OUTGUNNED CITY FALLING OFF THE RAILS AGAIN

City 1 Arsenal 3

Report by Colin Hall

Leicester City’s attempt to bounce back from their midweek Europa League exit proved notably unsuccessful, as visitors Arsenal coasted to a 3-1 victory at the King Power Stadium.

The physical and mental frailties that have afflicted the Foxes so often during the past year and beyond are now in serious danger of derailing the push to remain in the top four of the Premier League.

As in the previous game against Slavia Prague, City looked completely bereft of inspiration and leadership, despite a starting line-up on this occasion featuring TEN full internationals.

In addition, with Harvey Barnes and Jonny Evans now added to an already-lengthy injury list, the depth of the squad is being tested to – and possibly beyond – its limits.

The home side had looked to have put their troubles behind them when Youri Tielemans gave them the lead with a fine solo goal after only 6 minutes.

That should have been the cue for City to seize the initiative and take the game beyond a visiting side resting several key players after their own midweek exertions.

Instead, the team sat deep and looked hesitant and tentative, more like a team fearing relegation to the Championship than one with Champions League aspirations.

Arsenal sought to exploit such tensions wherever possible, with Pepe playing a particularly prominent role in their attacks, as he had done during his team’s previous visit in the Carabao Cup tie earlier in the season.

The winger thought he had earned a penalty when being fouled by Wilfried Ndidi, but a VAR review ruled the offence had taken place outside the box.

City were limited to sporadic breaks, during which Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho both tested visiting keeper Leno from long range.

But just when they appeared to have weathered the Arsenal storm, they conceded a soft equaliser. Pepe drew yet another foul from stand-in left-back Luke Thomas and Willian’s free-kick found David Luiz to head home without challenge.

The Gunners then suffered a blow of their own, with midfielder Smith-Rowe being forced off injured. However, his absence did not affect the pattern of the game, with the visitors continuing to press the City defence.

On the stroke of half-time, Ndidi, in a moment of panic, raised his arms to block a shot from the ever-dangerous Pepe. Although referee Tierney missed the incident, the VAR did not, and Lacazette sent Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way from the spot.

To little surprise Thomas, who had endured a torrid time, collecting a booking in the process, was replaced at half-time by Marc Albrighton, with Ricardo, rather than Timothy Castagne, switched to fill the gap at left-back.

Minutes later, though, City suffered a setback which may have devastating consequences for their season, as Barnes damaged his knee while chasing a wayward Tielemans pass and was forced to leave the field on a stretcher.

While the home side were still reeling, Pepe put the outcome of the game beyond their reach by finishing off a move which sliced open the City defence. In truth, this goal was no more than his performance deserved.

With the Foxes still shellshocked by the loss of Barnes, Arsenal were able to see out the remainder of the game in some comfort.

The only serious threat to their goal during the half came deep into stoppage time, when Iheanacho blazed wastefully over from close range. By then, City woes had deepened further with Evans being forced to limp off with a calf injury.

In theory, City’s fate during the final third of the league campaign still remains within its own hands, with games remaining against seven of the league’s bottom eight clubs. But in reality, individual and collective form is sinking fast – especially in the once all-conquering attack – and confidence has been shattered.

As happened last season, a cloud of self-pity has descended on the club in the wake of a constant stream of injuries.

Unless the management can somehow find a way of dispelling that cloud, City are doomed to suffer a recurrence of the disappointments that befell them during 2020. 

City (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel; Castagne, Evans (Amartey 69), Söyüncü, Thomas (Albrighton h/t); Ricardo, Ndidi, Tielemans, Barnes (Ünder 51); Iheanacho, Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Daley-Campbell, Fuchs, Mendy, Choudhury, Tavares.

Goal: Tielemans (6)        Bookings: Thomas, Tielemans.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Leno, Cedric, David Luiz, Pablo Mari, Tierney; Elneny (Partey 66), Xhaka, Smith-Rowe (Ødegaard 42); Pepe, Lacazette (Aubameyang 83), Willian. Subs not used: Ryan, Bellerin, Holding, Ceballos. Saka, Martinelli.

