SAME OLD SAME

Crystal Palace 1 v Leicester City 1

28 December 2020, Selhurst Park 3 p.m. KO

Report by Steve Moulds

A familiar tale of City failing to beat sides in the bottom half of the table after great results against top six teams – there was the sense of having seen all this before already this season and perhaps proof that Leicester’s bench players are not as good as they need to be.

This time 12 months ago, having just lost 0-4 to Liverpool at home, City were sitting second in the league with 39 points, having played 19 games. This season is looking very similar and a more profitable Christmas week provided hope for a good result as the Blues went to Palace.

The Eagles had not had such a good Yuletide, having conceded 10 goals in two games, losing 7-0 to Liverpool and 3-0 to a Villa side with only 10 men on the field for half of the game. Expectation dictated Palace would come out more determined to get a result at home.

Rodgers made seven changes from the side that drew 2-2 with Manchester United on Boxing Day, indicating a need to rest some key players. Lining up in 4-2-3-1 formation and electing to start with Amartey, Thomas, Choudhury, Praet, Mendy, Pérez and Iheanacho, the side appeared lacking in creativity with a more defensive outlook, probably to counter Palaces expected attacking front three. The encouraging news saw Söyüncü return to the bench.

Leicester had won six out of seven away matches, finding a winning formula for away games. In the event, Palace lined up in a more conventional 4-4-2, perhaps wary of City’s ability to break quickly and not wishing to concede an early goal. Leicester made a confident start, with an Iheanacho swift turn and break leading to a corner in the first few minutes. City were playing confidently and looking comfortable on the ball, but with no real product in the final third to show for their early possession. Palace were certainly determined to get plenty of men behind the ball.

With the midfield congested, City were making more progress out wide with Perez and Justin on the right and Barnes and Thomas on the left. Eventually, this lead to a Barnes ricocheted pass running into the path of Thomas sprinting into the box and a poor challenge by Tomkins lead to a penalty. Up stepped Iheanacho only for Guaita to save what was a weak attempt. Chance missed and one City would eventually regret.

Palace were offering little up front until the 21st minute when a short back pass by Choudhury allowed Zaha to pounce – fortunately, Choudhury got back to rob Zaha in the box and force a corner.  Increasingly, Palace were finding it hard to retain possession due to City’s high press and effective defending. Leicester were often able to win the ball back in the Palace half and move the ball across the pitch swiftly. In one instance, Justin played in Pérez whose deflected cross provided an excellent chance for Praet who should have done better. City needed to do more of this if they were to create chances.

The best chance for Palace came on 27 minutes, Schlupp made good progress down the left and crossed to an unmarked Townsend who prodded wide at the near post from the six yard line.

Goalless at the break, Leicester had around 70 per cent of the possession in the first half and should have been ahead, given the opportunities they had, despite the penalty miss – no product in the final third is something premier league teams often come to regret. Palace were probably the happier given their recent form.

There were no changes at halftime for either side. Palace came out on the front foot in the early minutes, leading to a half chance for Zaha who blasted over the bar from outside the box. Palace looked a yard sharper, hassling City’s midfield and pressing higher on the defence, resulting in a couple of late challenges and booking for Choudhury.

This sparked Rodgers into making the first change with Tielemans replacing Choudhury. However, this did not stem Palace’s adventure – a Townsend deep cross and Zaha demonstrated how a quality striker finishes in this league – one-nil to the Eagles, with Schmeichel beaten at his near post despite not yet having to make a save in the game.

Hodgson appeared to have got his tactical changes right, snuffing out the wide threat City had posed in the first half.  Palace were now looking in control, keeping the ball and stringing passes together. It was time for Rodgers to up the anti and bring on Vardy for Praet.

On 71 minutes Gray made his first appearance of the season, his first cross was wayward and looking rusty – a cynic might say this was simply putting him in the shop window for the January transfer period. Leicester were seeing more of the ball but Palace were easily managing the game, with no need to stretch themselves looking for a second.

Then out of nothing, Barnes showed the same brilliance he had against United on Boxing Day and crashing a low shot past Guaita’s left. Having got back in the game, City began to take control once more, with Barnes creating another chance. Palace did not give up and also looked to create chances.

