Stoke City 1 v Leicester City 2
27th July 2019 – bet365 Stadium
Report by Colin Murrant
…. If Cambridge on Tuesday drew the headline ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’ then the encounter at Stoke was in complete contrast in climatic terms. It had rained heavily for several hours before kick-off and, although the rain eased at times during the match, a cool wind meant the temperature was probably less than half what it was on that evening of relentless heat.
City had a double-header with a team playing at Rotherham kicking off at the same time. However, the side put out at Stoke was very close to what can be expected to be the line-up against Wolves in two weeks’ time. Perhaps only Ndidi will break into the stating XI, but even that would be grossly unfair to the developing Choudhury on his current form. It was good to see Evans line-up as he looked to have a serious problem after being substituted at Cambridge after 20 minutes, fortunately it turned out to be nothing more than a dead-leg: he has become a stalwart of City’s defence.
Once again City put in an excellent team performance, the high pressing, the tempo at which they play the game, the quick inter-passing are signs that Brendan Rodger’s stamp is now getting ingrained in the team’s ethos: amazing to think that, apart from Perez, these are the same players that Claude Puel had at his disposal.
City kicked off defending the goal in front of their supporters and were quickly into their game. After 6 minutes Maddison had a shot from the edge of the box following a Ricardo run and pass, Butland in the Potter’s goal got down well to beat the ball away and behind. From the resultant corner a header from Albrighton was tipped over by Butland for a third corner that resulted in a scramble in the goalmouth. Vardy then set up Perez who went for the bottom corner but the keeper made another good save.
Maddison was starting to run things in midfield, playing deeper he was at his best receiving the ball with his back to the opposition goal and beating the man, or winning a free kick, with his turns. This is his favoured position, why we bought him from Norwich; his turns are so obvious but unstoppable and give him the capability of switching play immediately as a result. There seemed to be plenty of movement in front of Maddison as Albrighton, Tielemans and Perez interchanged positions; Riccardo and Chilwell were prominent going forward too and were often ahead of the midfield.
Stoke chances were sporadic but midway through the half, and within four minutes, Schmeichel made two loose clearances that could have been converted by the home team. In the first instance Vokes hastily shot high over the bar, in the second a swift interception by Choudhury prevented Afobe slotting home from 12 yards with the goal wide open. At the other end, Perez put in Vardy but he shot weakly straight at Butland.
On the half hour a pass from Allen to Afobe resulted in a penalty as Evans was adjudged to have brought Afobe down. It looked as if Evans played the ball and the City fans chanted ‘We want VAR’ to underline the feeling a poor decision had been made. It mattered little as Schmeichel anticipated the direction of Vokes’ rather weak shot and pushed the ball away.
A Stoke attack saw McClean break clear but he seemed to panic as he homed in on the City goal and as Chilwell chased him down, from a weak shot from 20 yards Schmeichel made a comfortable save. On forty minutes Shawcross went over on his ankle and a lengthy period of treatment ensued before he was stretchered off looking in some distress.
Three minutes into the second half and Allen fed the ball to Afobe who seemed certain to score but Schmeichel saved well. Then good play from Maguire as he ventured forward and passed to Maddison who in turn put Vardy in on goal, he rounded Butland but was pushed too wide and, slightly off balance, the forward put the ball well wide.
On the hour City got the goal their play deserved, Tielemans’ slide rule pass put Ricardo in on the by-line, his deep cross found Albrighton in space at the far post and his vicious shot gave Butland no chance as it hit the roof of the net.
Ricardo was then brought down by McClean as he pushed the ball past the defender, ‘Penalty’ City fans screamed but ‘coming together’ was the referee’s decision.
On 70 minutes Stoke equalised against the run of play, former Leicester loanee Powell out on Stoke’s right-wing hit a cross which drifted over Schmeichel into the net, only Powell will know if he meant it.
Leshabela replaced Albrighton and was quickly up to the pace of the game as he showed some subtle ball control and skill: the use of Leshabela at Scunthorpe and Stoke suggests he might figure in the match day squad quite a lot this coming season. Perez was taken out by McClean 25 yards from goal, Maddison stepped up and his free kick was pushed round the post by Butland at full stretch.
Choudhury then had a shot blocked after some delightful interplay from City. Perez had a first-time effort sail just wide from 10 yards following another good cross from Ricardo.
Five minutes from time and City re-took the lead, Perez fed the ball wide to Chilwell who crossed low to Tielemans who, without hesitation, stroked the ball firmly inside the near post.
There were some excellent performances with Ricardo, Tielemans, Choudhury, and the very impressive Maddison probably the pick. The reliance on Vardy for goals looks to be diminishing, one of the problems that has needed addressing for some-time. The camaraderie amongst the group of players is in evidence, also with the manager. In a stoppage period I saw Rodgers taking to Schmeichel with arm around the keeper’s waist, Schmeichel with arm on the manager’s shoulder: small things that tell you a lot about the chemistry of the group. One great sign is that everyone is playing with a smile on their faces. Even the gaffer joined in with a wry smile when the fans sang ‘Brendan Rodgers is a Blue, he hates Celtic’.
This was a sterner test with Stoke fielding several players with Premier League experience and there would have been several bookings if it had not been a friendly. It’s only pre-season, it’s only lower league opposition, but it’s difficult not to be impressed with the new City under Rodgers. It feels like something special is brewing, ‘I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes’.
Stoke City: Butland, Smith, McClean, Shawcross (Lindsay, 45), Batth, Cousins, Clucas, Allen, Powell, Afobe, Vokes Subs not used: Davies, Federici, Edwards, Ward, Martins Indi, Gregory, Verlinden, Campbell, Woods.
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Ricardo, Chilwell, Evans, Maguire, Choudhury, Tielemans, Maddison, Perez, Albrighton (Leshabela,78), Vardy. Subs not used: Johansson, Thomas, Benkovic, Diabate, Elder.
Referee: Stephen Martin Attendance: 6,940, with 1,071 in the visiting end.
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