Crystal Palace 5 City 0
Report by Colin Hall
Claude Puel's prospects of retaining his post as Leicester City manager took a serious – and potentially terminal – blow as his side were hammered 5-0 in a horror show at Crystal Palace.
The scoreline tells no lies. The hosts were superior in every area of the field, showing greater hunger and intensity throughout the game. As they had done in the reverse fixture, they stuck to a game plan and executed it wonderfully – something City fans have rarely witnessed from our own side in recent months.
Puel's team selection, featuring the restoration of Wes Morgan in central defence and the retention of Marc Albrighton as right-back to counter Palace's pacy attackers, had done little to ease pre-match apprehensions among the travelling Foxes.
Sadly for them, those fears – along with many others – came to pass on an afternoon where the depth of disaffection among the fanbase towards the present manager was made all too clear.
City's attacking intent during the opening minutes, though, gave little indication of the capitulation that was to follow. Jamie Vardy almost seized upon a wayward backpass, then saw an effort cleared off the line following good work from Riyad Mahrez and Kelechi Iheanacho.
However, that proved to be the end of City's attacking threat, as the side was forced deep by constant home pressure, which was made to tell when Zaha finished a clinical passing move by firing Palace in front.
As the Eagles' domination continued, a second goal seemed only a matter of time, and it duly arrived when Zaha set up McArthur for a thunderous drive which gave stand-in keeper Ben Hamer no chance.
The half-time whistle came as a welcome relief to a City side who looked as demoralised and dispirited as they have been at any point on their Premier League travels during a turbulent and often troubled season.
The introduction of Fousseni Diabate and Adrien Silva after the break saw the visitors briefly reinvigorated, but hopes of a revival were extinguished by an injury to Wilfried Ndidi which ended his game – and probably his season too.
As City reeled from this setback, a further one ensued when Albrighton, never truly at ease at any stage of the proceedings, wrestled Zaha to the ground to stop him chasing a through pass. Although initial thoughts, along with TV footage, suggested Hamer would have been more likely to reach the ball first, referee Dean – long noted as one of the more notorious “homers” on the Premier League circuit – decided otherwise and sent Albrighton from the field.
Had the players shown as much animation and energy in contesting the game as many did in challenging their team-mate's dismissal, maybe the outcome would have been different, or at least somewhat less damaging.
Instead, their focus for the remainder of the game was on damage limitation. But even this modest aim proved beyond them, as the floodgates opened in the final ten minutes.
In quick succession, Loftus-Cheek extended the lead after evading a woeful offside trap, then City old boy Schlupp teed up Van Aanholt to add a fourth. The final indignity came when Dean awarded the softest of penalties for Harry Maguire challenge on Benteke. The Palace man swiftly recovered to send Hamer the wrong way from the spot and thus grace the Selhurst Park scoresheet for the first time this season.
This humiliation was all the more painful for its timing – just days before the second anniversary of “Magic Monday”. Serious questions must be asked as to how and why this team has declined so drastically in the interim period.
While very few Foxes, if any, expected a repeat of the title triumph, many hoped it could serve as a springboard to establishing City as a true Premier powerhouse for the next decade and beyond.
Instead we have regressed to the point where many on the club's payroll – on and off the field – seem content to see us merely make up the numbers in the top flight, with ambitions (despite proclamations to the contrary from the club hierarchy) on a par with the likes of Watford and Bournemouth.
The virulent online reaction to this hiding indicates that most fans now accept that Puel has no role to play in taking City forward in the summer. But the blame cannot lie with him alone. Others must accept responsibility and consequences for their role in an appallingly-misjudged series of appointments and recruitments during the past two years.
Some players too, from the captain downwards, must recognise that their mental and physical powers are not what they once were and that, in certain cases, a change of environment would serve both their interests and those of the club.
City's owners have some big decisions to make in the coming days and weeks. We can only hope they make the right calls.
Palace (4-4-2): Hennessey; Ward, Tomkins, Sakho, Van Aaanholt; McArthur (Schlupp 83), Milivojevic, Cabaye, Loftus-Cheek (Lee 86): Townsend (Benteke 86), Zaha.
Subs not used: Speroni, Sorloth, Wan-Bissaka, Kelly.
Scorers: Zaha (17), McArthur (38), Loftus-Cheek (81), Van Aanholt (84), Benteke (pen 90).
City (4-4-2): Hamer; Albrighton, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell; Mahrez, Ndidi (Dragovic 51), Choudhury (Silva 46), Gray; Iheanacho (Diabate 46), Vardy.
Subs not used: Jakupovic, Simpson, Fuchs, Barnes.
Sent off: Albrighton (59). Booked: Silva.
Referee: Mike Dean Attendance: 25,750
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