City’s Eurostars finish the pre-season with a win

Lille (LOSC) 1 v 2 LCFC

Report by Stuart Dawkins

Claude Puel’s long association with Lille, or LOSC (Lille Olympique Sporting Club) as the locals refer to their team, made this a logical venue for the final pre-season match.  The city’s Eurostar station had the added advantage of making it very accessible to Leicester fans – in effect we walked from home to Lille, with the assistance of a couple of prompt trains.

Lille is a surprisingly good destination for a few days’ stay: a pretty old town with plenty of cafes and restaurants surrounded by a decent-sized city with a textile-based history not dissimilar to Leicester’s.  The world’s first fully-automated metro system made transport to the match and elsewhere very straightforward. 

Around 1,000 City fans made their way to the Stade Pierre Mauroy for the match.  The home team had made the match a ‘fan day’, with pumping music, a pre-match presentation of the LOSC players to the fans and much else, which added to the atmosphere.

The stadium is impressive – 50,000 seats with a retractable roof – and was used for international matches during Euro 2016.  For this match the roof was closed, adding to the sense of theatre for the pre-match festivities.

My experience of overseas pre-season friendlies is that it is quite common for details to change at the last minute.  One year in Sweden it was the location of the match itself which changed a day or two before kick-off.  This time it was the kick-off time, brought forward by 10 minutes – a fact that most people will only have found out after arriving at the stadium.

The other oddity was City’s announced line-up.  On the metro to the match I was asked by a local, in French, whether Vardy would be playing and I confidently said “Non, il est en vacances”.  It was odd, therefore, that his name appeared on the team sheet on the big screen in the stadium.  A confusion further compounded by Maddison playing and wearing the number 9 shirt (as he had against Valencia).  A whole generation of young Lilleois may now be thinking they have seen Vardy play, when they have not!

City’s line-up was roughly what might be expected given the absence, for various reasons, of Vardy, Maguire, Gray and Evans.  Pereira was deployed as a right-midfielder, ahead of Amartey.

Despite their usual pre-match warm-up routine, City’s players did not seem to have told their internal clocks that the match started early.  Only an outstanding double-save by Schmeichel prevented them from going a goal down after twenty seconds; quite an achievement from your own kick-off.  Albrighton sloppily gave the ball away and LOSC had two shots well-parried by the keeper.

By the time LOSC actually scored, which was a mere three minutes into the match, it was already well-deserved.  City looked all over the place, particularly defending on the left, and a cross found Mothiba unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box with time to chest the ball down before firing home.

Things took a while to get much better.  LOSC looked sharper in midfield and faster on the break, whilst City offered very little.  Critically, few good chances were created in this period and slowly Leicester began to get some shape into their game. 

he equaliser, after 35 minutes, was a little out of the blue.  A trademark looped cross from Albrighton from the left looked to be behind Iheanacho, but the in-form striker managed to head the ball in via the inside of the far post.  What was also positive was Pereira’s position – coming in behind the striker in a way that suggested he could well have made the header himself had the striker not done so.

The teams were well-matched for the remainder of the half, but LOSC’s earlier spark had dwindled and City were becoming the more dominant team.

City were far more convincing in the second half.  By the time they scored the winner, it was well-deserved.  It came from an impressive phase of play.  Amartey played an excellent cross-field ball.  Albrighton and Chilwell exchanged passes before Chilwell crossed for Iheanacho to score his second of the game with a low shot from an un-marked position.

The first half had largely progressed in the low-key way that pre-season friendlies often do.  There were no yellow cards – despite a couple of pulls and pushes from each side that might have warranted them.  The second half, however, became quite a feisty affair.  The referee carded a LOSC player only a few seconds into the half, and then another a few minutes later. 

I’m not sure whether this was a deliberate change of policy to ‘protect’ the players – but for some reason it had the opposite effect and as the second half progressed both sides were putting in full-blooded, and occasionally illegal tackles and each acquired several yellow cards.  Both Maddison and Silva received injuries and were substituted – the latter only having come on at half-time for Iborra.

In the 70th minute, Puel began to make a large series of substitutions which, understandably, upset the flow of the game.  City were still the better side, but both sides had chances and Schmeichel again had to make a good save to keep City ahead and to close out the win.

So, what did we learn from this performance?

Despite the clamour for three-at-the-back, Puel seems committed to four.  Pereira looks very lively – he played a number of ‘tricks’ and got forward very well.  His defensive attributes were not particularly tested by LOSC.  Amartey looks steady at right-back although, again, he was not overly tested.

As the game progressed, Maddison began to be more of an influence.  Both in this match and against Valencia, he showed a great ability to find space and to hold onto the ball when challenged.
Iheanacho is clearly in good goal-scoring form.  How or whether that will continue once Vardy returns will be interesting.  Chilwell looked strong going forwards – making a couple of 70-yard runs – and was tidy in defence once the lethargic first 10-minutes had been completed.

City looked a bit more creative with Silva rather than Iborra – but Silva is also capable of trying one trick too many and losing the ball, so the debate as to which should partner Ndidi will continue.

It was interesting that Morgan was one of the very few players to play the full 90-minutes – the others being Schmeichel, Chilwell and Albrighton.  He looked slow to react to the LOSC goal – but so did the entire City team.  He made one impressive lung-bursting 60-yard chase towards the end of the first half to chase a LOSC attack, which boded better for his fitness.

Benalouane was sound and played an impressive number of attacking passes during the match.  If he can finally erase the defensive howlers from his repertoire, he is a good presence in the squad.

Each of the various fringe/young players who performed – here and against Valencia – did a decent job, although it is risky to make judgements based on 15/20-minute cameos in friendlies.

Overall, it was a competent City performance, in a match with plenty of atmosphere from the home and away fans, in a great stadium, in a welcoming and interesting City.  A good way to end the pre-season phony-war … now bring on United!

Lille: Maignan, Soumaoro (c), Fonte, Xeka, Benzia, Bamba, Celik, Mothiba, Pepe, Maia Alencar, Ballo Toure

City: Schmeichel, Chilwell, Morgan (c), Benalouane (Johnson 72), Amartey (Knight 83), Iborra (Silva 46 (Ndukwu 87)), Ndidi (Elder 72), Albrighton, Maddison (Diabaté 56), Ricardo (Fuchs 72), Iheanacho (Gordon 72). Subs not used: Ward

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