Leicester’s best final chance came from a free kick just outside the D, after Pérez drew a foul. However, up stepped Gray to place the ball in row X! Where was Maddison when we needed him? City continued to press into time added on and Pérez had a half chance in the closing minutes.

Last season, City did the double over Palace and this should be viewed as two points lost. Barnes was awarded man of the match – Rodgers will be thankful he rescued a point as he was the only bit of quality on show in a Leicester shirt. It may be a harsh final assessment, but Christmas came late for Palace as Leicester gifted them a point.

LEICESTER: Schmeichel, Amartey, Evans, Thomas, Justin, Choudhury (Tielemans 56 min), Praet (Vardy 65 min), Mendy, Barnes, Iheanacho (Gray 71 mins).

CRYSTAL PALACE:  Guaita, Clyne, Kouyaté, Tomkins, Mitchell, Townsend, Milivojevic, Riedewald (McArthur 73 mins), Schlupp (Ayew 83), Benteke, Zaha.

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

CITY HOLD UNITED IN SPIRITED DISPLAY

LEICESTER 2 MAN UTD 2

Report by Eddie Blount

The omens for this match-of-the day clash between sides lying second and third in the Premiership table were not encouraging for City fans: United had not lost to City in their last twelve encounters, they had won every away game in the league this season and had a Boxing Day win record in the Premiership of 80% compared with City’s meagre 14%.

So much for what statistics can predict as City fought back twice from being a goal down to deservedly achieve their first draw of the season in an entertaining encounter, especially by the standards of recent Boxing day matches – and beyond as those who saw totally unfancied Rotherham win 0-1 some time ago will readily testify.

The game almost had a sensational start as United pressed from the kick-off and a Fernandes cross saw Rashford head over from four yards out and dead central with Schmeichel helplessly exposed. City promptly drove to the other end and Vardy connected with a right-wing cross only to fail to keep the ball down with a half-chance which is all he sometimes needs. The game continued for several minutes in this vein with both sides looking happier when attacking than defending. This was best illustrated for United when de Gea dallied instead of putting his boot through the ball and almost presented City with a late Christmas present

After 10 minutes the game began to settle down with both sides probing for an opening without creating any further clear chances. However the opener came in the 22nd minute with more than a hint of good fortune attached. United swept down their right and the ball was crossed into the middle ostensibly for the excellent Fernandes. However the ball was two yards in front of the intended recipient who had to reach at full stretch to make any contact. This resulted in a toe-poke which could have gone anywhere but as luck had it the ball was diverted to exactly bisect two covering defenders and present the ever predatory Rashford with his second clear opportunity of the game and this time he easily slipped the ball past the advancing City keeper to give United the lead.

City to their credit kept their heads up and were level less than ten minutes later. There seemed no undue danger as Barnes received the ball just outside the ‘D’ surrounded by red shirts but the winger worked a little space for a thumping left foot shot which beat de Gea all ends up.

Minutes later Fernandes almost restored United’s lead with a glancing header from a Shaw free kick which went narrowly wide of Schmeichel’s left post. The midfielder completed a busy first half by being booked on the stroke of half-time. Not surprisingly he was to go on to be tv’s Man of the Match

The Reds had the better of the third quarter at least in terms of chances created with a fine save by Schmeichel when confronted for the third time by Rashford whose contribution was in stark contrast to his anonymous strike partner, Martial. The nearest City came to scoring came early on when a well-taken Maddison free kick was well deflected by the United wall.

Just when it seemed that City were over the worst United struck again, with Fernandes almost inevitably centre stage, moving at exactly the right moment on to substitute Cavani’s clever pass between defenders and slipping the ball past Schmeichel into the far corner.

A lesser team would have capitulated at this point with a quarter of an hour to play but City are made of sterner stuff these days and were level again six minutes later. Rogers had brought on Perez for Albrighton and he had already begun to show some threat before crossing to the well positioned Vardy whose first -time side-footed shot deflected off a defender past de Gea. From this point both sides played out an agreed draw.

For City there were significant contributions from all parts of the pitch but Barnes was particularly impressive going forward and Ndidi and Tielemans got through plenty of work in midfield whilst the back four defended stoutly to restrict United to a handful of chances. Given the run that United are on away from home City can be satisfied with a point won rather than two points lost.

