Analysis: Ndidi exposed against Man City, more magic from Mahrez

Analysis: Ndidi exposed against Man City, more magic from Mahrez

Did Brendan Rodgers’ naive Leicester City strategy set the tone for the weekend’s big game?

by James O’Conners

Leicester City travelled to Manchester City on Saturday looking to close the gap to Liverpool at the top, but found themselves thoroughly outclassed as Riyad Mahrez and Wilfred Ndidi had memorable outings…for very different reasons.

For this big match, there was no sign of caution from Pep Guardiola as he left Rodri on the bench in order to start Bernardo Silva, freeing up a position on the right flank for Mahrez to figure against his former club.

As for Leicester, Brendan Rodgers went with his most-common 4-3-3 shape, instead of either using Kelechi Iheanacho as a second striker in a 4-4-2 diamond or adding an extra holding player alongside Ndidi in the 4-2-3-1 shape as he had done at the start of the season.

Both players’ fates in the game rested largely on Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian’s incredible performance positionally provided Ndidi with possibly his biggest ever test, whilst also giving Mahrez an enormous amount of space in which to operate.

Leicester ended up taking a completely undeserved lead in the 22nd minute having seen City completely dominate up to that point. De Bruyne varied between playing deep in the right half-space, therefore drawing Ndidi out of the central space in front of the Leicester box – the famous ‘zone 14’ – and pushing very high up.

When he did the latter, he was too advanced for Ndidi to track him, and his narrow position pulled Ben Chilwell inside. With Kyle Walker moving into midfield as an inverted full-back, it drew Harvey Barnes narrow too. 

The result? Mahrez was constantly free on the right flank for switches of play.

Ndidi’s role involved moving horizontally across the pitch to try to protect the space when City’s inverted wingers cut inside. Unfortunately, this always meant a chasm on his blind side, with neither of his fellow central midfielders doing anything to cover that space.

If Ndidi tracked De Bruyne, he left a huge hole elsewhere. If he moved wide to protect the space inside Chilwell when Mahrez cut inside, he left space on his blindside. The Nigeria midfielder was being asked to do the job of three players defensively and he was ‘damned’ whichever decision he took.

Meanwhile, on the ball, he was practically non-existent. 

De Bruyne looked to close down Caglar Soyuncu, but usually by curving his run to prevent any passes into Ndidi. On the few occasions that the latter found an angle, Bernardo Silva was waiting to pounce and prevent him from turning.

This has been done for two reasons. 

Firstly, one doesn’t want to allow a very dangerous passer to face forward with time and space.

Secondly, this approach ensures that any players not adept at playing in tight spaces are forced into errors and can quickly lose the ball.

The latter applied here; Ndidi played three first-half passes straight out of play under pressure from City. Mahrez, on the other hand, was running riot. 

It was his pass from which De Bryune struck the post and he had two other shots blocked as he came inside onto his left foot. There was also another big switch of play out to the Algeria winger, as he beat Chilwell on the outside this time and Gabriel Jesus narrowly failed to finish from the cutback.

When the leveller arrived, it was unsurprisingly from that route. 

Mahrez received from a switch – this time from the second phase of a corner – cut inside and scored via a deflection. Ndidi was too slow to cover the inside channel, but it was a surprise that no other teammate was present to help protect the exposed Leicester left-back.

Despite a lack of involvement on the ball for Ndidi, Leicester’s two other good openings came via him. First he intercepted a pass to De Bruyne, and Leicester released Vardy from the loose ball to fire just over the bar from a narrow angle. In the second half, Ndidi’s pass sent Vardy away and his low delivery narrowly failed to reach Barnes.

By full time, the Nigerian had made just nine successful forward passes and only one into the final third, whilst his two tackles won and three interceptions barely began to show the defensive demands placed on him. 

Leicester’s open midfield had thrown Ndidi to the wolves and meant he was always going to be exposed throughout.

One late action saw Ndidi try to press Rodri on the edge of the City box. He got a foot to the ball, but City retained possession and De Bruyne ended up running 40 yards unchallenged through midfield in possession into the space that Ndidi had vacated. That was one genuine decision-making error to leave his position.

Mahrez, meanwhile, was a huge threat; his link-play was generally very good and by the end, he had mustered 10 shots including putting an effort just wide with the outside of his boot and forcing Kasper Schmeichel into one fine stop. 

Both times, he arrived onto Benjamin Mendy square passes from the left with Ndidi occupied elsewhere.

This was a superb performance by the Algerian, albeit in the ideal circumstances. 

If he gets time and space to cut inside with no one doubling up, he will hurt any team. 

Mahrez may be in and out of the side, but he is quietly having an excellent season; he already has six goals and 10 assists from just 1415 minutes of action, a goal contribution every 88.4 minutes.

As for Ndidi, he gave everything in this match but was unable to put out fires for struggling teammates, and had almost no support himself from Youri Tielemans and James Maddison. 

The positional play on the right flank, in particular, from City was sensational and he had no answer due to Brendan Rodgers’ naïve setup.


Upload Your Song / DJ Mix

0 comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.