Late Goal Rush – City’s Kick-start for the Season?

Leicester City 4 Manchester United 2  –  16 October 2021

Report by Tish Krokosz

I think it is fair to say that, prior to this match, City’s season had not really got going. The stuttering start showed some moments of promise, but no consistency. Brendan Rodgers recognised this and had stated that the international break gave him a chance to review the situation and come up with a fresh start – as if he was walking into his job for the first day. His first opponents were to be the Red Devils from Manchester, so it was fascinating to see the team sheet that would bring about this change in fortunes.

The first surprise was to see Amartey join Evans and Söyüncü in a back three. Who would have the unenviable task of keeping Ronaldo off the scoresheet? It was good to see Evans return from injury and illness as everyone believes he brings stability and confidence to the defence. No Barnes or Lookman – instead Rodgers was relying on Castagne and Pereira to help out in defence when required but also provide a width on the wings.

Despite plenty of early pressure by City, it was the visitors who were on the scoresheet first. Their attacks on the right wing were proving to be more successful than from the left and it was from this source that the danger arrived. Greenwood, who had already shown his speed, came in from the right and accelerated towards the penalty area leaving Castagne floundering. He gave Schmeichel no chance with a perfectly placed shot into the top left-hand corner. This was generally against the run of play and seemed a little unfair on City.

They rallied well. Maguire, who most pundits thought would be left out of the side after recent injury, was having a torrid time, especially against Iheanacho. On the half-hour, the ex-City defender was slow to react to a pass by De Gea and was robbed by the Nigerian. He saw that Tielemans was unmarked and rolled the ball to him. Then, did he cross the ball towards the advancing Vardy, or did he place it out of De Gea’s reach in the top left-hand corner on purpose? City fans did not care. This goal was a deserved equaliser and was a fitting punishment for Maguire, who had been sloppy and cynical until then.

City played several more good moves in the first half and may have been rewarded with further goals if Iheanacho had been more successful with his shots. The home crowd had become quite frustrated with the referee throughout the first 45 minutes. I suppose his interpretation of letting the game flow was more generous than the crowd’s view, but, as the break approached, he did acknowledge the clumsy or cynical stops that were being carried out by the red shirts. Unfortunately, any free kicks given were unproductive.

Solskjaer did not make any changes at half-time and his team continued with the same tactics in the second half. At least the referee recognised this and started to give yellow cards as well as freekicks. Maddison and Vardy, in particular, were victims of the visitors’ fouls. Rashford came on for Sancho in the 65th minute to try and bring more danger down the left-hand side, but it was still City who generally had more chances.

Pérez came on for Maddison soon after. The latter had been far more constructive in this game than in any other this season and so it was surprising to see that the tempo increased even further after this change. City’s midfield was much more aggressive than their opponents and, with fifteen minutes to go, after one such challenge, Tielemans was able to take the ball towards the penalty area and unleashed a fierce shot similar to his goal in the FA Cup Final. De Gea managed to get fingertips on to the ball and diverted it on to the post and it ran to safety.

United countered immediately by a quick break down the other end of the field where Schmeichel had to be alert to stop a Ronaldo attempt on goal. Iheanacho looked as if he was tiring, so Rodgers brought on Daka in his place. The Zambian replacement had an immediate effect and his first touch was a shot at goal which De Gea saved with his feet. The ensuing corner was not dealt with effectively by the United defence and after a couple of rebounds the ball fell to Söyüncü a couple of yards from the goal-line and he thumped it into the net. There was a brief moment of concern whilst this was checked by VAR and there was mighty roar when it was confirmed as a goal. With only 12 minutes to go to the end of the match, City fans were in high spirits, expecting this to be the winner. We were only half way through the number of goals scored, let alone attempts on goal!

The cheers disappeared three minutes later when Lindelöf sent a ball down the centre of the park to an alert Rashford who was unmarked. He was able to control the ball and ran towards goal with Evans some way behind him. He unleashed a powerful shot that Schmeichel had little chance of saving. Suddenly, the home crowd was much quieter. But not for long.

From the kick-off, the ball came to Castagne on the left wing. He rushed forward and was brutally hacked down by Wan-Bissaka, but not before poking the ball forward to an advancing Pérez. He was able to take the ball almost to the bye-line and cleverly pass it to an unmarked Vardy. With the outside of his right foot he hammered the ball beyond De Gea’s despairing stretched left hand and City were in front again.

Wave after wave of attacks brought more chances for both sides. In the 85th minute City had three shots at goal from inside the penalty area all blocked by a desperate United defence. On the stroke of the full 90 minutes a further City approach was snuffed by Wan-Bissaka, who tried to be clever and take the ball out of the penalty area to safety. He was not aware that Vardy was on fire and closing him down. The City talisman cleverly positioned himself between the ball and the defender and the latter could not stop himself bundling the 34-year-old over.

This was a good position to take some time over the free kick and wind down the clock. No chance! Tielemans whipped in the free kick into the danger area and, once again, the inept United defence did not clear the ball, but allowed it to drift to Daka, who was able to tap the ball into the net.

Five minutes of added time was still enough for the visitors to have one more chance at scoring. You do not want to give Ronaldo an easy opportunity so close to the end of a match but it was a relief to see him fluff a sitter.

The home crowd were ecstatic at the end of a pulsating match. A 4-2 victory for City would not have been predicted by many pundits before kick-off, yet it was fully deserved. It was way ahead of any other City performance this season and it was a joy to watch if you were a City fan or even a neutral. The whole match was an exciting spectacle. I did not expect the visitors to be so poor, especially in midfield. They gave City so much space that their only method of stopping us was to conduct several cynical fouls. In all, three of their players were booked and quite correctly.

Hopefully, this may act as a kick-start to the City season. It is long overdue. It was great to see that the home team has not lost its va-va-voom. When passes do not go astray and find the critical players who can engineer an attractive and effective attacking style such as this, then there is hope that our team will progress further up the table.

Leicester: Schmeichel, Pereira, Amartey, Evans (Vestergaard 88), Söyüncü, Castagne, Soumaré, Tielemans, Maddison (Pérez 73), Iheanacho (Daka 77), Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Bertrand, Choudhury, Albrighton, Barnes, Lookman

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelöf, Maguire, Shaw, Matic (McTominay 80), Pogba, Greenwood (Lingard 80), Fernandes, Sancho (Rashford 65), Ronaldo. Subs not used: Henderson, Bailly, Mata, Dalot, Telles, van de Beek

Referee: C. Pawson          Attendance: 32,219

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