Clean Sheet At Last

Leicester 4 Newcastle United 0 – 12 December 2021

Report by Tish Krokosz

After a disappointing trip to Italy, the question was whether City were strong enough physically and mentally to cope with a revitalised Newcastle team under the stewardship of Eddie Howe. Games after any European Thursday match away from home always seem to be difficult for an English side.

On this occasion, the visitors had the added advantage of knowing, due to continuous media reminders, that the City defence is now one of the most vulnerable in the land. There is the almost expected gift of two goals given to the opposition before City get going. Added to this, there was little strength in depth due to the unwanted Covid cases that had materialised in the last few days. Where would the inspiration come from and how would City be reinvigorated?

It has been topical recently to have a Plan B. I do not know whether Brendan Rodgers had one for this match but it was rendered out of date within three minutes of the start as Evans went down with a hamstring problem and had to be replaced by Soumaré. Ndidi slotted into the back four and for the next fifteen minutes City were trying to become accustomed to this new combination. Any Newcastle attempts to benefit from this early change were weak and gradually City became more confident and were instigating moves against the Newcastle defence more often.

A foul on Barnes to the left of the D allowed Maddison to have a crack at goal and he was not far from picking out the top left-hand corner of the goal, with the ball skidding off the top of the net. Soon after, Daka was able to make a run down the right and was only stopped by an illegal push from Lewis, who received a yellow card for his action. The ensuing free kick reached the back of the visitors’ defensive line where Ndidi was waiting to nod the ball back across goal. Unfortunately, there was no player in blue able to knock it in.

Perhaps plan B involved the City front-runners being asked to pressurise the opposition earlier. They, in turn, were making it easier for City to do this as they tried to play the ball out from the back. This led to a mistake in the 36th minute and City won the ball on the edge of the area. It fell to Maddison, who pushed it into the box, and was promptly fouled by Lascelles. The game needed a goal to liven it up and Tielemans obliged by thumping the ball high into the left-hand side of the net with Dúbravka diving in the opposite direction.

This wakened up Howe’s team and they were forced to move forward more urgently. However, City withstood any pressure and the teams went in at half-time with the same score line.

The visitors continued their willingness to move forward at the start of the second half. Both teams were showing more ruggedness and the tackles were more intense. However, it was City who were showing more inventiveness and a deft pass from Maddison to Barnes, who beat the offside trap, allowed him to run behind the defence and stroke the ball to the unmarked Daka. He only had to tap the ball into the net and this allowed the City fans to see a spectacular backward somersault as he celebrated his second Premiership goal.

Newcastle did not give in and at 2-0 down Saint-Maximin, in particular, was showing off his dribbling skills and waltzed past the City midfield on several occasions. Soon after that second goal, the burly Newcastle midfielder made one such dazzling run and passed the ball to Willock; his fierce shot was only just over the bar.

Two Newcastle substitutions were countered by Albrighton replacing Barnes. This allowed Maddison to play a more central role with Albrighton giving more cover to Castagne. However, this did not stop the latter making an almost suicidal back pass to Schmeichel, who had to scamper back to his goal-line to kick the ball to safety. If Newcastle could not score, it seemed City were desperate to try and help them.

But with ten minutes of normal time remaining, City scored another goal on the break. Thomas, who, I thought, had an excellent match, stole the ball on the halfway line and carried it forward. His pass to Daka was moved on to Maddison and he, in turn, passed it to Tielemans, who, by this stage, was just inside the penalty area. His second goal was placed almost in the same place as the earlier penalty.

Four minutes later, City scythed through the visitors’ defence with quick first time passes and Daka’s lay off bisected the centre backs and allowed Maddison to run behind the Newcastle defenders and hit a wonderful goal with his weaker left foot. His work for the afternoon was done and he was soon replaced by McAteer, a graduate from the Academy set-up, for the final few minutes.

This was not City’s best performance; a better team would have punished some of the mistakes and weaknesses. Newcastle were certainly one of the poorer domestic teams to visit King Power this season.

A 4-0 win helps the goal difference remarkably. It puts City not too far behind the places that would give European football next season. It shows that a high rate of scoring can be achieved without Vardy’s participation. It shows that, in Daka, there will be hope for the future in a post Vardy era. But above all, it brings relief to a defence that has been criticised for many weeks.

Many fans complain that the tippy-tappy style of defensive play that has been the hallmark of City’s play recently does not produce exciting, positive football. Looking at how the Newcastle defenders were caught out using these tactics shows how dangerous they can be. Sometimes, a hoof from defence can bring relief from pressure and puts the opposition on the back foot. In this case, it brought City their first clean sheet since the opening game of the season.

Leicester: Schmeichel, Castagne, Evans (Soumaré 6), Söyüncü, Thomas, Ndidi, Dewsbury-Hall, Tielemans, Barnes (Albrighton 70), Maddison (McAteer 87), Daka. Subs not used: Ward, Bertrand, Brunt, Nelson, Ricardo Pereira, Vardy

Newcastle United: Dúbravka, Manquillo, Schär, Lascelles, Lewis (Murphy 62), Almirón (Fraser 62), Shelvey (Ritchie 85), Willock, Saint-Maximin, Wilson, Joelinton Subs not used: Darlow, Hayden, Hendrick, Krafth, Fernández, Gayle

Referee: P. Bankes                                          Attendance: 31,959