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article imageTactical Preview: Manchester City - Leicester City

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 5, 2016 in Sports
Leicester City’s trip to the Etihad Stadium won’t define the Premier League title race, but in terms of momentum, a February clash between the league’s top two teams should be deemed significant.
Claudio Ranieri’s men continue to be the pace setters in what’s proving to be a fairly inconsistent season, whereas their opponents embody the aforementioned description. Stylistically, Leicester prefer to play on the road, and will fancy their chances of increasing the gap between themselves and Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
The initial meeting between the two sides resulted in a scoreless draw, with Leicester altering their shape to a 4-3-3 to deploy an additional midfielder. Here, Ranieri may persist with his preferred 4-4-2 considering Leicester will sit in two deep banks of four. Though this ensures City will dominate possession, they’ll be wary of Leicester’s threat on the counter — the key to the match may be to negate those methods of attack.
In many ways, the decisive match-ups are in wide areas and between the possible lone strikers. Jamie Vardy is the league’s leading scorer, and with City expected to impose territorial dominance, there will be more space for Vardy to exploit on the counter.
"It isn't the biggest game of the season so far," he said.
"The Premier League doesn't finish here. There are a lot of points to fight for."
Apart from Joe Hart, City’s defence has underperformed, and the partnership of Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi may encounter difficulties against the Leicester City striker. The former’s lack of pace combined with the latter’s proactive man-marking presents the possibility of a booking or dismissal.
Riyad Mahrez poses a similar threat from the right, assuming Ranieri persists with Shinji Okazaki’s diligent work rate behind Vardy. Aleksandar Kolarov’s offensive threat via devastating crosses justifies his role as first choice left-back at the Etihad, but his poor defensive track record is beneficial to Mahrez.
This means Pellegrini may turn to the defensive-minded Gael Clichy, which in return can limit overloads into half space. Mahrez is arguably the league’s best dribbler, and though the Algerian may bamboozle Clichy on a few occasions, Kolarov’s inclusion in the XI would leave City vulnerable on the counter.
City, on the other hand, are experiencing a mini injury-crisis with Kevin De Bruyne sidelined long-term, while Jesus Navas is unavailable. Delph’s dynamism would be beneficial against N’Golo Kante in midfield, whereas if City operate in a 4-2-3-1, the pace of Navas and Raheem Sterling could torment Leicester’s full-backs.
Pellegrini’s caution in big games is one of the significant alterations for City this season, and if Delph is unavailable to start, Fernando could join Fernandinho in midfield with Yaya Toure playing closer to Sergio Aguero. Although, Leicester limits space between the lines superbly, David Silva’s eclipsed his peak form when playing alongside two direct wide wingers. With Leicester expected to retreat into their half, an additional midfielder wouldn’t be required.
"We can win this game or lose this game and it will not finish the Premier League here. After this you still have to play 13 more games, 39 points. There are still a lot of points," Pellegrini said.
"You cannot think because you win you are the champions. If you lose you still have a lot of things to fight for between now and the end of the season."
Similar to Vardy, Aguero’s pace and willingness to play off the last defender’s shoulder could prove crucial. Neither Robert Huth, nor Wes Morgan are blessed with pace, and Aguero’s movement could exploit their average defending. This stresses the importance of Danny Drinkwater at the base of the Leicester midfield, and the only plausible reason behind Leicester adding a third midfielder would be for improved protection of the centre-backs or nullifying Silva.
City can equally turn to Kelechi Iheanacho to support Aguero upfront, but Pellegrini may opt for the youngster, if required, in the latter stages. Ultimately, the pattern of the match should suit Leicester, but both managers have displayed caution in big games this season, and a slow-burning encounter further emphasizes the significance of scoring the first goal.
Pellegrini’s men are slight favourites, but the away side holds the league’s best away record, whilst possessing the attacking personnel capable of maintaining their extraordinary title challenge.
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