LEICESTER CITY 1 CRYSTAL PALACE 4
Match Report by Paul Weston
For some time now the usual build-up of excitement in advance of a home match had for me disappeared. I could hardly remember the last time we won a match at home and, equally importantly, I could not remember the last time that I had been entertained by the style of football on offer. I therefore went to the Palace match with low expectations and hopeful that we might get a draw to halt our recent slump in form and results. It proved to be an eventful day and weekend…..
Chilwell was injured and replaced by Fuchs. Puel resisted his default selection to play a defensive midfield system at home and Tielemans was picked for his first home game instead of Mendy to hopefully improve the supply line to Vardy. Ghezzal was surprisingly selected instead of Gray on the wing. It was quite a shock that City passed the 10 minute mark without conceding a goal, as has happened so frequently this season.
In fact the team, apart from Ghezzal, was playing well with Barnes and Fuchs linking up well on the left. Despite Ricardo’s prompting, Ghezzal’s inability to pass accurately or make forward runs, resulted in a lack of thrust on the right wing. City were building pressure on Palace with lots of possession, crosses, shots and free kicks but never really threatening the goalkeeper. Vardy went closest with a flicked header from a good Barnes cross.
It had to happen of course. After claims for a penalty turned down at the other end Palace scored completely against the run of play when McCarthy was allowed to run through and shoot. Schmeichel would have saved it easily but Batshuayi stuck out a leg and diverted it in the opposite side of the net. 0-1 and it just about summed up our season so far.
City continued to press forward although Maddison’s shots often looked more flashy than threatening. The half ended with some boos, partly directed at the referee who has turned down City’s penalty appeal and partly at the unbelievable score. How could we be losing a game we had dominated?
Ghezzal was rightly hooked in the second half for Gray who at least ran forward although never really threatening. The match became more even. Hodgson had tweaked his formation and Palace’s midfield began to have more of the ball. City continued with their variation of “Puel Ball” – lots of sideways, backwards passing, keeping possession but creating few chances.
Barnes was the main threat and often burst through to cross, only to find Vardy in the middle surrounded by three defenders. Nevertheless an equaliser came from a corner and several headers in the box. Barnes mis-hit a cross-shot and Johnny Evans swept the ball home emphatically. It was a deserved equaliser and it felt like City had the impetus to force a winner. City instead then imploded in spectacular style.
Zaha, who had been anonymous in the first half, made it 2-1 when, with 20 minutes remaining, a defensive mix up left him unmarked on the right. Evans then brought down Schlupp and Milivojevic scored the resulting penalty with ease.
Then, after Maguire lost the ball upfield, Zaha raced through to score, although it looked like Schmeichel was beaten too easily. By then Iheanacho and Okazaki had been brought on as fairly pointless substitutions and the crowd was leaving in droves. The team left the field to boos and some anger from the fans at City’s capitulation to a fairly ordinary Palace side.
What was clear from the match was that there was no leadership on the pitch when the going became tough. Schmeichel’s emotional captaincy is not helpful and a cool head is needed to guide a young team. City’s style of play is far too predictable and opposition managers know how to counteract us. Confidence is brittle and, as soon as the team goes a goal down, there is no confidence in the team that the game can be recovered.
The consensus amongst fans at the end of the match was that Puel had to go but that this probably would not be until the end of the season although Puel’s dignified leadership during the tragic death of our Chairman had not been forgotten.
So far the season has been one of utter frustration with a 7th league place beckoning at one time, baffling team selections for cup matches, unnecessary tinkering with the team, and the players trained to play an uninspiring possession based style that achieves little, neuters Jamie Vardy, does not excite and wins few matches. It was, however, still a surprise that the Club’s patience ran out and Puel was sacked on Sunday as City slumped towards the relegation zone.
Where do we go from here? We still need more points to survive this season and should be grateful that Fulham, Cardiff, Huddersfield and Southampton are below us. Perhaps a stand-in manager with a permanent appointment at the end of the season might be the solution. Rogers or Benitez seem to be the bookmakers’ choice but the Club’s previous managerial choices have always caught us by surprise. Remember reaction to the choice of Ranieri?
The Brighton match comes soon and it will be interesting to see the team selection and style of play with Stowell and Sadler in temporary charge. It will also be fascinating to see how the players react to the absence of Puel. I have a feeling that the shackles could be off and it could be an exciting match at last!
Leicester: Schmeichel; Ricardo, Maguire, Evans, Fuchs; Ndidi; Ghezzal (Gray half-time), Tielemans (Iheanacho 74), Maddison, Barnes (Okazaki 85); Vardy. Subs: Ward, Soyuncu, Morgan, Mendy.
Palace: Guaita; Ward, Tomkins, Sakho (Dann 77), Van Aanholt; Milivojevic, McArthur; Schlupp, Townsend (Kouyate 80), Zaha; Batshuayi 7 (Ayew 86). Subs: Hennessey, Meyer, Benteke, Riedewald.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)
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