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

Calamity at the Vitality

AFC Bournemouth (0)   4  v  1   (1) Leicester City

Stanislas (66’ pen)                                           Vardy (23’)

Solanke (67, 87)

Evans (o.g. 83’)

Vitality Stadium, Sunday 12 July, 7 p.m. kick-off

Report by Steve Moulds

With Bournemouth in the bottom three and the day’s fixtures going in favour of the teams above them, this looked like a must win match for them. Leicester too were in need of the points. Their restart had been very much a Curat’s Egg – good in parts – and Champion’s League hopes would be bolstered by a win. A pivotal match for both clubs.

Chilwell and Maddison were both still on the injury list and City brought in Fuchs for Bennett. The Blues stuck with the back three that looked uncomfortable at times at Arsenal on Tuesday, with Justin dropping back to replace Bennett on the right.  City set-up in a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Pérez in the hole behind Vardy and Iheanacho.

The Cherries had a brighter first five minutes, with City not making their usual high tempo start. But as Leicester gained more of the ball and came forward, the Bournemouth defence looked tentative, resulting in early attempts from Pérez and Iheanacho.

With 14 minutes on the clock, Albrighton, who had been finding plenty of space down the right, hobbled off following what looked like an innocuous challenge, to be replaced by Bennett, moving Justin up to right wingback.

Following good work by Pérez to rob the ball from Gosling on halfway, a swift move forward to Iheanacho, a one-two with Pérez and Kelechi chipped the on-rushing Ramsdale – Kelly made a complete hash of a goal mouth clearance and Vardy bundled the ball in from about half a metre. One-nil Leicester and reward for having the bulk of possession and control of the game.

City were looking fluent, transitioning the ball quickly through midfield, out to the wings, up to the front two, where Iheanacho was looking sharp. The Blues looked dangerous every time they went forward and were often helped by slack and imprecise defending by Bournemouth. Vardy could have easily had a second on 37 minutes bar a last ditch challenge from Aké that left the defender limping off.

Bournemouth offered little given their perilous league position and score line. City were untroubled until the 45th minute when Schmeichel had to make a good save from Brooks. Three corners in quick succession, in additional time at the end of the half, could have yielded another for City. At half-time, with City having 67% of the possession, they were looking good for the three points.

At the beginning of the second half, Praet replaced Iheanacho with City moving to a more conventional 3-5-2.  For Bournemouth, Billing replaced Gosling and Danjuma Groeneveld was replaced by Stanislas. Both sides set off at a good pace and Pérez had a good early chance. Bournemouth’s changes gave them more impetus.

On 59 minutes, a hesitant City defence failed to clear and the ball nearly fell to Wilson after Cook miscued his shot. City needed to be more positive and Vardy had hardly got a touch in the second half moving into the last half-hour. The half-time changes were not working.

Then chaos struck. Schmeichel’s goalkick struck Ndidi on the back, rebounding into the box. Ndidi fouled Wilson in a lunge for the ball – penalty awarded and a yellow card for Ndidi – which could easily have been red. Stanislas scored from the spot and Leicester had shot themselves in the foot when the Cherries had not looked like scoring.

Two minutes later, disaster struck. Evans missed a header, Solanke was clean through and slotted under Schmeichel. There followed a scuffle in the net as Wilson tried to retrieve the ball and Söyüncü kicked-out having retaliated for being pushed into the net. Red card for Söyüncü, not the best way to mark his 50th appearance – City were down to 10 men and 2-1 down. The self-destruct button had truly been pushed.

City now looked rattled and Bournemouth sniffed blood. I swear I could hear a crowd singing “Champions League your having a laugh”!! Down to 10 men and looking like they had never played together, City never got back into the second half. Bournemouth easily snuffed out any threat. Just to cap off a disastrous evening, on 83 minutes, Stanislas found space on the right, cut inside and his shot deflected off of Evans legs and passed Schmeichel – own goal, 3-1.

To rub salt into the wounds, more calamity in the City defence followed. Solanke stole in on a poor back pass into City’s box from a Leicester throw-in and it was now 4-1. A complete shambles and quite frankly, embarrassing.

Bournemouth had only picked up one point since the restart and, having not won since February, were looking dead and buried. City’s form had them in 14th place for the five games since the restart. No win on the road since New Year’s Day – not the credentials of a team aiming for a European place.

The changes at half-time may have been due to an injury to Iheanacho but Rodgers needs to shoulder some blame for the shape he played in the second half. A massive improvement will be required if City are to make the top six, let alone the top four. Not being the masters of your own downfall would be a start. For Bournemouth, a glimmer of hope.

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Justin, Evans, Söyüncü (Red card), Albrighton (Bennett 16 mins), Ndidi (Yellow card), Tielemans, Fuchs, Pérez (Barnes 71 mins), Iheanacho (Praet 46 mins), Vardy. Subs unused: Morgan, Gray, Ward, Choudhury, James, Mendy

AFC Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Stacey, Aké (S Cook 40 mins), Kelly, Rico, Brooks (L Cook 80 mins), Gosling (Billing 46 mins), Lerma, Danjuma Groeneveld (Stanislas 46 mins), Solanke, C Wilson (Surridge 90 mins) Subs unused: Boruc, Surman, H Wilson, Simpson

Referee: Stuart Attwell

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 Up Bournemouth

Sunday July 12th 7pm Sky Pick

Preview by Paul Weston

The match on Sunday at the Vitality Stadium between Bournemouth and the Foxes is already eagerly awaited by City fans but with some trepidation. Nothing is certain when you are a City fan and, although Bournemouth’s form recently has been fairly awful until the draw against Spurs on Thursday night, the Foxes have always found Bournemouth a difficult opponent. I am sure this match will be no different even though all the pundits seem to think City will win comfortably and push Bournemouth closer to relegation.

City’s form has started to pick up after dropping points against Watford, Brighton and Everton. The mid-week draw against Arsenal was well deserved. Although Soyuncu and Evans had a torrid time in the first half, the second half performance was much better.

There was more pace and movement and which made light of the absence of Maddison and Chilwell. Bennett has slotted in well and it was good to see Fuchs playing a part. Justin was good in a wing back position. Up front Vardy and Iheanacho were a constant threat.

LCFC, having lost third place in the league to Chelsea, really need three points with Man Utd only a point behind. Unfortunately both Chelsea and Man Utd have hit good form at the same time and, being somewhat pessimistic, it is starting to look like the last match of the season against Man Utd could determine whether City end up fourth or fifth. Fifth place of course will be enough for a Champions League spot as long as Man City do not win their appeal. I understand a decision might be known next week- so fingers crossed!

Both team selections are likely to be affected by injury. At the time of writing Wilson and King are back for Bournemouth but Smith was badly injured against Spurs and looks certain to be out. Maddison and Chilwell have not recovered from injury so it will be interesting if Rodgers selects three at the back again with five across the middle.

At times against Arsenal it worked well but there were also times when we needed desperate defence and excellent saves from Schmeichel to keep out Arsenal. Bournemouth, as with Arsenal, also have a fast moving forward line but I feel that if City press hard and get down the flanks against their defence, then our mobile attack, with perhaps Barnes coming on as sub, could be too good for Bournemouth.

I will be on the edge of my seat on Sunday wearing all my LCFC clothes and scarf willing them to victory. Let’s cheer them on to a much needed win!

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