FA Cup Rd 3: Stoke City 0 v 4 Leicester City
Report by Stuart Dawkins
Brendan Rodgers and Stoke manager Michael O’Neil both played, in their youth, for the same junior side in Northern Ireland. They had something else in common today: both putting out strong sides for this 3rd Round match. Rodgers, indeed, put out as strong a side as he could, allowing for the fact that both Vardy and Maddison were being given the weekend off to protect injuries. Praet and, interestingly, Pérez, took their places – the latter benefitting from some good games recently as sub.
Rodgers clearly means to honour Leicester’s unusual FA Cup history – backing up his statement that this competition is one the fans would love to win when he could easily have put out a lesser first eleven had he chosen.
Instead of the familiar drive up the A50, it was an unfamiliar rummage through the entrails of the BBC Sport website to ‘get to’ the match, but once it had started it was largely what might have been expected: Leicester’s superior speed and quickness of thought against a well-organised Stoke full of big guys who would always threaten from set pieces.
The other noteworthy aspect of City’s team was that Justin and Castagne played the whole match on what might be called their ‘wrong’ flanks – Castagne on the right and Justin on the left. Whatever the reason for that in Rodgers’ mind, it worked brilliantly.
The early skirmishing favoured Stoke, the first shot of the game flying over the Leicester bar in the fourth minute and the first corner of the game causing Leicester problems (as corners seem so often to do this season).
City created a couple of decent chances for Barnes and generally dominated play, but Stoke caused problems from free kicks and corners, and Vokes should have done better than firing over after a couple of Stoke headers found him five yards from goal following a free kick just before the half hour.
Leicester’s wing and full-back combinations were working as well as I have seen them, on both sides of the pitch, and it was particularly noticeable that it was more often Justin and Castagne who got into the final position for crosses rather than Barnes or Albrighton. All four were playing well.
In the 34th minute, Justin channelled a bit of his inner Maddison, picking the ball up wide on the left, cutting in to the edge of the box before curving in an unstoppable shot inside the far post. It was every bit as good as Maddison’s against Manchester City.
The goal put even more swagger into the Leicester team. Throughout the first half they had been the creative side, but now increasingly that creativity began to look more threatening. A lovely run by Praet in the inside-right position resulted in a chance for Barnes which was well struck and well saved by the ‘keeper at short range.
Despite Leicester’s increasing comfort, Stoke still managed a header on target from a corner, but it was easy for Schmeichel to save.
The final act of the half was another nice bit of work by Pérez, playing a long through-ball, but Barnes’ cross was well cleared by the Stoke defence.
One-nil at half time was the least Leicester deserved, and Stoke must have been hoping that their visitors’ frailty at set-pieces might give them a chance in the game. That was firmly not going to be the case.
The second half saw Leicester playing at their flowing best, switching the play wide, using all four wide players to create chances, with Praet and, in particular, Tielemans linking things up and finding team-mates in space time after time.
Tielemans released Praet free on the right, but his cross was not as good as it might have been. Castagne fed Praet on the overlap, he pulled it to Pérez who squared to Ndidi, whose fierce shot was deflected wide (although the referee, incorrectly, gave a goal kick).
Eventually the pressure paid off. If the first goal had been Justin channelling Maddison, then the second was the more unlikely sight of Albrighton channelling Vardy. A perfect long through-ball by Tielemans split the Stoke defence, Albrighton was behind the centre backs on the right of the penalty box, he cut inside to take the defender out of the play and hit an unstoppable shot with his left foot into the far corner. Jamie, himself, could not have completed the technique any better!
The next few minutes saw Leicester pass and move as well as they have this season in any game. Stoke are not at all a bad side –they have some very familiar players with plenty of Premier League experience – but Leicester have shown often this season that if an opposing team is not fully organised and fast all the time, then they can and will run riot.
The Stoke manager made three substitutions. This did serve to stem Leicester’s creativity for a period, although did not result in more creativity for the home side.
After ten further minutes, Leicester’s spark resumed. Praet brilliantly kept the ball in play on the right wing, breaking forward before cutting the ball back to Castagne who flicked it on to the unmarked Pérez who finished comfortably, the whole move being done at a pace the Stoke defence simply could not match.
Rodgers brought Söyüncü on for Fofana, giving the replacement more useful game time and also protecting Fofana who had been booked.
Almost immediately, Leicester scored again. Justin crossing from the left, the defender partly clearing to Barnes who hit it hard, first time, past the ‘keeper. A fourth goal suited the dominance that Leicester had in the match, but was unfortunate for Stoke ‘keeper, Bursik, who had no chance with any of them and made a string of decent saves to other Leicester chances throughout the game.
Iheanacho immediately replaced Barnes. A couple of minutes later, a cross was deflected to Albrighton in a similar manner to the Barnes goal, but Albrighton’s equally firm shot was well saved by the keeper.
The only bad moment for Leicester came in the 87th minute, Tielemans played yet another near-perfect long pass behind the Stoke defence, which Praet chased. His effort to get there before the keeper resulted in a clear hamstring pull, which I suspect will keep him out of the team for a while. He was replaced by Mendy to see the game out. Praet will be missed, but Leicester this season have repeatedly demonstrated the strength of their squad in over-coming injury setbacks.
This was yet another good performance by a Leicester team, and Leicester manager, who are demonstrating that they are a proper force in English football this season – whatever the competition. This was just the sort of FA Cup tie that looks ‘tricky’ but Leicester made it look anything but. Let’s hope that spirit, and that success, can continue on all three fronts: Premier League, Europa League and that elusive FA Cup.
Bursik, Souttar, Shawcross, Batth, Smith, Allen, Obi, Clucas, McClean, Brown, Vokes
Lindsay, Ince, Oakley-Boothe, Verlinden, Cousins, Thompson, Collins, Nna Noukeu, Matondo
Schmeichel, Castagne, Fofana, Evans, Justin, Albrighton, Tielemans, Ndidi, Praet, Barnes, Pérez
Söyüncü, Morgan, Ward, Iheanacho, Amartey, Choudhury, Mendy, Fuchs, Thomas
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