It’s probably fair to say that the Toffees staggered into this game following a winless pre season and with World Cup fitness hangovers running through the squad. By contrast, Leicester had been well and truly on the wagon with their close season more akin to a stress busting mini break; they remained unbeaten throughout pre season and all bar one of their squad were fresh from a summer free of football. Our hosts opened up with 4-4-2ish with 2 forwards in Ulloa and Nugent whilst we went with a leggy Lukaku supported by Naismith in the hole, Pienaar on the left cutting in and McGeady in the ‘deulofeu do what you want / no defensive responsibility’ role.
The key tactical take away from the first half was how Leicester struggled to control the movement and intricate passing triangles of Baines, Naismith and Pienaar down our left side. With Leicester operating a low block, Gareth Barry was able to pick out Pienaar or Baines with consummate ease in threatening areas, i.e. Leicester’s defensive third, as shown by the below snapshot in the run up to our first goal.
Aiden McGeady was the chief beneficiary of this with the aforementioned trio’s passing triangles enabling the winger 5 sights on goal including his spectacular opening strike which deservedly put us 1-0 up.
Leicester quickly got back into the game following a period of play when each of Jagielka, Barry and finally Distin had chances to clear crosses coming into our box but all miscued. Whilst a decent finish by Ulloa, the move was consistent with Leicester’s low quality first half openings, all of which coming from hopeful crosses, ricochets, deflections or keeper kick outs.
Martinez spoke last season of Baines dwindling assist stats and how we should focus more on ‘the pass before the pass’ and our second goal was a good example of this. Receiving the ball out wide and then playing a one two with his long time wingman, the South African bamboozled a withered looking De Laet and rolled in Naismith to emphatically put us back in front just before half time.
We said last week in our season preview that Martinez most difficult recruitment exercise in the coming years will be replacing the brilliant South African, and hopefully his return to form and fitness will soften the blow of losing Barkley until the new year.
After the break there was virtually nothing on show from us as Leicester pressed higher up the pitch, winning the ball back through either tackle, interception or 2nd ball three times more in our half of the pitch than they did in the first half (15 v 5). This pressure pushed us back and meant Barry was now receiving less of the ball and when he did get it was in deeper and more congested areas as shown below.
The Pienaar passing visual further up the article shows how Barry was his chief supplier, however Pienaar received 70% of these passes from Barry in the first half. Baines was still a useful out-ball and received as many passes after the break as he did before it, but due to us being pushed back he was now getting the ball in poorer areas, with 50% less passes received in the final third compared to his first half service.
Martinez spoke after the game of his disappointment at a ‘lack of tempo’ after the break and he wasn’t wrong. On the ball we created just 1 real chance in open play and off the ball we won possession back in the Leicester half significantly less than we did in the opening half.
Could he have done more to stem the flow though? The game was clearly getting away from us a good 10-15 mins before Leicester’s equaliser with the impressive Mahrez given too much space to drift infield from the right flank. Prior to the equaliser he’d sent Schlupp clean through on goal with a threaded pass in the pocket between stones and jagielka, only for the substitute to almost clear the roof of the king powered by bantz stadium.
We’re probably just spoiled by the amount of match winning subs Martinez made last season, but he seemed unusually hesitant from the sidelines whilst Rome was burning. The tactical switch to a back 5 a minute before the goal was one more associated with his pragmatic predecessor. The equaliser then came after an initial mistake from his first sub mirallas and then Stones – who looked iffy throughout – switching off after initially having Wood marked as shown in the below screenshot.
So we start this season as we did the last one, throwing away a lead to draw 2-2 draw against a capable if limited side. Given the disjointed pre season there was always a chance that this could happen and we now have two tough but winnable tests coming up at L4 against Arsenal and Chelsea. Leicester were impressive after the break, they created marginally more than us in open play and their strengths as identified in our preview last week were all crucial in them coming back from a losing position twice to take a deserved point.