What a difference a week makes

Leicester City 5 v 0 Sheffield United

Report by Stuart Dawkins

Before Christmas, I had high hopes for Leicester in the Europa League.  Into the New Year, the stresses of playing two matches per week were clearly having their toll on injuries and fatigue and it was probably a blessing when they were unexpectedly knocked out by Slavia Prague.  Whilst City had put in dogged performances in the two Premier League games last week, they still seemed to lack some of their early-season vigour.  So, how would they perform after their first full week off for a while?

Sheffield United had, of course, had a more traumatic week.  There are few advantages to having to watch matches on television rather than in the stadium, but one of these is to get match-related stats fed to you as the game goes on.  Yes, United are having a season of unsuccessful results, but the various facts about what they had achieved under Chris Wilder’s management were truly impressive.  Would his seemingly unpopular sacking, at a time when surely their fate is sealed for this season, result in a new-manager bounce?

One look at the score-line gives an answer to both of these questions, although by the end of the match, five-nil flattered United, not City.

Rodgers is, along with so many managers, dealing with injuries to key players and having to juggle resources from game to game.  For this match, it was good to see Evans start, with Pérez also back fit enough to play.  The choice of a back three surprised many, but it allowed all five of Leicester’s main defenders to play – the first time for some time – it also meant that Vardy and Iheanacho could both play.  More of that pair shortly …

City dominated things from the start, although as has been the case quite often this season, they were playing with maybe just 85% of their usual energy early in the game.  Sheffield barely had meaningful possession, yet City had few clear chances.  Vardy shot speculatively wide, Pérez had a deft near-post header well saved onto the post by Ramsdale and there were a number of shots blocked, including a close-range effort by Vardy which one might have expected him to score.

Sheffield managed to get one cross into the box in the first half, and there were no pink-clad players anywhere near it (yes, pink with grey shorts … whilst City’s pink shirts quickly became a popular fashion item back when crowds were allowed in grounds, I do not think Sheffield’s version will prove to be as popular with their fans).

Was it to be another half of City control but nothing to show for it?  It increasingly looked that way, until the team’s four most-creative influences suddenly flicked their ‘On’ switches at the same time.  Tielemans made another ‘no looker’ pass in midfield, this one short to Pérez, he angled his pass to the inside-left channel perfectly, Vardy crossed the ball along the six-yard line and an unmarked Iheanacho tapped it in for a goal.  It was a top-class piece of play and made the score line look at least a bit more like the match itself.

It was still only one-nil at half time.  Rodgers replaced Pereira with Albrighton, but City’s shape remained unchanged.

The second half developed into a master class of how to tear apart a defence and midfield lacking any confidence or real resilience.  Iheanacho was impressive both in line with Vardy and playing just behind him.  Tielemans controlled things well.  Ndidi looked unbeatable.  Fofana cleared up a few long balls and also, under the formation chosen for City, was able to bring the ball forwards many times to provide another outlet. 

Iheanacho set Vardy up for a couple of chances.  A short-range effort was headed clear from his own goal-line by Basham, whilst Vardy shot another straight at the keeper.

A Fofana headed clearance from a rare United attack led to City’s second goal.  The ball seemed safely with a Sheffield defender deep in City’s half, but Albrighton simply took the ball from him, passed to Pérez who tapped it forwards to shoot and score from 20-yards.

Tielemans was the next to provide the killer pass, Vardy again the provider from the inside-left spot and Iheanacho again finishing unmarked a slightly more difficult chance than his first.

City cut through Sheffield at will and it was clear more goals would be scored.  Iheanacho picked the ball up 40-yards from goal.  He seemed to have an age to decide what to do, and finally decide to put a 25-yard shot into the goal, beating Ramsdale on his near post for his first ever Premier League hat-trick to make it four-nil.

Vardy had been superb; his only weakness being missing a few chances that an on-from Vardy would surely have scored.  He was pivotal in the fifth goal, again breaking down the left; it was unclear whether his close-range effort was a shot or a strong cross for Iheanacho for another tap-in – probably the former.  Either way, Ampadu had to try and deal with it, and all he could do was deflect it into his own net for Leicester’s fifth.

Rodgers took the opportunity to give Leshabela his first team debut for the final ten minutes, replacing Pérez.  Pérez had played well, including his pivotal role in the first goal and scoring of the second.  He seemed to be allowed – either by Rodgers’ instructions or by the lack of threat provided by the opposition – to roam at will just behind the attackers.  He played the role well and even included a few crunching tackles which were not part of his repertoire when he first joined Leicester.

The biggest surprise was that City did not score more.  They had chance upon chance and almost everything they tried seemed to work – except for the final finish.