Finally a word about the officials. Mike Dean is not one of the referees I most admire but this was as good a display as I have seen from him and VAR was hardly noticed which is as it should be!

City: Schmeichel, Justin, Forfana, Evans, Castagne, Ndidi, Tielemans, Albrighton (Perez 81), Maddison, Barnes, Vardy

United: De Gea, Lindelof (Tuanzebe 66), Bailly, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, Fernandes, James (Pogba 54), Rashford, Martial (Cavani 75)

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

Christmas Number 2 Again

Spurs 0 Foxes 2

Match Report by Graham Tracey

Our crazy ‘no draws’ league season of inspiring away wins and uninspiring home defeats continued with an incredibly comfortable first victory at the new White Hart Lane. Vardy-based goals either side of the break gave us a cushion we never looked like wasting, and I would be surprised if we have ever beaten Arsenal, Spurs and Man City away in a single season before. We were superior in tactics, energy and desire, and so comprehensive was the outcome that it was strange that this was the first time Brendan Rodgers has outwitted Jose Mourinho.

We were able to welcome back Timothy Castagne at left wing-back, leaving us only two short of full strength (Ricardo and Soyuncu). Albrighton played right wing-back, with Justin in a three man defence – an indication that this would have been a match too far for Fuchs at this stage of his career. I was pleased to see Harvey Barnes in the starting line up.

With Spurs’ cagey style, we were not put under early pressure and so could settle into the game. Home crowds won’t now be happening in London for maybe the rest of the season, but I doubt a full house would tolerate Mourinho’s team sitting so deep and allowing the visitors’ possession. Barnes, Albrighton and Maddison were seeing plenty of the ball, while Ndidi showed he is still a cut above the praiseworthy Mendy, with his physicality and intercepting skills being crucial against Spurs’ midfield.

In the past three trips to Spurs (twice when they were based at Wembley) we have created plenty of chances, but been out-finished. This was a game of far fewer chances. The two scares for us in the first half came in predictable fashion, with Kane luckily not making the most of two clear headers from corners.

We had struggled to test Lloris, but received a huge bonus in stoppage time when Aurier barged through Fofana (who had been active in their area) in the corner of the box. The ref had been quick to give Spurs free kicks for nothing at every opportunity (possibly worried that he would be blamed by Mourinho if Leicester won), and so unsurprisingly was not interested until compelled to relent after a VAR monitor inspection. I am not a fan of penalties down the middle, especially for such a huge moment in our season, but luckily Lloris dived one way and we immediately trotted off down the tunnel in the lead.

Spurs made two attacking changes at and straight after the interval (one enforced), with Bale and Moura on. However, these attacking talents couldn’t turn the tide. Within minutes, Maddison superbly controlled James’ long ball and finished with ease. But what VAR had given with one hand, it took away with another. Madders’ shoulder was judged ahead of the defender’s foot, and a goal that no football fan would complain about had their side conceded it was chalked off.

I had a horrible feeling that this injustice would be the turning point of the game, but after an hour Albrighton shepherded the ball down the right and crossed for Vardy who was marked by two defenders. However, Jamie outjumped one, and played an incredible ‘in off’ (probably but not definitely inadvertently) against Alderweireld for the own goal.

Kasper has earned us so many points already this season that I could easily forgive him his mistake against Everton, and he was back to his best soon after to claw away a back post effort from Son, again from a corner. But that was as close as Spurs got, their desperation summed up by Bale shooting from a free kick from a distance close to Madrid.

When Castagne was substituted for fitness reasons, we were thankful to call on a fit again Amartey, and Dan showed again that his best position is in centre defence with an accomplished performance. I would have him in there as a back three and review once Soyuncu returns, so that JJ can play wing-back until Ricardo is fit again. Although Albrighton had an excellent game as well – we truly have an embarrassment of riches when everyone is fit for the first time in our history.

Tielemans could have sealed the victory earlier when blazing over when well placed, and the only worry was seeing Vardy be substituted late on after holding his groin. We certainly need him to try and recreate our away form on home turf against Manchester United on Boxing Day (rarely a good day for us). Another win then will raise hopes further that this season, again being second at Christmas, will climb more ladders than slide down some of the snakes as we did in the second half of last season.