Goals: David Luiz (39). Lacazette (45 + 2 (pen)), Pepe (52). Bookings: Tierney.

Referee: Paul Tierney     VAR: David Coote

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

Czechmate as City exit Europa League

Leicester City 0 v SK Slavia Praha 2

Europa League Round of 32, King Power Stadium, 25th February 2021

Report by Colin Murrant

Following the goalless draw in Prague last week, City had a good chance of progressing to the last sixteen although, with away goals counting double in the event of a draw, they needed to remain solid in defence. The centre back pairing of Evans and Söyüncü was predictable, with Amartey and Thomas the full-backs as Rodgers continued to manage the return from injury of both Castagne and Ricardo. The midfield saw Choudhury return to the starting eleven perhaps with half an eye on the need to stop the opposition scoring. With Maddison injured, and Iheanacho banned for the tie, it was a surprise to see Harvey Barnes only on the bench; Ünder and Albrighton taking the wide positions in what seemed to be a 4-2-3-1 system.

City kicked off attacking the North Stand and within 2 minutes had a chance. Söyüncü, running from his own half laid the ball to the right side of the penalty area, the ball was passed on to Ünder who broke into the six-yard box. The ball arrived back with Söyüncü who could only manage a tame shot straight at the keeper. This quick start proved to be a false dawn as there was a lack tempo to City’s game, no cohesion in the passing, lack of movement. There were very few half chances for City and Kolar in Slavia’s goal had very little to do.

Schmeichel was probably marginally the busier of the two keepers but he again was rarely troubled. A long clearance up field let Sima in on goal after Söyüncü mistimed his headed clearance: Sima’s resultant shot from twenty-five yards out went well wide.

The teams came out unchanged for the second half and were soon on the offensive. On 49 minutes a Slavia attack down City’s right dragged Evans out of position and wide, Stanciu crossed the ball and Thomas had to come across to pick up the now unmarked Sima which left Provod free at the far post: the ball landed at his feet and he buried it in the goal giving Schmeichel no chance. City were now up against it as they needed two goals to go through and the Prague team could now defend in greater numbers. Vardy put Ünder through but the latter didn’t trust his right foot and he let the defender get back at him as he tried to engineer the ball onto his left; his eventual right foot shot going weakly into the side netting.

On 60 minutes the cavalry arrived as Barnes, Ricardo, and Castagne replaced Albrighton, Choudhury and Amartey. City huffed and puffed but were creating nothing of note, their play was stuttering with no real pattern to it. Teenager Tavares was waiting to come on as substitute when, on 79 minutes, Oladeji Olayinka set Sima up for the second Slavia goal. What a fine goal it was as Sima hit the ball from twenty-yards into the same corner of the net as the first goal.

City offered very little the game was lost and the play reflected it. The only real passion came from Söyüncü who was pushing and shoving Kuchta as the latter dawdled off after being substituted. Not for the first time Söyüncü appeared to lose his temper and had to be restrained by his team mates. As the referee fumbled around his pockets, it was a relief to see the card pulled out was only yellow.

The Foxes looked ragged and tired; they are a poor and different team when not playing at a tempo: Kolar had no shots of any substance to save. I have never understood why managers do not start with their best team and rest players once they get a lead, chasing the game rarely succeeds. If they can recover their League form and get a Champion’s League place, tonight’s defeat will be worth it, and I wonder if Rodgers had the greater prize in mind?

The squad has been hit badly with injuries, but depth in creative midfield and attacking positions is sadly lacking: with Vardy limping and clearly in discomfort at the end, it is to be hoped he can soon shrug the injury off. I do not want to single out Hamza Choudhury, but I do not understand why Papy Mendy does not play. Mendy is always looking to play the ball forward, he played very well when Ndidi was injured: this supposed pledge by Rodgers that Choudhury would get more game time after his transfer fell through seems quite bizarre if true, and very unfair on Mendy.

