And finally… Manchester United

LEICESTER CITY V MANCHESTER UNITED

Sunday July 26th 4pm – Sky Sports Main Event (coverage starts at 3pm)

Preview by Paul Weston

It all comes down to the wire on the last game of the season- a home game at the King Power against Manchester United. There have been so many permutations but, following Wednesday night’s matches, both of which went in City’s favour, it is now quite straightforward.

All City have to do is win against Manchester United (simples!) and a guaranteed Champions League spot is the prize. However, if Chelsea lose to Wolves (a distinct possibility given Wolves’ form) then a draw against Manchester United would be sufficient. There are a few other possibilities which are very remote that are not worth considering.

If you were a glass half empty person you might think that the Foxes have no chance and let’s face it, the last few matches have proved that we have nowhere near a good enough squad to compete in the Premiership and the Champions League.

Fuchs – out for 12 weeks

At the time of writing I have assumed that Chilwell, Maddison, Fuchs and Albrighton are injured so, with Soyuncu suspended, that leaves us dependant on a 36 year old in defence and a 19 year old rookie youngster at left back. That leaves Rodgers with few options so team selection I expect is likely to be the same as the match against Spurs unless Rodgers is more pragmatic.

Albrighton – could he be fit to play ?

Manchester United looked sluggish against West Ham but surely their forwards will raise their game. They will relish the chance of breaking from defence into attack quickly, similar to how Spurs picked the weaknesses in our defence even though City had 24 shots at the other end with no result.

The glass half empty conclusion is that Manchester United will probably score early and then comfortably hold off City’s efforts, perhaps ending in a 2-0 victory. City then end up a gallant fifth and with a Europa League spot. It will be disappointing given our fantastic early form but most City fans would probably have taken this at the beginning of the season

However, if you a glass half full person (as I am) there is always another scenario even though form favours Manchester United. Vardy is leading the race for the Golden Boot and what better time to slam in two goals against Manchester United and Harry Maguire on the last match of the season in front of the TV cameras.

Vardy – Can he score to grab victory and the golden boot ?

His form has been improving all the time since lockdown and, if only his colleagues could create chances for him, you feel that he is due a goal. He always plays well against Manchester United, whose defence is not their strength. City will be at the King Power and, although home form is different without crowds, perhaps familiar surroundings will help.

The Foxes resolve has strengthened since the shambolic, embarrassing and shocking performance against Bournemouth and they know their fans will expect a committed performance. The other possibility, however unlikely, is that the pressure gets to Manchester United and that they do not play to their potential. Let’s face it- all the pundits will expect a “big team” like Manchester United to beat City. Wouldn’t it be just great if we could prove them wrong with a 2-1 victory?

So sit back and enjoy the ride on Sunday. Come on you Foxes!

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 GAME TOO FAR

Tottenham 3 City 0

Report by Colin Hall

Leicester City’s hopes of a place in next season’s Champions League now hang by a slender thread, following a 3-0 defeat by Tottenham in the final away game of the Premier League campaign.

While the Foxes played better on their first-ever visit to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium than the score line indicates, individual errors were ruthlessly punished by a strike force that would have troubled even a first-choice defence.

In addition, sections of the Blue Army had cause – and not for the first time during a highly disappointing second half of the season – to question tactical decisions taken by the management.

Although Brendan Rodgers could not be blamed for keeping faith with the same starting eleven that performed so impressively in the previous fixture, fears that the pace and power of the Spurs attack might overwhelm the makeshift City back line proved to be only too well-founded.

And while there have been times and places this season where a gung-ho approach has brought rich rewards for Rodgers and the team, this was never likely to be one of them.

The tone was set after only six minutes, when Son, a regular thorn in City’s side in past fixtures, sprang a particularly ill-judged offside trap. Although the defence was able to recover, the Korean’s shot was diverted past Kasper Schmeichel by the retreating James Justin.

Unfortunate Deflection from Justin

Some referees in this league might have judged Kane, in an offside position directly in front of Schmeichel when Son shot, to have been interfering with play. However, this one allowed the goal to stand – not the last time the Mancunian official Taylor and his colleagues in the VAR studio would leave City aggrieved.

City made an instant response, with Jamie Vardy heading over from close range when he would usually have expected to find the target. With Youri Tielemans and young wing-back Luke Thomas playing prominent roles, the visitors created a string of chances during the next half-hour, only to be thwarted by fine goalkeeping and a resolute home defence.

