Leicester City 0 Manchester City 2 – 18 November 2017
Report by Tish Krokosz
Could we repeat last season’s outstanding performance? Could we inflict the first league defeat of the season on the leaders? The team selection for both sides was substantially different to last year so it did not seem likely that the flow of the game would be the same.
Leicester were set up with a 4-1-4-1 formation with Ndidi having the lonesome task of stopping the fluid flow of Manchester’s fast, adept and clinical midfield. Albrighton was brought in to fill the middle of the Leicester midfield – a role that he has not played before and one that looked beyond his capabilities. He is fast down the wings and can centre the ball with power. He did not look comfortable chasing the ball in the middle of the park. This role would normally have suited King or Okazaki. Puel is showing that he likes to make changes in set-up and personnel. I am not sure this choice was a successful one and Albrighton’s substitution was long overdue.
Leicester started in similar manner to last year’s game with Iborra sending a delightful pass to Vardy in the inside-left position in the third minute. Vardy was free of a marker and had a clear run on goal. He would have only Ederson to beat. But a cynical trip from Kompany ended Vardy’s run and the defender should have been punished with a red card. Mr. Scott had plenty of time to think about the incident before pulling out a yellow card. It was a gamble that Kompany felt he had to take and it paid off for him but not for Leicester as the resulting free-kick led to nothing. A 1-0 lead or a reduction of the opposition to 10 men this early in the match would have changed the course of the game.
The Manchester City defence would have been in tatters as, on 30 minutes, Stones dropped to the ground unchallenged. His match was ended with hamstring problems and he was replaced with Mangala.
Leicester’s attacks after the Vardy/Kompany incident were rare. Delph is not renowned for his defensive qualities and I thought Mahrez would waltz round him continuously. He managed only one memorable run to the bye line with the powerful cross bouncing off Kompany and being very close to an own goal.
Meanwhile, the game was controlled by David Silva and De Bruyne. Their long passes to Sané, who was often unmarked on the left wing, were inch perfect and he had several opportunities to send in lethal crosses. One of these was directed at Silva who half volleyed the ball towards goal, only for Schmeichel to make a super save and tip the ball over the bar. Earlier, Sané sent in a cross for Jesus to dive at. Luckily, the latter ended in the net rather than the ball which by-passed everyone and City had a throw in.
After relentless pressure, Manchester City got the goal they deserved just before half-time. They played it from the back using De Bruyne and Sterling to bring it to the Leicester penalty area. The latter threaded the ball through the Leicester defence knowing that someone would be running on to it. This time it was Silva that ran into the space left of the goal and he centred the ball to an unmarked Jesus who only had to tap it in. Our defence was static and mesmerised by the sheer brilliance of the move.
Despite my earlier criticism of the team selection, going in at half-time with only a one goal deficit was credit to the Leicester lads who had put in a lot of effort to nullify the Manchester machine. What was needed was a good start to the second half to wipe out the lead.
Again, 3 minutes into the half and Leicester were on the attack with the ball coming in from the right wing. It was headed back into the goal area and only half cleared by the defence. The ball fell to Maguire and he decided to have a crack and shot at goal. The ball hit the outside of the right post and bounced to safety to Fernandinho. He immediately clipped the ball to De Bruyne who was free to run with it. He looked up and saw that there were three light blue shirts charging up the pitch and he sent the ball into space on the left wing. Leicester were outnumbered 3-2 and were rushing back to plug the defence. By the time Sané looked up and saw De Bruyne free on the edge of the penalty area, Leicester had seven men back, and yet this was still not enough as the Belgian took one tap of the ball with his right foot and slammed it into the net with his left. Expectant joy had been turned into deflating misery within half a minute.
With a two goal lead, the League toppers could dictate the pace of the game and had the confidence to treat it almost as a practice match. Their passing was immaculate. I think I only counted three wayward passes throughout the match. It was a joy to watch the slick, one touch flicks and accurate crosses (at least for the away fans). In fact the Leicester fans must have appreciated it too as De Bruyne was clapped by many around the ground when he was substituted near the end – a compliment not often given to the opposition.
Manchester City had several more attempts on goal in the second half and Leicester were saved from embarrassment by Schmeichel. Most spectators thought they were watching the champions in waiting, even at this early stage of the season, and it is not hard to imagine Manchester City recording further rugby type scores against weaker opposition – and we have them again in the Carabao Cup. I just hope they put their under 23 side against us rather than the first team.
The group that Pep Guardiola has coached has moved on from last year. Their approach was entirely different and original. I noticed that, at their goal kicks, the players were spread out over most of the pitch. The three attackers were beyond the Leicester defence. The defenders were splayed around the penalty area and the midfield was using the whole width of the pitch. Leicester could not guess where Ederson would send the ball and wherever he put it the away team would invariably win the one-on-one ball and so keep possession. This made for a very open game – what a difference to the approach of twenty players squashed into a ten-yard wide band in the middle of the pitch.
Will Puel stick to the 4-1-4-1 formation for future matches or will he try something different yet again? We saw last season that City do not like too much tinkering. We need to find a formula that works and one that the players are comfortable with – the 4-2-3-1 used against Everton seemed to give a good result so why change it?
My initial hopes of a repeat of last year’s score could not be further from the eventual score. By the time the final whistle went, I was grateful that the defeat was not greater. On another day, we may have lost 6-0 so huge was the difference in class. Leicester hardly had a chance to show what we could do against this solid away team. But then again, if Kompany had been sent off at the beginning of the match …?
Leicester: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs, Ndidi, Mahrez (Slimani 83), Albrighton (Iheanacho 67), Iborra (Okazaki 83), Gray, Vardy. Subs not used: Hamer, Chilwell, King, Dragovic
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Kompany, Stones (Mangala 31), Delph, Fernandinho, Sterling (B Silva 84), De Bruyne (Gundogan 89), D Silva, Sané, Jesus. Subs not used: Bravo, Danilo, Agüero, Touré.
Referee: Graham Scott Attendance: 31,908