The new abnormal

Leicester City 2 v 0 Sheffield United

Thursday 16 July 2020

Report by Stuart Dawkins

In a spirit of complete open-ness I confess the following … by the time I had finished watching the Secretary of State for Health announcing that I, and many other Leicester City fans, would be remaining in lockdown for at least a further two weeks, and then watched my – and the King Power Stadium’s – MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Health and others quiz him on that announcement, I completely forgot that I was supposed to write a match report on the game that immediately followed. 

There are times when being in the eye of national and international news is a positive – and Leicester City have provided us with a fair few of those in recent years.  There are times when it is far less positive – and City have provided one or two of those as well.

So, what follows are reflections two days after City’s well-deserved two-nil win.

Reflection number one: what on earth was going on in the minds of the City players in the second half against Bournemouth?  I realise that is not a comment on the Sheffield match, but it pretty much sums up most City fans’ thoughts and fears in the run up to it.  Together with attempts to predict who would actually play for City in defence given the absence of Ricardo, Chilwell and Söyüncü. 

Most, I think, opted for Wes Morgan to step up – particularly against Sheffield United’s forwards who tend to be of the large, less-mobile variety.  And that was before we knew Fuchs was crocked too.  In the end it was a back three of Evans, Morgan and Bennett – and they did well.  Bennett had arguably his best game for City so far which included several delightful long passes.  I’m not sure that many predicted that Luke Thomas would make his First Team debut, aged nineteen, at left back, but he did and played with great maturity and not a little skill and was a stand-out player.

Reflection number two: what happened to the Sheffield United team who had completely played Chelsea off the park just five days before?  No-one knows, and all City fans will not care but merely be thankful.  Leicester played well in the match, but they were helped by Sheffield United being off the pace – literally off the pace – throughout the entire first half. 

City were first to pretty much everything and Tielemans, Barnes, Perez and even debutant Thomas had about as much space as they could possibly wish for to show the creative side of Leicester, the side that has been lacking for most of the time since the Premier League restart began.  Chris Wilder’s three half-time substitutions perked United up a fair bit, but it was too late and United’s greater share of possession allowed City to counter-attack effectively.

Reflection number three: even when he is not scoring goals, Vardy is one of the best creators of chances in the City team.  In this match, other than hitting the post from the sort of chance he normally scores, he mostly found himself as the provider.  He set up two chances for Barnes which warranted at least one goal, and must have been thinking, “About time too” when substitute Gray very calmly finished another with his first touches after coming on as a substitute.

Reflection number four: whilst I am on the topic of Gray, I have to praise his attitude and commitment in recent games.  He must surely be frustrated at being the eternal sub, but in the last few games he has been the proverbial super-sub – changing the dynamic for the better pretty much every time and forming an important part of City’s repertoire.

Reflection number five: Schmeichel has not had his best season for Leicester.  Since the restart, however, he has made some excellent saves at key moments, and did so again in this match.

Reflection number six: Perez had another good game, finding space, making a few decent tackles and firing in City’s first goal with some aplomb.

Reflection number seven: Morgan continues to be the exemplary professional.  It helped that Sheffield’s two strikers, in the first half anyway, are the type that need a big, bullying centre half to deal with – but Wes certainly dealt with them!

Reflection number eight: as Brendan Rogers made the centre-piece of his post-match interviews – Leicester have now guaranteed European football.  I think most of us would happily have settled for that back in August.  They may or may not make the Champions League – this match report has not been written so late for me to know the answer to that. 

During this historic season, we can proudly remember the couple of months in the autumn and early winter when City genuinely looked the second-best team in the country.  The fact they have faltered somewhat since may be a shame, but their overall achievement has nonetheless been a strong one.  Whether it turns into a European Tour of the sort that many fans have been looking forward to, and saving their holiday for, will be decided by matters totally unrelated to football.  But we will be in Europe!

My final reflection is one based on the peculiar power and attraction that football has for many fans in this country and elsewhere, and it comes from my eldest daughter, who is a season ticket holder but not the most rabid City fan I know by any means.  Her holiday celebrating her first wedding anniversary has been cancelled by the extended lockdown.  She and her husband are understandably frustrated at that.  Yet she said, “But of course I would have felt even worse on Thursday if Leicester had not won.”

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Bennett, Morgan, Evans, Justin, Ndidi, Tielemans, Thomas, Pérez, Vardy, Barnes. Subs: Gray, Ward, Iheanacho, Choudhury, James, Mendy, Praet, Johnson, Hirst

Sheffield Utd: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Berge, Norwood, Osborn, Stevens, McBurnie, McGoldrick. Subs: Fleck, Lundstram, Sharp, Jagielka, Freeman, Robinson, Mousset, Moore, Zivkovic

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