FC Copenhagen v Leicester City – A Tactical Analysis
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on November 3, 2016
Match day 4 of the UEFA Champions League saw Leicester City continue their unbeaten streak to four games after a bleak performance in Copenhagen which resulted in a 0-0 draw.
Potentially needing just a point to qualify, and coming up against a team who are unbeaten at home in over a year in all domestic competitions, Leicester reverted back to their old ways; invite pressure, then release Vardy/Mahrez/Musa on a speedy counter attack.
Copenhagen on the other hand, controlled the game but lacked any real quality in the final third. Pinpoint crossing from Ankersen and Augustinsson was the focus of their attack, though both Cornelius and Santander struggled with Morgan and Huth’s physicality in the box.
Leicester began the game in a 4-4-2 shape, with the wingers positioned just between the strikers and midfield line. Musa and Vardy interchanged positions up top, Mahrez stuck to the right while Schlupp stepped in at left midfield. Drinkwater lined up alongside Amartey as the more attacking central midfielder. Hernandez made a rare start at right back, while familiar faces Morgan, Huth and Fuchs kept their roles in a stout back line. Leicester struggled in this basic shape, however, and switched things around towards the end of the first half. Schlupp converted to the right wing, allowing Mahrez to drift inside behind Vardy, Musa switched to the left wing and Leicester controlled the game much better in the middle of the field.
Copenhagen also lined up in a very familiar 4-4-2, though their organisation and disciplined roles meant they had much more success with their shape. Cornelius and Santander lead the line as two traditional target men, while Verbic and Jensen provided width to attack Schmeichel’s goal with diagonal balls and crosses into the two front men. Delaney and Kvist interchanged roles in the centre, though Delaney often found himself in much more attacking positions with late runs into the area from crosses, particularly towards the half-space. Ankersen and Augustinsson provided yet more width in a scheme which lent itself to wide-play, and Zanka and Johansson remained a strong partnership at the back, with the latter often breaking forward with the ball and overloading the midfield in order to free up Augustinsson.
Copenhagen’s smart pressing panics Leicester
FC Copenhagen pressed intelligently throughout the game. Due to the attacking nature of Leicester’s full backs, Morgan and Huth often found themselves isolated in possession and were forced to play the ball back to Schmeichel, who had no option but to send a long ball towards Vardy and Musa. Simply by outnumbering Leicester in key areas, i.e. pressing the centre backs and winning the long ball, Copenhagen were able to dominate possession and put Leicester on the back foot.
It was clear that Copenhagen had been watching Leicester City’s playstyle for a while. Augustinsson’s attacking tendencies on the left kept Mahrez moving towards his own goal, which meant that up until Leicester made a tactical switch, their dangerman had rarely touched the ball.
Along with that, Copenhagen also interrupted Leicester’s transition. Anyone who watched Leicester last season will recognise their counter-attacking style of play; win the ball in numbers, pass to an outlet, send a long ball forward into the channel. Copenhagen didn’t have the technical ability to dance through three or four Leicester players, and so when the ball was lost, they made sure it would not reach the outlet.
I touched on this aspect of Leicester’s play in my analysis of this year’s Community Shield game vs Manchester United. Leicester were so successful last year because of how fast they moved the ball. To counter this aspect of their game, Copenhagen did not press as soon as they lost the ball. Instead, they allowed the player in possession to leave the pressure zone and pass the ball to a teammate. As the ball was played, Copenhagen pressed, forcing an inaccurate ball from the outlet player and thus gifting Copenhagen possession inside their own half from which they were able to build another sustained attack.
In the second half, Leicester tried to find a way to work around this. With Mahrez free between the lines, they were able to vacate the midfield and push men forward, giving the outlet player much more to aim for, and for the most part, it worked to their advantage.
Mahrez struggles to influence game before tactical switch
Due to Copenhagen’s press, Leicester were nervous in possession. They moved the ball too fast at times, not allowing themselves to catch up with the play. Despite their technical ability, they were less than impressive in the final third. Rare occasions of pressure in their opponent’s half without a real target to aim for meant that the ball was aimlessly passed around midfield only to be wasted with a long shot or failed through ball.
Opportunities to stretch Copenhagen’s defensive line passed Leicester by as they struggled to find any rhythm without favourable one-on-one situations, although after Ranieri’s tactical switch, Mahrez began to influence the game and cause all sorts of problems for Copenhagen’s full backs.
Because Mahrez was now central, Leicester could utilize his passing range effectively with onrushing wide midfielders. He gave them something to aim for in the centre of the field, where he had a full 360-degree view of the pitch and therefore could dictate Leicester’s attacks with ease. His license to roam also meant that Leicester could overload Copenhagen’s full backs, forcing them to sit back and defend against two attackers rather than one.
Copehagen show intent with passing styles
The benefit of having two target men on the field is clear, but there’s no point in them being there if there is no supply to them. Copenhagen varied their passing approach towards their strikers but kept their focus on diagonal passes towards the centre, via long ball or short passes.
As I stated before with Riyad Mahrez, having the ball in the centre of the field gives the player a 360-degree view of the pitch. With the correct positioning, a simple knock-down or one-two from this area can unlock a defence in a matter of seconds. Whilst Copenhagen occasionally entertained the idea of knock-downs from long balls, they focused on getting the ball to the target men so they could dictate their attack from the centre, be it from crosses or short passes from wide areas.
Leicester struggled away from home and were lucky to come away with a point. They reacted well to Copenhagen’s tactics, using their own strengths and causing problems in the second half though they lacked a real presence upfront.
Copenhagen were excellent with and without the ball, but lacked any real flair in the final third. They focused their final ball towards Santander, who in truth had a poor game despite linking up well with Cornelius on occasion. A second half swap saw Toutouh replace Verbic on the left wing, who caused Leicester all kinds of problems but again, his final product was often inadequate.