Questions and (some) answers

Leicester City 3 – 1 Huddersfield Town

Report by Stuart Dawkins

There were lots of questions in advance of this match.  Who would replace Morgan?  Was this a must win match for Puel’s future?  What shape would he pick?  Has Huddersfield’s impressive bubble as a challenging Premier League team burst?

By the end of the 90-minutes, most City fans would be pleased with the answers to these questions, but it took a while for that to be the case.

The answer to who would replace Morgan, had been fairly well trailed: with Evans being the player interviewed in advance of the match on the official club website.  It was, indeed, Evans who played, and he played well enough – albeit against limited opposition (see later…)

Was this a must win match?  Personally, I am impressed by City having the youngest squad, and actually playing young internationals, not leaving them on the bench or on loan.  It can only help the club to acquire new ambitious talent in the future.  I am not, therefore, in the ‘Puel out’ camp.  But, were the club to start hovering around the relegation places, how much patience would the owners have?  And, surely on paper, a home match against struggling Huddersfield is about as easy a game as you’re going to get?

As for what shape Puel would play: the manager tightened the right-back position by playing Amartey, and Amartey repaid this confidence by having a good game.  The surprise was up front: only one of City’s many recognized wingers – Ghezzal – played, together with the M-V-I combination of Maddison, Vardy and Iheanacho.

City started the match poorly, yet again.  Huddersfield scored only their third goal of the season in the fifth minute.  Even by then, their sole effective attacking strategy – long throws from either flank by Belling – had been seen four times.  City failed to deal with the fourth, and Jorgensen poked home from short range.  Puel has commented on the habit of giving almost everyone a one-goal start, and it is a habit that needs to be broken.

City’s shape looked disjointed in the early stages.  Ghezzal was not having a very effective game on the right, and no-one was playing wide on the left.  Time and again City’s outlet-ball was wide to Chilwell who was effectively playing both left back and left wing.   City dominated possession, but to little effect, until in the 19th minute they scored a simple but effective reply.  Huddersfield – not for the first or the last time – left too few men at the back when attacking, City broke quickly through the centre and Vardy’s through ball found Iheanacho behind the defence on his own.  He calmly took the ball in his stride and beat the keeper to equalize.

The equalizer settled the home team.  The M-V-I trio increasingly found space, but no end product.  Huddersfield sat deep, let the ball go wide to Chilwell, or allowed the M-V-I trio to play some neat interchanges, or simply fouled them.  They did not have any clear chances on goal to deal with.

Puel did break one habit, and actually made a substitution at half time, bringing on Gray for Ghezzal.  This improved Leicester’s shape and Gray was also noticeably effective chasing back to tackle a couple of times – a welcome improvement in his play in recent games.  City were completely dominating possession and anything approaching decent attacking play, but still had nothing to show for it until midway through the half.

Huddersfield seemed content all match to foul players 20-odd yards from goal if it broke up play.  Maddison had already taken a couple of decent free kicks from this distance in the first half – one a beautifully flighted chip over the wall to Vardy which was clearly a pre-planned move, but which Vardy screwed wide of the goal.

In the 66th minute, Maddison chose to shoot from such a free-kick, curling the ball towards the left-hand top corner of the goal.  It was not struck into the very corner, and keeper Lössl got a hand to it, but the flight was such that it ended up in the net anyway: 2-1 to City and a fair reflection of the balance of the match.

Huddersfield’s manager, David Wagner, made changes, but City continued to be the better side.  With 15 minutes to go, Huddersfield again defended too high, and Vardy was released on his own with the ball from the half way line.  He easily completed the chance, chipping the ball over the advancing keeper to make it 3-1.

Puel changed things a bit: Albrighton came on to replace Iheanacho, giving Leicester’s shape a more traditional look.  Then Okazaki replaced Maddison, who left to thunderous applause.

Huddersfield fashioned a decent headed chance, but it came to nothing, and it was City who finished the stronger, with a shot from Vardy fumbled wide by the keeper followed by a Vardy header just wide in the very final minute of stoppage time.

Puel is famed for picking a side that he thinks will beat the opposition. Today he achieved exactly that and, in truth, very comfortably.  But what about the final question: has Huddersfield’s bubble burst?

I’m sad to say that if they play like they did today, the answer is ‘yes’.  It’s been good to see such a historic club doing so well, and their fans are always great – home and away.  But today they were awful and naïve.  One-nil up and allowing Leicester to equalize simply because they had not left any defenders in their own half is not good enough at this level.  Repeating the error for the third goal is only slightly more excusable as by the they were pushing for an equalizer. 

Their time-wasting was amongst the most extreme I have seen.  And their attacking threat was slow – summed up by an incident while the score was still 1-1, when City Allowed striker Depoitre behind them.  Amazingly Maguire – not renowned for his pace – managed to close down the two-yard gap in a very short chase and make the tackle.  Against Bournemouth last week, that would have been a goal to the opposition, with almost no doubt.

What about City?  Well, they played well against limited opposition.  Maddison continues to be outstanding.  He found space all match, he was fouled a lot and simply got up and got on with it, and he scored an excellent goal.  Vardy looked sharp and enthusiastic – as ever.  Iheanacho scored, and strikes me as a striker who can score plenty more once he gets fully confident.  Amartey did a good job.  Mendy continues to impress, and it is noticeable how much he organises the midfield at times. 

There is no doubt that City has a good squad with good depth.  Let’s hope that they can begin to start matches as well as they end them, and that whatever shape – or more likely shapes – Puel finally settles on can continue to win matches.

Finally, I was going to make comment on some curious – albeit not match-changing – refereeing decisions during the game (and I mean ‘curious’ not simply saying they were ‘wrong’), but David Coote is a new referee to the Premier League, and referees do an almost impossible job – so I decided not to.  Let’s hope he has learned from this game that sometimes crowds, and players, can get confused by inconsistencies and that this simply makes his own job harder to do.  I wish him well at this level – we need good referees!

Leicester:  Schmeichel, Amartey, Evans, Maguire, Chilwell, Ndidi, Mendy, Ghezzal, Iheanacho, Maddison, Vardy. Subs: Gray, Albrighton, Ward, Ricardo Pereira, Okazaki, Adrien Silva, Fuchs

Huddersfield: Lossl, Durm, Jorgensen, Schindler, Kongolo, Löwe, Kachunga, Mooy, Billing, van La Parra, Depoitre. Subs: Hogg, Diakhaby, Hamer, Mbenza, Pritchard, Mounie, Hadergjonaj

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