West Ham and Leicester City drew 2-2 at the London Stadium in an entertaining game in the Premier League. Leicester equalised twice through Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes after Michail Antonio and Lucas Pérez gave West Ham the lead on two occasions. The game was evenly matched and saw moments of individual skill as well as poor defending collectively. This tactical analysis aims to understand the tactical and statistical points of this Premier League game.
Both West Ham and Leicester City lined up in 4-1-4-1 formations. For the home side, Marko Arnautović led the line as the forward. The Hammers utilised Michail Antonio and Felipe Anderson on the right and left wings respectively. In midfield, Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass started together with Declan Rice as the holding midfielder. Pablo Zabaleta and Arthur Masuaku were the full-backs on either side of Angelo Ogbonna and Fabián Balbuena.
For Leicester, the in-form Jamie Vardy led the attack. Marc Albrighton and Demarai Gray played as the wingers. In midfield, the impressive youngster James Maddison played alongside Youri Tielemans. Wilfried Ndidi operated as the defensive midfielder. Wes Morgan’s injury meant Jonny Evans and Harry Maguire formed the defensive pairing with Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira as the full-backs.
Mirrored formations but different approaches
Both sides started with the same formation, a basic 4-1-4-1, but had very different approaches to the game. The home side started positively, dominating possession and keeping the ball well. In this scenario, the Hammers held a high line with both Masuaku and Zabaleta keen to overlap with Anderson and Antonio respectively. In attack, Arnautović and Antonio exchanged positions frequently. Antonio is known for his heading ability and West Ham were keen to make full use of this skill. As a result, Antonio would frequently drift into the box in order to become a target man while Arnautović was not shy to either drop deeper or move to the wing.
West Ham’s opening goal came as a result of this emphasis on crossing. Leicester struggled to cope with West Ham’s constant movement and failed to deal with the threat from the wide areas. As West Ham overloaded the flanks, Leicester were outnumbered leaving Noble with enough space to float in a cross for Antonio to score from.
Another noticeable tactic was how Anderson and Arnautović swapped wings in the second half. As Leicester pushed for an equalizer, Chilwell kept himself high up the pitch. In order to exploit this, Anderson moved to the right flank switching with his Austrian counterpart.
Leicester’s struggles and eventual recovery
Leicester came into the game with a clear plan and were happy to concede possession. They defended narrowly and kept their shape. Jamie Vardy, as always, was ready to pounce on the counter-attack. However, Brendan Rodger’s side did not execute their initial plan well. As mentioned before, West Ham moved the ball quickly with their creative players frequently changing positions making them difficult to mark. Leicester’s plan was based on the assumption that apart from the wide players, West Ham would maintain a solid shape themselves. Leicester failed to prevent the overloads that they faced, largely due to players being dragged out of position by West Ham’s fluidity. As a result, their tactic of playing a deep block and launching long balls forward to Jamie Vardy failed. Declan Rice also did well to mark the English forward.
Realising his mistake, Rodgers changed his system in the second half, although playing the same formation. Harvey Barnes replaced Albrighton in the second half and the youngster brought more movement and dynamism to Leicester’s midfield. As Albrighton went off, Leicester concentrated their attacks through the middle and left flank. Vardy’s goal was a classic poacher’s finish as Chilwell whipped a great ball in for Vardy to flick past the keeper. Intelligent thinking allowed Leicester to take advantage of the same tactic that West Ham used to score against them.
Leicester’s recovery was impressive despite some poor defending overall. The statistics show that possession was relatively even, 51% in favour of the visitors. The Foxes also had five shots on target compared to West Ham’s three.
Individual errors cost both sides
This game was full of defensive errors from individuals. A combination of poor marking, rash tackling and erratic positioning from both sides heavily influenced the draw. These errors resulted in the goals as well. West Ham’s second was a result of Leicester’s inability to close down the Hammers’ midfielder while Leicester’s late equaliser came from a rash decision from Ogbonna to get too tight to the opponent leaving space for Barnes to run into. Both sides have had their share of defensive issues this season. West Ham have conceded 54 goals while Leicester are close behind with 47 conceded in the Premier League. Both sides have a great deal of talent but such defensive mistakes need to be ironed out.
Overall, it was a game characterised more by poor defending rather than excellent attacking. The draw was a fair result given the balance of the game. West Ham started well and ought to have made the best of their possession in the first half. Leicester and Brendan Rodgers compensated for their mistakes well in the second half, showing more intent and really seeming up for the contest. Both sides are set for mid-table finishes in the Premier League, slightly disappointing given the investment made in the summer but a solid finish nevertheless. West Ham and Leicester have talented squads with upcoming youngsters and perhaps the next few games represent the chance to experiment with systems and new players.