The final whistle came as a blessing for the visiting side and marked an excellent return to form for Leicester.

Last season Sheffield United were often a delight to watch.  They had a clear game plan, their speed of passing was phenomenal, and they won almost every 50:50 ball, whoever they were playing against.  In this match, they were poor – indeed, I thought in the second half they looked worse even than Southampton’s nine-nil team had been.  They created one shot on goal all match.  They were caught in possession countless times.  They left spaces in defence and midfield that allowed City to run riot.  They looked like a team with no idea what they were trying to do, nor how to do it.  The fact that this was the Club’s worst defeat for a couple of decades was a telling counterpoint to the sacking of the man who had led them for the last five of those years.

The poor quality of the opposition helped Leicester to play the way they did, of course.  But the way the team took to its unusual formation was impressive.  The stats for goals scored by Vardy or Iheanacho when they play together are now up at the goal-a-game level.  Iheanacho is looking a real threat each time he plays currently.  Vardy may have temporarily lost his scoring boots, but he remains one of the most potent left-sided creators in the League in any case. 

There are tougher threats to face for City in the coming weeks, but they certainly made the most of their rest week this time!

Leicester City
Schmeichel, Fofana. Evans, Söyüncü, Ricardo Pereira, Ndidi, Tielemans, Castagne, Pérez, Iheanacho, Vardy

Substitutes
Albrighton, Ward, Amartey, Choudhury, Mendy, Fuchs, Thomas, Leshabela, Daley-Campbell

Sheffield United
Ramsdale, Basham, Ampadu, Bryan, Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, Burke, Sharp

Substitutes
McBurnie, Mousset, Lowe, Jagielka, Foderingham, Bogle, Osborn, Brewster, Ndiaye

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

To VAR or not to VAR – that is the question?

To paraphrase the song, ‘How do you solve a problem like VAR?’ Is the use of technology changing the way the game is played, viewed or refereed? Will crowds have to come to terms with some delays as goals, penalties or reds cards are confirmed? Is the competence of on-field officials being undermined? Can the match-going supporter have any say on how the use of technology can be determined for the future?

As only a small proportion of supporters have managed to watch matches from the stands in the last twelve months, it is difficult to give an up-to-date view on how VAR decisions are affecting the atmosphere or enjoyment of the game. However, as supporters have been confined to watching matches via screens at home, the controversies surrounding VAR appear to be growing, with fans voicing more and more concern.

Some of the issues have little to do with the VAR system and are more attuned to the rules of the game, as deigned by IFAB, governing marginal objective decisions, such as, offside. Other issues are more to do with the interpretation of these rules, overseen by FIFA, particularly in relation to subjective decisions, such as, handball.

Views on VAR are wide ranging. On one extreme, there are those who want to see VAR abandoned – often citing it is better for the ethos and flow of football to resort to the on-field officials’ decisions, realising errors will be made and fans should just accept this. On the other extreme, there are proponents calling for more use of technology, as it is proven to be helping officials get more decisions correct – accuracy being important in game with tight margins.

With broadcasters able to show, perhaps more definitively, where correct or incorrect decisions are being made, the introduction of technology was (and for the present remains) inevitable. However, are we seeking perfection in an imperfect world – at least on a football pitch, where some decisions will always be subjective no matter how many times you review them on a monitor. Few have argued against the benefit of goal line technology – although, would England still have gone on to win the World Cup in ’66 if it had been available then?

With supporters’ groups calling for some form of dialogue on the continued use of VAR, at its AGM in December, the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) voted in a motion, the aim of which is too formulate an official position on the use of VAR – with specific reference to match-going fans.

To this end, the FSA have already formed a VAR working group to research and come up with suggestions for the National Council, so that they can form policy and action that fans’ groups could adopt. This will involve surveying supporters, talking to the various football authorities, players’ unions and clubs. The Foxes Trust have already been communicating to other supporters’ groups and the Premier League the views expressed by its members in answers to its own survey back in 2020.

One of the first actions of the working group was to set-up a briefing meeting for the FSA Premier League Network with the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), the body responsible for appointing and training match and VAR officials. At the briefing the head of PGMOL, Mike Riley, along with colleagues, addressed common questions that fans raised regarding the use of VAR.

This meeting was a useful addition to the demonstrations arranged at VAR HQ Stockley Park, back in the summer of 2019 (reported on at the time on the FT website). Whilst some concerns continue to be unanswered and opposing positions remain entrenched, it was clear that fans’ views are important to PGMOL. This point was further emphasised at the Premier League Supporter Engagement meeting in March, when it is was agreed that direct consultation between PGMOL and FSA was desirable and that more information regarding how VAR decisions are arrived at, should be made available to fans.

