too high up the pitch during periods of sustained pressure, Vardy will become increasingly dangerous.
Thirdly, Leicester’s aggressive pressing off the ball could unsettle Manchester City’s centre-back pairing. Martin Demichelis in particular is vulnerable to mistakes when forced to act quickly, as exemplified in Liverpool’s 4-1 victory at the Etihad.
If Leicester press fervently, stick to their constrictively narrow defensive formation and pump those long balls in behind Manchester City’s full-backs, they have an excellent chance of recording another famous victory this weekend.
Manchester City vs Leicester City LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone
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