Over the two legs of the Round of 32, City were not very impressive and created very little. They were out thought on team selection and tactics. In the Champion’s League 2016/17, City were labelled as an embarrassment by some pundits before a ball was kicked: pundits that had to eat their words as City were England’s last team standing. Tonight, with the pundits saying City could win the Europa League, City probably deserved that title.

Now, City need to re-group and go forward and secure that Champion’s League place and hopefully, with some new recruits and with a full house at the King Power, bring the great European nights back to Leicester. There is still a lot to play for this season.

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Amartey (61), Evans, Söyüncü, Thomas; Choudhury (61), Ndidi, Tielemans; Albrighton (61), Ünder (80); Vardy.

Subs: Ward, Jakupovic, Castagne (61), Ricardo (61), Fuchs, Flynn, Mendy, Tavares (80), Leshabela, Barnes (61)

SK Slavia Praha: Kolar; Bah, Kudela, Zima, Boril; Hromada (65), Sima, Stanciu (69), Provod; Oladeji Olayinka, Kuchta (84)

Subs: Holes, Deli, Stejskal, Dorley (69), Traore, Masopust (84), Kovar, Lingr (65), Višinský

Referee: Serdar Gözübüyük

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

Good Memories Never Fade

The Foxes Trust were recently informed that we had lost one of our members to the Covid 19 pandemic, the board were touched by the memories shared by his son, who has given his permission to share those thoughts with fellow Leicester fans via our website as a tribute to his father.

“I am writing to inform you of the death of my father, Phil Brown.

Dad died in Leicester General Hospital on the 27th June, aged 81, after being admitted for treatment of prostate cancer and subsequently contracting Covid.

Dad first watched Leicester City in 1955. He lived in Corby and would travel to Filbert Street for home matches throughout the 1960s, often taking my Mum’s younger brother, Roger, with him. He would love to tell me about Chopper Chalmers, Sjoberg and Davie Gibson. My Uncle remembers being with Dad as part of the huge crowd packed into Filbert Street hours before kick-off against Tottenham in 1963, as well as Keyworth and Law scoring hat tricks in a thriller versus United the same season. The 5-4 game against West Ham after the 1966 World Cup win when the crowd applauded Banks, Moore, Peters and Hurst was another fond memory.

He took me to my first match in 1977 when I was seven years old. Leicester City 1 Everton 5. The McClintock relegation season. Over the next few years we became regulars to the extent that he invested in season tickets for us both from 1983. We sat side by side until the end of the 2018-19 season, when he felt travelling to and from the ground to his home in Kirby Muxloe became too much for him.

Together we experienced the many highs and lows of being a Leicester City supporter: Andy Peake’s long ranger against Liverpool; the Shrewsbury FA Cup match followed by disappointment at Villa Park; promotion under Gordon Milne; Tony James against Oxford; Coatsworth’s netbuster; Walshie against the Rams; Claridge’s shinner and Hillsborough winner; annual Wembley visits; Joey from the halfway line; the many managers of Mandaric; Fryatt on fire; Howard’s bullet against Leeds and then promotion back to the Premier League.

Dad didn’t think it could get much better than that promotion season; then we beat United 5 – 3 and pulled off the great escape before…enter Claudio; Vardy’s goal record; Mahrez and Kante! Dad would chuckle and look at me whenever Kante nicked the ball away from another unknowing opponent. The day Captain Morgan lifted the trophy was so emotional. Dad couldn’t believe what Leicester City had achieved.

He continued to follow City on Radio Leicester as he had done for away matches over the years and finally invested in Sky Sports. My last conversation with him was during the Brentford FA Cup tie. Dad was heavily sedated and finding it hard to stay awake but he managed to ring me from his hospital bed to ask me how the game was going. As we chatted Leicester won a penalty which Youri Tielemans scored. I have many memories of my Dad, an awful lot of which involve sport and even more of which involve Leicester City. Following City gave my Dad enormous pleasure and I know he appreciated having a call from someone at the club over lockdown to see how he was. It seems only right that my last interaction with him was to describe a goal and chat about the boys in blue.