LEICESTER: Schmeichel 8, Castagne 8 (Amartey 8), Evans 7, Fofana 8, Justin 8, Albrighton 8, Tielemans 7, Ndidi 9, Maddison 8, Barnes 7 (Praet), Vardy 9 (Iheanacho)

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

EVERTON STIFLE CITY

LEICESTER CITY 0 EVERTON 2

Match Report by Paul Weston

Another game loomed on the horizon for City after the emphatic victory and performance against Brighton – a welcome home win. Everton were the opponents – a strong side and also fresh from their defeat of Chelsea. Evans had received his fifth and needless yellow card, and therefore one match suspension, in the Brighton match so that left Rodgers with a headache in defence.

Back to a centre-half role

His solution was to bring Ndidi back into defence alongside Fofana with Justin and Fuchs alongside. None of our walking wounded (Ricardo, Soyuncu, Castagne, Amartey) were even on the substitutes bench. Under started a Premier League match from the beginning. The prize, albeit temporary, was that a win would take City to the top of the league. Would City grasp the opportunity with both hands or fall at the first hurdle? You know the rest!

City started brightly with a move involving Barnes and Vardy with Tielemans shotting narrowly wide. Mendy received a very early booking. A red card later was a worry especially as Lee Mason, the referee, continued to make some very strange decisions throughout the match.

It did not take long for Everton to exert their authority over City. Everton is a strong, tall and well organised side and every corner was a threat. It did not take long for Everton to score. Richarlison cut in from the left with Justin in his wake and shot from long distance. It was a shot we normally expect Kasper to save but it crept into the goal off his outstretched hand. Immediately after Vardy should have scored when he instead headed straight at Olsen from a great Justin cross.

As the match progressed Barnes was shackled on the wing and Maddison and Tielemans became less influential, slow and ponderous. Chances were not being created whereas Everton had realised that Fuchs, a fantastic player for City but perhaps asked to play too many games, was a weak link against Iwobi.

Everton continued to frustrate City who moved the ball too slowly across the pitch rather than through the Everton lines. This always allowed Everton to drop back into position and catch City on the counter attack.

City started the second half more incisively with Justin more apparent on the right and sending in some dangerous crosses. Nothing transpired so Rodgers brought on Perez for Under who had had moments of skill but no real impression. City seemed to increase in intensity and Maddison shot over the bar from a good move started by Barnes.

Then, just as City might make a breakthrough, Everton scored again. It was, predictably, from a corner and, although Kasper made a superb double save Holgate stuck in the rebound. Why are we so hopeless at corners? We cannot keep them out and we cannot score from our own corners!

With about ten minutes to go Perez was brought down from behind by Gomes and Mason indicated a penalty. VAR was not very conclusive in my opinion but he overturned the decision. Soon after Perez scored but from an offside decision.

I would like to say that we threw the kitchen sink at Everton to try and turn the score around but it did not work out like that. It seemed like the players ran out of ideas on how to get through Everton’s well drilled defence. The match ended rather tamely with a 2-0 defeat. Although all the players tried their best no-one stood out and it was all a bit flat. Some, for example Maddison, Tielemans and Barnes, were very disappointing. Perhaps the fixture list had caught up on the players.

The next match on Sunday is away and against Spurs, fresh from their last minute defeat against Liverpool. Kane will undoubtedly score against us, as he always does, but perhaps an away match might suit City better. A comparison of two counter attacking teams will be interesting.

On thing is certain – 4 defeats out of 7 at home so far this season is poor and I would like to think that the City fans, when allowed back in the King Power stadium, will urge the players onto better performances than this one.

City: Schmeichel (c); Justin Fofana, Ndidi, Fuchs; Mendy (Iheanacho 73), Tielemans, Ünder (Perez 61), Maddison Barnes; Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Morgan, Albrighton, Praet, Thomas

Booked: Fuchs, Mendy

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

CITY SHOW CLASS TO SEE OFF SEAGULLS

City 3 Brighton 0

Report by Colin Hall

Leicester City produced their best home Premier League performance of the season so far during a 3-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

Such a convincing victory surprised and delighted many of the fanbase, who expressed fears before the game this fixture could become yet another banana-skin for a team who hadn’t always done themselves justice on home soil in recent weeks.