However, the high pressing by City’s back three left them vulnerable to swift counter-attacks, and when Harvey Barnes was caught in possession deep inside the Spurs half, Moura immediately sent Kane clear to double the home side’s lead.

As City were still reeling by this hammer blow, the same combination struck again to put the game beyond their reach. Kane was allowed space on the right-hand side to curl home a shot which the defence might have done more to block.

With the destiny of the game settled, the only question that remained during the second half was whether City could find the scoresheet to repair, at least in part, further damage caused to their goal difference. Despite a number of further attempts on goal – the final tally of 24 was the most by any visiting Premier side in this venue’s short history – the answer proved negative, although Jonny Evans had a strong penalty claim denied when apparently flattened by home defender Sanchez at a corner.

The immediate withdrawal of Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi after this incident suggested that the manager’s thoughts had already turned to next week’s crunch clash with Manchester United. But the manager’s dismal record against top-seven opponents this season – just ONE win to date in twelve attempts – gives little grounds for optimism, especially in view of the long list of players unavailable for the showdown.

Praet and Mendy replaced Ndidi and Tielemans in the 70th minute

While the City fanbase will welcome a return of European football to the King Power Stadium, for the team to finish outside the top 4 would be intensely regretted as an opportunity squandered, particularly given the number of months spent during the season inside the elite group.

This outcome would also have a severe adverse impact on the club’s ability to retain and recruit key players, and in such troubled economic times, could potentially also hinder its plans for future development.

It is therefore to be devoutly hoped that this manager and his squad can somehow conjure up a positive result next week.

Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris (c); Aurier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Davies; Sissoko, Winks (Skipp 90 + 2), Moura (Bergwijn 77), Lo Celso (Lamela 77), Son (Fernandes 89); Kane. Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Foyth, Vertonghen, Sessegnon, Tanganga.

Scorers: Justin (og) 6, Kane 37, 40

Booked: Sanchez, Moura

 City (3-5-2 1st half, 4-4-2 2nd half): Schmeichel; Bennett (Gray 46), Morgan (c), Evans; Justin, Ndidi (Mendy 70), Tielemans (Praet 70), Barnes (Hirst 83), Thomas; Perez (Iheanacho 59), Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Johnson, Choudhury, James.

Booked: Evans

 Referee: Anthony Taylor                              Attendance (officially): 0

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

The new abnormal

Leicester City 2 v 0 Sheffield United

Thursday 16 July 2020

Report by Stuart Dawkins

In a spirit of complete open-ness I confess the following … by the time I had finished watching the Secretary of State for Health announcing that I, and many other Leicester City fans, would be remaining in lockdown for at least a further two weeks, and then watched my – and the King Power Stadium’s – MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Health and others quiz him on that announcement, I completely forgot that I was supposed to write a match report on the game that immediately followed. 

There are times when being in the eye of national and international news is a positive – and Leicester City have provided us with a fair few of those in recent years.  There are times when it is far less positive – and City have provided one or two of those as well.

So, what follows are reflections two days after City’s well-deserved two-nil win.

Reflection number one: what on earth was going on in the minds of the City players in the second half against Bournemouth?  I realise that is not a comment on the Sheffield match, but it pretty much sums up most City fans’ thoughts and fears in the run up to it.  Together with attempts to predict who would actually play for City in defence given the absence of Ricardo, Chilwell and Söyüncü. 

Most, I think, opted for Wes Morgan to step up – particularly against Sheffield United’s forwards who tend to be of the large, less-mobile variety.  And that was before we knew Fuchs was crocked too.  In the end it was a back three of Evans, Morgan and Bennett – and they did well.  Bennett had arguably his best game for City so far which included several delightful long passes.  I’m not sure that many predicted that Luke Thomas would make his First Team debut, aged nineteen, at left back, but he did and played with great maturity and not a little skill and was a stand-out player.

Reflection number two: what happened to the Sheffield United team who had completely played Chelsea off the park just five days before?  No-one knows, and all City fans will not care but merely be thankful.  Leicester played well in the match, but they were helped by Sheffield United being off the pace – literally off the pace – throughout the entire first half. 

City were first to pretty much everything and Tielemans, Barnes, Perez and even debutant Thomas had about as much space as they could possibly wish for to show the creative side of Leicester, the side that has been lacking for most of the time since the Premier League restart began.  Chris Wilder’s three half-time substitutions perked United up a fair bit, but it was too late and United’s greater share of possession allowed City to counter-attack effectively.