A report on the meeting with PGMOL can be found at:

https://thefsa.org.uk/news/a-constant-conversation-officials-meet-fans-to-talk-about-vars-impact/

FT Board member, Steve Moulds, is one of three FSA Premier League Network representatives to the National Council and is a member of the VAR Working Group.

CITY SNATCH THE POINTS

BRIGHTON 1 LEICESTER CITY 2

Match Report by Paul Weston

City players arrived at the Amex stadium just a few days after their bruising encounter with Burnley which ended with a well-deserved draw. This time Rodgers had one additional player at his disposal- Fofana- who was brought back into a three man defence with Soyuncu and Amartey.

Evans, Maddison, Justin. Praet, Barnes, Perez and Morgan were still notable absentees which left our sub bench looking very youthful and not very threatening. Interestingly Rodgers chose to give Tavares his debut instead of the more defensive Choudhury.

City yet again started a match in a ponderous mode. Brighton players were winning the 50/50 tackles and pressing our defence which was struggling to pass to midfield and looked vulnerable. Vardy and Iheanacho were isolated. Soyuncu looked surprisingly uncertain and Amartey extremely cautious. It only took ten minutes before Brighton scored. They won the ball from an ill-directed Amartey throw-in and Lallana broke through the centre to beat Schmeichel comprehensively. City seemed rattled by this and soon after Lallana hit the post with a clever flicked header with Schmeichel beaten. Maupay had a goal disallowed for offside.

Ricardo and Castagne on each flank were finding it tough. Ricardo in particular is not yet back to his best after his injury and lost possession several times. Tavares showed some nice touches but too often lost out in 50/50 tackles. He did though have a cracking long range shot from a Vardy knock down which was well saved to his left by Brighton’s keeper Sanchez.

The half ended with Brighton in command both physically and tactically and clearly Rodgers had some thinking to do if we were to get a foothold back into the match.

City started the second half more aggressively against a determined and skilful Brighton. Iheanacho, who had tried manfully in the first half, shot into the side netting when well placed. City changed to a back four and immediately this changed the dynamic of the match as Castagne and Ricardo pushed forward more. However, there were so many times when one was crying out for Barnes and Maddison to be on the pitch to join up the play better.

Tielemans had looked tired and was well shackled by the Brighton players. However, in the twinkling of an eye, he then threaded through a superb pass to Iheanacho who had started his run. He coolly waited for Sanchez to commit himself before dinking it into the goal for a superb equaliser.

Albrighton then came on for Tavares as City sought to take the game to Brighton and were starting to dominate possession, although Lallana had another chance well saved by Schmeichel after Ndidi lost the ball.

A draw seemed on the cards and probably would have been a fair result when, from a bout of pressure, City won a corner. Our corners this season have been so poor that I had no hope whatsoever and in fact, usually this gives the opposition a great chance to counterattack. However, this time we scored from a corner in the 88th minute – Hallelujah! Albrighton fired in the ball and Sanchez flapped at it. Amartey showed great reactions to bend down and nod in a rare goal.

City saw out the last few minutes but not without a scare when Burn should have scored.

To be honest the result seemed cruel on Brighton but City had done well to recover from a poor first half and had a little bit of luck at the right time. The change of formation part way through the match worked but Rodgers must address the slow starts which hand the initiative to the opposition.

City are doing so well to hold position in the top four in the face of many injuries. Iheanacho, the Sky man of the match, is growing in confidence and working well with Vardy who, unfortunately, still does not look quite right after his operation. Amartey is doing well in defence but is somewhat limited when going forward and slows down the play. The defence looks vulnerable without Evans but nevertheless held firm during the match after the first goal.

After a relentless series of games City now have a week until the next match against Sheffield United to rest, recuperate and prepare. City were probably somewhat fortunate to get all three points but it keeps our place in the top four. Wouldn’t it be good if we could prove the so-called pundits wrong and be there at the end of the season!

Leicester: Kasper Schmeichel, Wesley Fofana, Çaglar Söyüncü, Daniel Amartey, Wilfred Ndidi, Timothy Castagne, Ricardo Pereira, Sidnei Tavares, Youri Tielemans, Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho: Subs used: Hamza Choudhury, Marc Albrighton

Brighton: Robert Sánchez, Lewis Dunk, Ben White, Dan Burn, Joël Veltman, Yves Bissouma, Alexis MacAllister, Leandro Trossard, Pascal Groß, Neal Maupay, Adam Lallana. Subs used: Steven Alzate, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Danny Welbeck.