At his funeral Dad will leave us to the sound of Andrea Bocelli, I can’t think of anything more fitting.

Steve Brown”

Fresh Foxes find another winning permutation

Villa 1 Foxes 2

Match Report by Graham Tracey

A dominant first half performance helped us pick up another valuable victory on our travels, and keep any worries that our exertions will catch up with us in the long grass. The second half was harder work that we would have liked, but any other result would have been a travesty on the overall balance of play.

Brendan sprang a surprise in the full back department by playing three – Thomas on the left, with the returning Castagne behind Ricardo on the right. When I saw the line up I assumed this was to double up on Grealish, but then when I looked at the Villa team sheet I was delighted to learn he was ruled out with an injury that they had kept secret. No matter, as our formation worked just fine, with Ricardo seeing plenty of the ball in dangerous positions and forcing a save within the first half minute.

I may as well start this report by saying that Luke Thomas was outstanding – probably his best game yet – both defensively and in feeding Barnes. I think we can have full confidence playing him in JJ’s absence, giving us a great alternative to Albrighton on the right. In fact, other than Justin’s absence (and I can’t remember feeling as upset for an injured player), maybe this is our strongest team (although Fofana wouldn’t weaken it).

We looked to have sowed the game up within 25 minutes, with Villa keeper Martinez probably thinking he could have prevented both goals on another day. We were benefitting from an injury to Villa’s decent right back Cash, and so Barnes deserved his man of the match award from Sky. First, he laid off the ball to Maddison, who guided it into the corner from outside the area via the keepers’ fingers. Minutes later, Vardy’s snap-shot was spilled, and Harvey reacted quickest to fire into the roof of the net.

One punch aside, Kasper had a redundant first half, with Watkins (who would have been an idea signing for us instead of Perez) the only dangerous Villain, and Thomas blocking their only sniff of goal. I like to think that the notebook of the watching Gareth Southgate simply said “pick all fit Leicester players for the Euros who want to go”.

However, in an echo of the Leeds away game in the autumn, we let our opponents back into the game with a goal out of nowhere at the start of the second period. A ball in from the left inexplicably found Traore unmarked in the six yard box, and despite slipping he hooked the ball past Schmeichel, prompting a minor scuffle in lieu of a goal celebration. This did not particularly ramp up the home pressure, and for a time we looked more likely to find the killer third goal. Barnes drew two yellow cards with his running, and a breakaway goal with Vardy looked on the cards.

However, Madders limping off injured changed our gameplan. He forced a flying save from a free kick, but then left the field after treatment for both ankle and hip injuries. Mendy came on and his industrious contribution was much appreciated. However, we then brought on Choudhury and Amartey, as the preservation dial was turned up to the max. This invited Villa to control the ball for the final minutes and put plenty of balls into the box, but Soyuncu in particular was always there to head away, and we held out without any real alarms.

Inevitably, Man City won afterwards, leaving the title itself still feeling 5000-1 away. I genuinely think that if Mahrez could have been brain-washed, Inception-style, to play for us instead of them this season, then then 10 point gap between us could be zero. That’s how good we are. Nevertheless, it was a very satisfying weekend, with top four rivals like Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs losing points. Being over 50, the FA Cup remains my top priority, but feet up now for a few days until European progress hopefully.

FOXES: Schmeichel 6, Castagne 8, Thomas 9, Soyuncu 8, Evans 7, Ndidi 7, Tielemans 8 (Choudhury), Ricardo 7 (Amartey), Barnes 9, Maddison 8 (Mendy), Vardy 7.

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

A Prague Spring?

Slavia Prague 0 City 0

Report by Kate Thompson

City went into this game knowing that it would be a sterner test than they had faced in the group stage and so it proved.  The Leicester Mercury told us that Slavia Prague had not lost at home since November 2019 and that Brendan Rodgers had never got beyond the 32-team stage.  There was just one change from the Liverpool game, with Luke Thomas replacing Ricardo Pereira, in a precautionary measure to protect the latter.