Reflection number three: even when he is not scoring goals, Vardy is one of the best creators of chances in the City team.  In this match, other than hitting the post from the sort of chance he normally scores, he mostly found himself as the provider.  He set up two chances for Barnes which warranted at least one goal, and must have been thinking, “About time too” when substitute Gray very calmly finished another with his first touches after coming on as a substitute.

Reflection number four: whilst I am on the topic of Gray, I have to praise his attitude and commitment in recent games.  He must surely be frustrated at being the eternal sub, but in the last few games he has been the proverbial super-sub – changing the dynamic for the better pretty much every time and forming an important part of City’s repertoire.

Reflection number five: Schmeichel has not had his best season for Leicester.  Since the restart, however, he has made some excellent saves at key moments, and did so again in this match.

Reflection number six: Perez had another good game, finding space, making a few decent tackles and firing in City’s first goal with some aplomb.

Reflection number seven: Morgan continues to be the exemplary professional.  It helped that Sheffield’s two strikers, in the first half anyway, are the type that need a big, bullying centre half to deal with – but Wes certainly dealt with them!

Reflection number eight: as Brendan Rogers made the centre-piece of his post-match interviews – Leicester have now guaranteed European football.  I think most of us would happily have settled for that back in August.  They may or may not make the Champions League – this match report has not been written so late for me to know the answer to that. 

During this historic season, we can proudly remember the couple of months in the autumn and early winter when City genuinely looked the second-best team in the country.  The fact they have faltered somewhat since may be a shame, but their overall achievement has nonetheless been a strong one.  Whether it turns into a European Tour of the sort that many fans have been looking forward to, and saving their holiday for, will be decided by matters totally unrelated to football.  But we will be in Europe!

My final reflection is one based on the peculiar power and attraction that football has for many fans in this country and elsewhere, and it comes from my eldest daughter, who is a season ticket holder but not the most rabid City fan I know by any means.  Her holiday celebrating her first wedding anniversary has been cancelled by the extended lockdown.  She and her husband are understandably frustrated at that.  Yet she said, “But of course I would have felt even worse on Thursday if Leicester had not won.”

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Bennett, Morgan, Evans, Justin, Ndidi, Tielemans, Thomas, Pérez, Vardy, Barnes. Subs: Gray, Ward, Iheanacho, Choudhury, James, Mendy, Praet, Johnson, Hirst

Sheffield Utd: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Berge, Norwood, Osborn, Stevens, McBurnie, McGoldrick. Subs: Fleck, Lundstram, Sharp, Jagielka, Freeman, Robinson, Mousset, Moore, Zivkovic

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

Next up – Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium Sunday, 19th July, 2020 4pm Sky Sports

Preview by Colin Murrant

The results on Thursday night mean that Leicester City are now guaranteed Europa League football next season and, whatever happens in Round 37 fixtures, they will go into the last fixture of the season against Manchester United with the chance of Champions League participation in their own hands.

Before then there is the little matter of Tottenham Hotspur, a team that have recorded 4 wins in their 7 matches since the season restart. Although The Lilywhites’ results have improved of late, their style of play under Mourinho has made them less exciting to watch, recently, at Bournemouth, they failed to register a single shot on target: although they were denied a clear-cut penalty. Ominously though their two most potent goal scorers, Kane (2) and Son, scored the goals in their last outing on Tyneside.

Hopefully next season we will sit in the stadium

When the fixtures were released, now over a year ago, the Spurs away fixture was one of those travelling fans looked forward to with the prospect of visiting the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The stadium, next to the old White Hart Lane ground, is a wonderful example of modern arena architecture. It has a capacity of over 62,000 and is unique in the Premier League as it has a retractable football pitch, under which is a synthetic surface used for NFL matches and concerts. As yet, the ground has not become a fortress for the home team as they have suffered 4 defeats in their 18 EPL matches this season.

Since City returned to the EPL in season 2014/15, they have played away at Tottenham 7 times with 2 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats; although with 2 of the matches at Wembley and another 2 being FA cup-ties, the results are not a good indicator for Sunday. Amongst those matches, the one that stands out in the memory is that January night in 2016 when Huth headed past Lloris to give City a narrow 1-0 victory on the way to the title. This season, in the September meeting at the King Power, The Foxes ran out 2-1 winners in an exciting encounter with goals from Ricardo and Maddison cancelling an earlier goal from Kane who had improvised as he fell to the ground.

City score the winner in September

Spurs will be without Dier (suspended) and Ndombele (injured), also doubts remain over the fitness of Alli. City’s injured list is long with Ricardo, Maddison, Chilwell and Fuchs out for the season along with the suspended Soyuncu. It is likely the team will be unchanged from the excellent performance against Sheffield United.