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

Iheanacho Wonder – Strike Earns City Valuable Point

Burnley 1 Leicester 1

Report by Eddie Blount

A genuine contender for Goal-of-the-Season scored by Kelechi Iheanacho gave City their fiftieth league point in the current campaign and kept us in the Champions’ League places in the Premiership table at least for now. This was surely a point gained rather than two lost given City’s horrendous injury list and Burnley’s Turf Moor stadium being not the happiest of hunting grounds for us over the years. In fact if you had offered me a point before the game I would have agreed without hesitation.

City were down to the bare bones for this fixture with Rodgers deciding on three at the back, drafting Ndidi into the centre of the three and employing two more defensive midfielders in a 3-5-2 formation with Tielemans the main creative source. 0-0 looked our best bet but all such thoughts were immediately dismissed as Burnley took the lead in the fourth minute having already missed a golden opportunity when Mee headed a cross just over in the first attack of the match.

They did not have long to wait for something better when Choudhury produced a terrible pass back to Ndidi which only had the effect of putting Vydra clean through on Schmeichel for a sumptuous finish in the top corner. A bad start was surely the worst possible beginning but to their credit City weathered the early storm and should have been level after 11 minutes when of all people Choudhury had a chance to beat Pope from close in but put his scuffed shot too close to the keeper who tipped it over.

The first half continued in the same vein with opportunities at both ends: Iheanacho wide from the edge of the box, a Wood volley well saved by Schmeichel. Burnley had settled into a simple format – get the ball out wide and cross it high into the box hoping for a decent header from Wood or their centre-backs or failing that taking advantage of any ball bouncing loose from challenges in the box.

It was noticeable that City had far the worst of the 50-50 challenges against a far more physical side who have kicked sand in the face of tougher teams than City. We played a more expansive game but too many passes were sloppy or over-ambitious.

Just as I was beginning to lose heart Iheanacho produce a serious piece of magic to level the scores. There seemed no danger as Ndidi gained possession just inside the Burnley half showing the high line City were trying to play. He promptly floated a lovely through ball between their centre-backs which Iheanacho allowed to pass over his shoulder and then volleyed with his left foot dead centre into the net with Pope helplessly stranded. It only takes a second to score a goal! What a strike!

There were two further chances of note, one for each side fittingly. First Schmeichel, City’s man of the Match, did brilliantly to push Tarkowski’s downward header from close range round the post and at the other end Tielemans’ shot from a position similar to that from which he scored against Arsenal was pushed over the bar by Pope. I was surprised to learn at the interval that City had dominated possession, 72% -28% as the honours were definitely close to being even which was borne out by other statistics relating to shots on and off target.

Rodgers made no changes at the interval though probably had a strong word in certain ears. If he did it had no effect as Burnley immediately seized and retained the initiative. The pattern of their attacks remained unchanged and from yet another cross on 48 minutes Schmeichel made a great save from another Wood header, this time destined initially for the roof of the net but clawed past his left post by the City keeper’s left hand.

Minutes later he was in action again tipping Wood’s deflected shot round his right-hand post. It seemed only a matter of time before the dam was breached. It all but was on 62 minutes when a cross was cleared out of the penalty area only as far as Westwood whose powerful shot hit Schmeichel’s right post with the keeper for once helpless

Rodgers had now seen enough and Albrighton and Fofana were brought on to replace Iheanacho and Mendy with City switching to 4-5-1, a move that somewhat galvanised City who at last began to mount some attacks of their own. A Ricardo shot was deflected just over and Tielemans passed when in on the keeper when he should surely have taken the chance himself.

The 76th minute will always be remembered by City’s Portuguese youngster Tavares who came on for his Premiership debut in place of Choudhury. City went on to finish the half rather better than they had started it with Albrighton shooting straight at Pope after a good move and best of all Tielemans deflected shot beat Pope all ends up but unfortunately not his right-hand post!. Thereafter the game meandered to the by then agreed conclusion.                                             

So a decent point given all the circumstances and one increased in value by Manchester United failing to beat Crystal Palace later the same evening. The result was certainly fair and crosses another game off the lengthy list of fixtures. Good to see Fofana back and we seemed more solid defensively after he came on. We have a decent squad but not a complete one with no adequate replacement for Maddison and Vardy in particular. We will surely struggle for goals when either or both are missing or below full fitness. This squad may be better than Ranieri’s title-winners but they could have done with some of that squad’s luck with injuries!

City: Schmeichel, Amartey, Ndidi, Soyuncu, Ricardo, Mendy (Fofana 66), Choudhury (Tavares 76), Tielemans. Castagne, Iheanacho (Albrighton 66), Vardy

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor, Brownhill, Westwood, Cork, McNeil, Wood, Vydra (Rodriguez 90)

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

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