However, with James Maddison twice finding the net during his most convincing display in a City shirt for some time, and Jamie Vardy taking his goal tally to 12 for the campaign, these doubts were dispelled in no uncertain terms.

Brendan Rodgers largely kept faith with the team that had scrambled a win over basement club Sheffield United in the previous league fixture, with the only change to the starting eleven coming in midfield, where Wilfred Ndidi replaced Papy Mendy.

The game began in a torrential downpour, quite the contrast from the sweltering conditions in which the sides had last met six months ago. Both teams signalled their intent during the early exchanges to avoid the turgid, goal-free stalemate they had produced on that occasion.

After City had forced a series of corners, and Marc Albrighton had brought visiting goalkeeper Ryan into action, the Seagulls responded with a number of quick counter-attacks, in which Kasper Schmeichel produced two fine saves to deny Welbeck and Jahanbaksh.

However, the visitors’ eagerness to go toe-to-toe with City would prove their undoing. Rodgers quickly noted Brighton’s vulnerabilities down both flanks and encouraged his team to exploit them as often as possible.

The Foxes came agonisingly close to taking the lead after an Ayoze Perez cross caused panic in the visiting defence, but Vardy’s close-range shot from a tight angle struck the post and bounced clear.

Minutes later, though, the deadlock was broken after Vardy laid a James Justin cross into the path of Maddison, whose 20-yard drive took a slight deflection before beating Ryan at his near post.

Justin creating a series of chances

With Justin now marauding down the right wing at will, City were able to carve out chances on a regular basis. Perez and Vardy both came close to extending the lead before the Foxes frontman converted a cross from Justin shortly before the break.

Lineswoman Sian Massey-Ellis, one of this league’s more respected match officials, ruled that Vardy had beaten the Brighton offside trap. However, an agonising two-minute wait ensued while her decision underwent a VAR review.

Eventually, word was received that her verdict was deemed correct, and Vardy could celebrate his 10th league goal of the campaign, thus becoming the first City player since Mike Stringfellow in 1968 to reach double figures in six consecutive seasons.

Almost from the restart, the home side put the game even further out of Brighton’s reach, when Perez and Vardy teed up Maddison to bamboozle the visiting defence and curl home the most exquisite of shots past the despairing Ryan.

As in the midweek Europa League game, City were able to coast through the second half, secure in the knowledge that victory was already secured. Brighton produced plenty of endeavour, but scarcely mounted a worthwhile threat to Schmeichel.

Indeed, City could have added a fourth when a superb Maddison run gave him the chance to complete a glorious hat-trick, only for him to send the feeblest of shots into Ryan’s grateful arms. The keeper was rather more extended, though, when turning away a fierce long range drive by Christian Fuchs.

The only blemish to the Foxes’ evening came when Jonny Evans collected a yellow card, his 5th in the league this season, ruling him out of the Everton game in midweek. Was this a tactical move to ensure he will be available for the crucial clashes with Tottenham and Manchester United? Only he and Rodgers would know that.

Nevertheless, the result lifts City into 3rd place in the league, within a point of leaders Spurs, whom we visit next week. The quality on display even persuaded media pundits to discuss the prospect of another title challenge.

Is this likely? Probably not – this team has faced (and failed) too many tests of character during 2020 for that to happen. But there is enough talent within this squad, fitness permitting, to make this season a memorable and successful one.

Meanwhile, we can only hope that at some stage during 2021, the pandemic will finally clear, thus paving the way for Foxes to be readmitted to our beloved stadium and give the team the acclamation it deserves.

 City (3-5-2): Schmeichel (c); Fofana, Evans, Fuchs; Justin, Ndidi (Mendy 80), Tielemans, Maddison (Praet 74), Albrighton; Perez (Barnes 62), Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Morgan, Ünder, Iheanacho.

Goals: Maddison (27, 44), Vardy (41)

Booked: Evans, Fuchs. 

Brighton (4-3-3): Ryan; Veltman, White, Dunk, Burn; Bissouma (Mac Alister 72), Groß, March; Maupay, Jahanbaksh (Alzate 55), Welbeck (Connolly 62). Subs not used: Steele, Webster, Pröpper, Trossard.

Booked: Burn.

 Referee: Martin Atkinson            VAR: Jonathan Moss

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