The back three of Bennett, Morgan and Evans performed admirably although they might not have such an easy time against the pacier Spurs attack. Debutant Luke Thomas and James Justin played well as wing backs and, with Tielemans and Ndidi back to form, the   midfield should be the same again. Vardy created lots of chances for others against The Blades, so unselfish as he continues to lead the race to The Golden Boot.

Great debut for Luke Thomas against Sheffield United

This has the makings of a Classic encounter as Spurs will have their own European ambitions, last season’s CL finalists are in a pack of 4 teams with realistic chances of securing a place: Sheffield United, Wolves and Arsenal being the others. It will be interesting to see how the season pans out but if Chelsea, not inconceivably, lose to Liverpool and Wolves, then City could be just one point away from the Champions League: with that fourth place not carrying any qualification round for English teams next season. A win over Spurs on Sunday could be massive.

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

Coming next – Sheffield United

Thursday July 16th at the Kings Power Stadium – 6pm Sky Pick

Preview by Graham Tracey

If I was to be asked to summarise these teams in a sentence to someone who doesn’t follow football, I’d tell them that it was a team who add up to far more than the sum of their parts against a team who are massively less than the sum of their own. No guesses for which is which. I nearly always look on the positive side (even during our seasons in the lower end of the Championship) but can’t find any silver linings right now.

We’ll never play a reverse league fixture 11 months after the last one, so there is little point drawing lessons from the game at Bramall Lane other than we needed two fine goals to beat them, and conceded from a cross. Unfortunately the inspiration for the former seems less likely to be repeated than the latter with the defensive change we have to make.

I watched the Blades’ game against Chelsea and there was so much to admire. No stand-out star player, other than I think we would benefit hugely from someone like McBurnie to play alongside Vardy (although we have to be honest that players don’t usually want sideways moves, and I myself wouldn’t fancy moving until the ‘empty stadium’ era is behind us). However, everyone knew their role, the ball was cleared promptly when required, and they were swift on the break.

They don’t concede many goals, and if they let in one they sure won’t chuck in the towel and make it four. The spirit of Sheffield United seems epitomised by how they didn’t let the farce of their first game after lockdown (when they were denied two points by the ridiculous goal line technology failure at Villa) ruin their season. In contrast, I wonder how different our run-in would have been if not for that overhead kick equaliser by Watford. Other than Norwich and Bournemouth (how bad were they in the first half), we have probably been the poorest side in the league since restart.

I write this after the Man City verdict this morning, and so I imagine I am in the 99% of our fans who have written off the Champions League after the UEFA decision and Bournemouth debacle. With total respect to Kasper who will be hurting immensely, this was not a “wake up call” as he said after the match. Wake up calls come in the 5th game of the season, not the 35th. This was the death knell.

In 40 years of following Leicester I can’t think of such a significant disaster of a half in all that time – the 4-3 defeat at Wolves from 3 up at the break in 2003 being the last time I felt I was going to go full Basil Fawlty when he attacks his car with a branch.

Our players look bereft of belief and I guess this is inevitable with (I think) 21 points from the last half-season of 19 games. It is difficult to see us winning any of the last 3 games, let alone all of them. I think our key challenge now is to limp through to the Europa League, and then psychologically and tactically regroup and try to persuade our more talented individuals that this is a project worth persevering with, rather than jumping ship to bigger clubs.

I guess this depends on how much they buy into Rodgers, and despite the great facilities and club culture we don’t really know what the feel is in the camp. But if we look at Chris Wilder, we see a manager whose players would run through brick walls for him – and probably has more of the stick (like Nigel Pearson) when needed rather than just what seems the arm round the shoulders carrot of Brendan.

The absence of Soyuncu will obviously be significant for the rest of the season, although in an immature way I was pleased to see some (misplaced) aggression that has been missing for too long throughout the side. I would rather see Wes back in the team for his leadership rather than Bennett, who I feel the game has left a little behind (hence why a rival would loan him out). The return of Maddison and Chilwell would obviously help, although I feel we rely too much on Madders’ dead balls when he is in the side.

Unless they sense blood, I imagine that Sheffield United would be happy with a point, so if we are to have any chance of winning we will need to avoid catastrophic mistakes, not concede the first goal, and keep the ball moving forwards quickly. I imagine the best thing about supporting the Blades is that even in defeat you feel your team gave it their best shot. I wish we could say the same. There is nothing to lose now.

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.

Article written before the Man Utd vs Southampton game