About 600 Slavia fans were in the stadium and the seats in one stand had been arranged to spell out ‘Slavia Prague fox hunting’.  The goalmouth at one end was bare of grass and it transpired that the pitch was poor, according to Schmeichel in his post-match interview.  The Slavia manager, in his interview, said that it was a lot better than many others in the Czech league.

City started the brighter and could have been ahead in the first minute, when Barnes slipped a delightful ball across to Albrighton, who unfortunately put his shot wide of the left-hand post.  Shortly after a Slavia player was completely unmarked in the box but also put his shot wide when in a very good position.  In the 3rd minute Maddison’s shot soared over the crossbar but at this point City were pressing well and really should have gone ahead.  Slavia frequently looked dangerous but thankfully appeared to have left their shooting boots at home.

City continued to be foiled by good blocks, such as one from Barnes in the 16th minute, and the same player put his shot wide two minutes later.  The Slavia players spent a lot of time diving to the ground when they had hardly been touched, trying to get free kicks and – on one occasion – clearly trying to get Albrighton booked, as a second yellow would have meant him missing the second leg. 

Unfortunately, the officials seemed to be fooled by a lot of the play-acting, which has always been an irritant to English fans.  Yet another foul, on Albrighton, led to the only yellow card for a Salvia player – Boril in the 26th minute.

City continued to win free kicks and corners but Maddison’s deliveries were poor and none of them threatened the Slavia goal.  The first substitution for Slavia, Hromada for Holes, came as early as the 29th minute.  In the 33rd minute a possible penalty for City for handball was looked at by VAR but was deemed to have been outside the box and yet again the free kick came to nothing.

Slavia came out for the second half with much more resolve and City could have been made to pay for their inability to score.  For about 20 minutes they resembled headless chickens and even the normally solid Ndidi made mistakes.  The City players struggled to keep the ball, very reminiscent of the game against Liverpool.

In the 63rd minute Iheanacho came on for Vardy, who had not had many opportunities to make his mark on the game, and Under for Albrighton.  Poor Iheanacho was booked only a minute later for an apparent elbow in the face of a Slavia player, so will miss the second leg.  Ndidi and Tielmans were also booked. 

Slavia brought on two substitutes in the 72nd minute, Masopust for Kuchta and Trarore for Stanciu.  City’s final substitute was Choudhury for Maddison in the 75th minute and Slavia brought Lingr on for Provod in the 90th minute.

A goalless draw away to a team top of their league might be considered a good result but it could have been so much better.  It was particularly galling to hear some of the results of other English teams although Arsenal only got a score draw away to Benfica. 

Unfortunately, too many players had a poor game and they reverted to one of my pet dislikes, passing the ball sideways, especially between Evans and Soyuncu countless times.  Nobody played really well although Thomas was solid and probably the best on the night.  The offensive players, Vardy, Barnes, Maddison, Albrighton and Tielemans, fell short of their normal high standards and need to up their game for the return leg.

One final point.  It is very rare for Rodgers to criticise the officials, but he did so last night in his post-match interview.  Let’s hope we don’t get the same ones next week!

Leicester City: 1 Kasper Schmeichel, 18 Daniel Amartey, 6 Jonny Evans, 4 Çaglar Söyüncü, 33 Luke Thomas, 8 Youri Tielemans, 25 Wilfred Ndidi, 11 Marc Albrighton, 10 James Maddison, 15 Harvey Barnes, 9 Jamie Vardy

Slavia Prague:  1 Ondrej Kolar, 5 Alexander Bah, 15 Ondrej Kudela, 6 David Zima, 18 Jan Boril, 3 Tomás Holes, 12 Abdallah Dipo Sima, 17 Lukáš Provod, 7 Nicolae Claudiu Stanciu, 9 Peter Olayinka, 16 Jan Kuchta.

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