Manchester City 5 Leicester City 1
Report by Colin Hall
Leicester City suffered their heaviest away league defeat since returning to the top flight in 2014, as hosts and runaway leaders Manchester City handed out a 5-1 hiding.
While the Foxes were far from the first side this season to have suffered at the hands of this particular band of Manchester mercenaries, both manager Claude Puel and captain Kasper Schmeichel will reflect on crucial misjudgements which contributed to this loss.
Puel made two changes to his starting line-up for the trip to the storm-lashed Etihad, with Matty James and Ben Chilwell replacing Danny Simpson and Kelechi Iheanacho.
The visitors began the game with a back five – an experiment undertaken on a number of recent occasions under previous managers. As so often on those occasions, this experiment was undone by the lack of defensive discipline from the wing-backs.
With danger man De Bruyne again dominating the midfield, the home side quickly took the initiative, and took only two minutes to find the opening goal when a cross from the right was allowed to travel deep into the six-yard box before finding an unmarked Sterling to tap home at the far post.
However, despite enjoying far more of the game, Pep Guardiola's team were unable to add to their tally during the opening half. Indeed, they too showed signs of defensive vulnerability, and were duly punished when Jamie Vardy seized upon a stray Otamendi pass in to shrug off two challenges and fire home an unlikely leveller.
This was the fourth goal in successive games for the Foxes and England striker – his best sequence since his record-breaking run two seasons ago. It also made him the first player in Premier League history to score against each of the current “big six” clubs in the same season.
Having seen Fousseni Diabate also unsettle the home side with occasional bursts of pace, many in the visiting contingent entertained hopes at the interval of taking a point, perhaps even a memorable victory, from this clash.
But Puel's tinkering with the system, replacing Adrien Silva with Danny Simpson and pushing Marc Albrighton into another uncomfortable role in central midfield, destroyed the rhythm within the side and served as a prelude to a second-half horror show.
The tone was set just three minutes after the break, when another De Bruyne cross, this time from the left, caused confusion between Schmeichel and Harry Maguire and left Aguero, one of the top finishers in world football, to restore the home lead.
Five minutes later, the destiny of the game was sealed when Schmeichel, with far easier options available, opted to punt a Maguire backpass into a crowded midfield. Fernandinho and De Bruyne exploited this error to the full, setting up Aguero for a powerful drive which the Foxes keeper could only help into his own net.
Even the introduction of Iheanacho and the returning Riyad Mahrez – for the disappointing Chilwell and tiring Diabate respectively – proved unable to stem the tide.
Schmeichel's wretched evening at his former club went from bad to worse when he miskicked another backpass straight to the feet of Aguero, who gratefully accepted the gift to complete one of the easiest hat-tricks of his career.
The Argentinian striker's appetite for goals was not entirely sated, though, as in the closing minutes, he took advantage of space offered to him by a thoroughly demoralised Foxes defence to fire home his fourth of the match.
It is to be hoped that the management will study the reasons for this setback and correct the weaknesses within the side in time for the crucial FA Cup tie with Sheffield United.
With no relegation battle, title challenge or Champions League journey to distract the squad, there really is no excuse for Puel to field anything other than his strongest team for that fixture. In addition, however much it may discomfort certain sections of the fanbase, it is also evident from the past three games that Mahrez remains an important component of that team.
The outcome of this campaign, which has been far more troubled then our current league position may suggest, now stands or falls on our progress in the FA Cup.
Neither the current management nor the playing staff can afford to pass up the opportunities that competition offers to them.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Otamendi (Stones 81), Laporte, Zinchenko (Danilo 65); Fernandinho (Foden 80), Gundogan, De Bruyne; B Silva, Aguero, Sterling.
Goals: Sterling (3), Aguero (48, 53, 77, 90). Booked: Laporte, Gundogan.
Leicester (5-3-2): Schmeichel; Albrighton, Dragovic, Maguire, Fuchs, Chilwell (Iheanacho 62); Ndidi, James, Silva (Simpson 45); Diabate (Mahrez 62), Vardy.
Goal: Vardy 24 Booked: Ndidi, Vardy, Maguire.
Referee: Mike Jones. Attendance: 54,416
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation