A great night for VAR and Vardy

Arsenal 1 v Leicester City 1

Emirates Stadium 7th July 2020

Report by Colin Murrant

With Chelsea beating Crystal Palace in the early evening match, The Foxes started the match in the unusual position of fourth. The earlier result in South London sent Chelsea two points clear in third place and, with Manchester United in fine form in fifth, the pressure was on City to win away at Arsenal, a task they had not achieved since September 1973: in fact, their last point was in back in 1995.

City were notably without Chilwell and Madison, Rodgers going to a back three with Ryan Bennett making his first start and only second appearance for City.

Following the ‘take the knee’, City kicked off wearing their all blue kit on a rain-soaked surface. It was a fairly uneventful start and it was the ninth minute before Vardy had the first shot of the match, receiving the ball on the edge of the box with his back to goal, he turned and his low shot was saved by Martinez. 3 minutes later and Martinez saved Arsenal again as, following a neat short corner, he blocked an Iheanacho shot with his legs.

City were generally in control with some aggressive pressing. On 20 minutes Tierney had a shot from 30 yards that stung Schmeichel but a few seconds later Arsenal took the lead. Ceballos passed to Saka who in turn fed Aubameyang, unmarked at the far post, for his 20th goal of the season.

It was now Arsenal having the better of the play and on 32 minutes Schmeichel made at first an excellent save from Lacazette, and then had to push the ball over for a corner, which led to nothing. On 35 minutes Vardy centred the ball and Iheanacho put the ball home only for the goal to be disallowed for a coming together on the edge of the box in the build-up. Up the other end, Bellerin picked out Lacazette who should have done better with his header as the ball was straight at The City keeper.

Ae the match moved into added-on time, Justin had a header following a cross but the ball sailed wide of the far post and that concluded the first half action in which City had had their periods of domination but in which The Gunners had had the best chances.

City started the second half brightly and Vardy broke down the left and his ball, in towards the near post, found Justin whose shot hit the Arsenal defender and was cleared. Evans took Lacazette out on the edge of the box, from 25 yards Luiz shot and a slight defection meant Schmeichel had to keep his eye on the ball as it skidded to him as he turned it away and behind for a corner.

Vardy then laid a beautiful ball into Iheanacho, his half volley was saved by Martinez. On 58 minutes Fuchs and Barnes came on to replace Iheanacho and Albrighton as City switched to 3-4-3. City were having good possession and a ball from Perez found Vardy who turned but mishit his shot from the middle of the box. An Arsenal corner was flicked on by Luiz who found the unmarked Lacazette marginally offside when he put the ball in the net.

Willock and NKetiah replaced Lacazette and Saka on 70 minutes, Nketiah soon in the book for a nasty looking foul on Justin, which was checked by VAR and for once the match referee checked the pitch side monitor before it was upgraded to red for serious foul play.

Rodgers immediately brought Gray on for Bennett as City tried to make the extra man count. Torreira came on for Ceballos as Arsenal were defending deeper; Praet came on for Ndidi and Leicester stepped up their attacking intent. On 84 minutes the breakthrough, as a great ball from Gray found Vardy at the far post, although a long wait for a VAR decision was more than nerve racking. But Vardy had netted for the 10th time against Arsenal and his 22nd of the season.

It was all City but little in the way of chances materialised. The board went up for 8 minutes added on time as Leicester commanded possession and patiently built up attacks. Aubameyang was replaced by Maitland-Niles as Arsenal went more on the defensive. City had got the point that their performance deserved; how significant it will be in the context of the season will become more apparent over the next 4 games.

For once City had benefitted from VAR, both decisions correct. Vardy remains at the top of the scorers, chart, City are gradually regaining form but most importantly City have a point against the Arsenal to remain in Champions League contention. Finally, pity anyone who was at Highbury to see Mark Draper score the equaliser 25 years ago and could not be at The Emirates tonight to see the next point gained. The scorers Draper and Vardy (20 years apart) cost City £1.25m and £1m respectively, now there’s a thought!

Arsenal: Martinez, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac, Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Tierney, Saka, Lacazette, Aubameyang. Subs: Papastathopoulos, Torreira, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Pepe, Nelson, Willock, Nketiah, Macey

Leicester: Schmeichel, Bennett, Evans, Soyuncu, Justin, Ndidi, Tielemans, Albrighton, Perez, Iheanacho, Vardy
Subs: Morgan, Gray, Ward, Barnes, Choudhury, James, Mendy, Praet, Fuchs

Referee: Kavanagh

Attendance: c300, although Arsenal usually add a few thousand on the gate!

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 – Arsenal

Tuesday July 7th – 8.15pm Sky Sports

Graham Tracey previews the game

How many times have you we thought that this will be the season we win at Arsenal? I was in nappies when we last did in 1973. We’ve certainly chucked it away spectacularly since we’ve been back at the top table. One up in our title season before Wasilewski gave away the free kick we lost from just as the ref was about to blow for full time. The crazy 4-3 in the opening game of 2017-18. And not forgetting Paul Dickov putting us ahead in the game the Gunners needed to avoid defeat in to become the Invincibles.

We’ve had some drubbings too. I think it was a 6-1 over Christmas under Peter Taylor. But that should all be water under the bridge. I don’t think Brendan Rodgers was quite born by 1973, let alone the players. Most importantly, we’ve been done the three-peat over them at home, and on that joyous wet Saturday evening last November I couldn’t believe how petrified they were of us from outset.

Arsenal are one of those teams you don’t know what you’ll get from. They were worse than us after the restart, dismantled by Man City and then rattled by Brighton, but have come back strongly, winning at Wolves being an eye-opener.

They have got a mix of the sublime – top class strikers and skilful youngsters – and the ridiculous – David Luis is an accident waiting to happen and get Xhaka booked early doors and it puts him out of the game. They’ve also got a keeper inexperienced in this league.

So without a home crowd, and with Vardy and Barnes hopefully full of confidence after Saturday, this could be our best chance in years, as well as most important. A draw may not be enough, with the momentum of Man United and Chelsea. I think the way to beat Arsenal is attack as well. So let’s play with tempo and expose their weaknesses.

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

Vardy Gets His Century

Leicester City 3 Crystal Palace 0

Report by Tish Krokosz

This was the first City match I was able to watch live in its entirety since the return of football due to the lockdown. Apparently, I had not missed much as the recent games were not described in very complimentary terms and the results were certainly disappointing. The chase for Champions League places was looking more and more difficult. We needed to get three points from this match and we needed Vardy to start scoring again.

Looking at the City players during the warm up, it was clear that several had probably foregone their breakfast and visited the barber instead as they were looking more decently groomed than during the lockdown period. The only player who had obviously put steak and eggs as being more important than a haircut was Söyüncü, who was resembling Samson before Delilah had attacked him.

Maddison was once more unavailable due to his hip injury and was not even risked on the bench. The creative work in midfield would have to come from Tielemans and it was necessary for him to regain the authority that he showed during the second half of last season.

Although Palace started with a spring in their step, City were able to soak up the initial pressure and, having gained their composure, showed they could dominate play without too much concern for long periods of time. I could only count two significant Palace attacks during the first half and the most dangerous moment was when, following a clumsy challenge by Iheanacho on the half hour, Milivojevic sent the subsequent free kick just wide of the left hand post.

Meanwhile, City could have had a handful of goals during the first 45 minutes. After seven minutes, Albrighton sent over a wonderful cross into the box from the right wing and Iheanacho had a free header but was not even on target. Five minutes later, City were knocking the ball around the edge of the penalty area without any penetration until it came to Justin on the right-hand corner of the penalty area. He lashed the ball towards goal and, unfortunately, it swerved slightly onto the crossbar and bounced to safety.

Vardy has been desperate to get his hundredth goal. He had opportunities in the first half to accomplish this feat, but on each occasion he either lost concentration or was blocked or made the wrong choice of shot. It seemed as if the target would be too elusive. Although the home side dominated possession throughout the half, there were too many mistakes with the final pass or move into the box. With so many changes being made to the formation and combination of players due to the high number of matches in such a short period of time, it seemed as if the flow of their game was not coming naturally.

There is one advantage of watching a match on television due to its being played behind closed doors – the queue for the loos at half-time is a lot shorter. Normally, we would use this time to discuss with the fans around us what changes should be made, where did we go wrong and what needed to be done in the second half. It was interesting that Rodgers was one step ahead as the second half started with Bennett coming on for Chilwell, who had to have some attention in the first half and who had also been booked. At the same time, Bennett’s introduction called for a change in formation with a back three being used. Albrighton and Justin were asked to play the role of wing backs and these amendments soon paid off.

Three minutes after the restart, Evans knocked the ball out to Albrighton on the left. He slid a first time pass to Perez who quickly knocked it forward to Tielemans. He took the ball at speed down the left wing and made the perfect cross into the danger area of the box. Iheanacho was quicker than any of the visiting defenders and poked it past the oncoming Guaita. An early goal was what we were hoping for as it would mean that the opposition would have to be a little less defensive and more adventurous if it wanted any result from this match.

Indeed, they could have equalised in the 59th minute when Cahill had a free header with only Schmeichel to beat, but the Dane was on good form and dropped down to catch the ball with ease. There followed a plethora of substitutions and the shape of City’s formation changed once again. I doubted the sense of bringing Iheanacho off with Praet in his place as this meant that Vardy would be left on his own up front. This would bring only more frustration for him. Soon after Barnes and Fuchs had come on for Perez and Albrighton even the captain, Schmeichel, was feeling sorry for Vardy and launched an enormous kick for the forward to chase. This old-fashioned route one approach smelt of desperation especially with Vardy mistiming his shot on goal.

We should not have worried. Crystal Palace decided to push the self-destruct button. The ensuing goal kick from Guaita was aimed at Sakho and he did not look comfortable with this move, especially as Barnes was moving in on him. In trying to turn the City player, Sakho slipped and, unable to recover, lost the ball to Barnes. He took one look to see that Vardy was prowling unmarked in the middle of the box and pushed the ball to him. His 100th goal was probably one of the easiest goals that he has scored. He showed his obvious relief and delight as did the whole team.

Bearing in mind what happened at Watford in the closing minutes, I was still not comfortable with a two goal lead and Palace should have reduced the deficit with two minutes to go when Townsend brushed past Fuchs and sent a cross over towards Zaha, who, on the whole, had an ineffective match. His shot went into row Z so did not even bother Schmeichel.

These days, the number of minutes added on at the end of the second half are substantially higher than before. This gave Vardy the chance to show that he has lost his reticence in front of goal and can perform as before. With three minutes gone after the ninety, Barnes was once more the provider when, having picked up a clearance from Fuchs, put the ball in front of the City talisman. This time, Vardy used his speed to run past the defence with the ball and slip it over the advancing Guaita. Once you’ve got your hundred, it seems easy to move on.

The result was only what City deserved against a Palace team that looked as if it was affected by the continuing Leicester lockdown with players looking either tired or feeling that they had to adhere to the social-distancing requirements. For City, this was a good preparation for the away game at Arsenal. I do not anticipate such an easy game against them but would savour a similar result.

Leicester: Schmeichel, Justin, Evans, Söyüncü, Chilwell (Bennett HT), Ndidi, Tielemans (Choudhury 88), Albrighton (Fuchs 74), Perez (Barnes 74), Iheanacho (Praet 62), Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Morgan, Gray, Mendy.

Crystal Palace:  Guaita, Ward, Cahill, Sakho, van Aanholt (Mitchell 83), McArthur (McArthy 67), Milivojevic, Ayew, Riedewald (Kouyaté 60), Zaha, Benteke (Townsend 82). Subs not used: Hennessey, Dann, Meyer, Woods, Pierrick

Referee: J. Moss                         Attendance: Around 300

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 – Crystal Palace

Saturday July 4th 3pm Kick Off – Sky Pick (Freeview Channel 11)

Preview by Chris Griffin

After some uncertainty following the reintroduced lockdown in Leicester, City’s home game against Crystal Palace on Saturday was confirmed.

Palace have had a mixed return after the restart. They took three points in a smart 2-0 win at Bournemouth but were hardly at the races last week when they visited a vibrant Liverpool and lost 4-0. On Monday this week they slipped up at home to Burnley, losing 1-0 to a Ben Mee goal.

Nevertheless, Palace are a team with recognisable and reliable qualities. They sit comfortably in mid-table with eleven wins and nine draws. They may only have scored 28 goals but they make opponents work very hard to take anything from a match.

As would be expected from a side coached by Roy Hodgson Palace are tactically tight and consistent. They pack the middle third of the pitch and press opponents hard to close down opportunities. Kouyate and McArthur provide a strong midfield holding duo. They have experienced centre backs in Cahill and Dann. Van Aanholt is particularly effective pushing forward from left back. Milivojevic is an accomplished dead ball specialist. And in Zaha and Townsend they have players who provide very special moments. Ayew can be very sharp in the box.

It was early November when City travelled to Selhurst Park for this season’s away game at Palace. So impressive were City that day it now seems to belong to a different age given our recent performances. Soyuncu and Vardy scored. Tielemans and Maddison were excellent in midfield constantly looking for the penetrating forward ball. City showed pace and played at a fast tempo while looking like a side for whom anything might be possible.

After the match Jamie Vardy commented “The creativity and attacking talent we have is incredible.” Few would have disputed that assessment on that November afternoon. But today fans wondering and asking where that creativity and attacking talent have gone.

City have been struggling. The games against Watford and Brighton were grim affairs. Overall City looked to be treading water. Manchester United’s easy disposal of Brighton this week shone a light on how ineffective we were against Albion.  Against Chelsea Brendan Rodgers put out the team who gave us so much return in the autumn (with the exception of the injured Maddison and Ricardo.) The side had a bright opening twenty minutes but the cohesion and precision which led to so many goals in the autumn were missing. Confidence drained and Chelsea fought back. City gave it a go in the last ten minutes but composure at the vital moment was missing.

And so to Everton. Here surely was an opportunity to find our feet and put ourselves back on track. But no. Everton strolled into a two goal lead in the first 15 minutes. The first half drinks break gave Rodgers the chance to reset his team’s mentality and there was some improvement. Near the end Sigurdsson blocked what looked to be a goal bound Perez effort, but in all honesty, for much of the last 15 minutes we lacked any idea of how to break through Everton’s well-drilled midfield shield. This won’t do against Palace whose defensive shield will be equally strong.

12 premier league matches in 2020 and 13 points: bottom six form. Gratitude to West Ham for preventing Chelsea gain any points but we cannot rely on others slipping up to retain a Champions League spot. With some challenging fixtures in the run in we need points urgently. Saturday would be a good place to start.

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

NO LUCK FOR OUR BESIEGED CITY

Everton 2 Foxes 1

Match report by Graham Tracey

Hopes of a morale boosting victory for everyone connected with Leicester were dashed by 6.15 on Merseyside as we slipped to a frustrating defeat in our post-resumption slump. While Chelsea’s later surprise loss at West Ham (which I didn’t watch due to being thoroughly fed up of footy by then) kept us in third place, the odds of us finishing in the top two places of the remaining 6 game mini-league with Chelsea, Man Utd and Wolves seem slim unless there is a dramatic change in momentum.

The FA Cup defeat had, as every year, hit me hard. I would much rather win the famous trophy for once than qualify for the Champions League – for me football is about winning things, and the thought of European matches behind closed doors at the KP, or glamorous away trips our fans can’t participate in, leaves me oddly cold.

However, I do not want this season to fizzle out into the biggest anti-climax since 1982 (one of my first so scarred on my memory), with the FA Cup semi-final defeat and then blowing promotion. Living outside the Midlands, I am unaffected by the lockdown, but understood from friends the gloom this has brought with it. I hoped we could raise spirits by returning to our autumn form.

There was only one change to Sunday’s line-up as we emerged from the Goodison portacabin – Albrighton replacing Perez. I would much rather have the purposeful ‘old school’ product of Albrighton rather than the flattering to deceive touches of the more technical Perez (based on his time with us to date). I can’t believe that the Mercury ratings described Albrighton as ‘as bad as he has ever been’ in the first half when he put cross after cross into the box.

The only problem was of course our lack of aerial prowess in open play and shortage of numbers to support Vardy. I’ve lost track of where Slimani is, but if his loan ended on 30th June could we not have got him back in the squad? Or even at some point resorted to playing a centre half up front like Walshy or Matt Eliot did so well when asked? Managers do seem to be wedded to current trends too rigidly.

Vardy’s heavy touch denied him a great chance early on when put through by Tielemans (who seems to play better when Maddison isn’t there – presumably a space / position thing). However, we were then dissected down our right and the youngster Gordon cut the ball back to Richarlison to bury it to open the scoring as he had at the KP in December. It was the sort of dynamic goal we were scoring before Christmas.

Conceding first post-resumption does not bode well, and the match decisively turned minutes later when Ndidi was penalised for handball when jumping for a free kick. The ref didn’t give it, but VAR did after literally 20+ replays taking 3 minutes. Even then, I couldn’t tell whether Ndidi’s elbow made the first contact, or whether Keane headed it onto the elbow. It was like watching an lbw shout with a possible faint inside edge. Way too many penalties are given for handball for me, matches shouldn’t be settled by their often random nature.

Moreover, VAR’s involvement summarises why fans rightly have complete contempt for the operators of it – it was clearly not a ‘clear and obvious case’. Ironically, Schmeichel could have extended his penalty saving heroics by just sitting down, as Sigurdsson gently rolled it down the middle.

2-0 in the first ever July league game in history was a mountain, and it was good to see Rodgers visibly angry and animated for once at the annoying drinks break (the time added on was less than the drinks time and VAR delay – what hope have we got when off-field officials can’t even start and stop watches accurately).

This did prompt a response and we dominated the rest of the half. I feel we benefit from a range of dead ball takers, rather than a Madders monopoly. The closest we came was when Pickford blocked Evans at close range, although it would probably have been overturned for offside.

We dominated the second half thanks to the impetus of the introduction of Iheanacho and Maddison. Both are able to receive and turn in one motion, and were willing to take on defenders. We were rewarded within minutes, with a scruffy goal rebounding in off the Nigerian.

Everton made tactical changes and were prepared to sit deep and try to counter-attack, which they didn’t really do and Schmeichel could have been furloughed for the rest of the game. Our hopes rose as Pickford began to wobble, letting a tame ball through his legs which had to be literally cleared from half-over the line, and then missing a cross which Iheanacho, off balance, couldn’t keep under the bar. For all his creativity, Maddison’s finishing was poor again, and another chance fell to Chilwell, who blazed over on the volley in contrast to his Watford screamer.

Unfortunately we seemed to become a bit unbalanced. Barnes had gone off at half time as he again struggled post-lockdown, but while Chilwell saw loads of the ball on the left, he didn’t have anyone to work with. We could have done with Gray coming on sooner on that flank as he could deliver the ball in on his right foot without having to beat anyone or reach the goal line.

This was the best we have played in the 4 games over the past 12 days, but we will have to wait to see if it acts as a catalyst now that the heat is fully on. Many players remain out of sorts so I am not overly confident. Vardy was involved more than in previous games but still sparingly and more as a provider. Iheanacho will have to start the next game I imagine. Praet will surely improve, and while Justin has done well for his first run of top flight action, his best game has remained when he was at left back against Villa. Probably like many, I have concluded that being second or third was in all honesty a false position for us, but this is no reason to throw in the towel.

LEICESTER: Schmeichel 5, Justin 5, Chilwell 6, Evans 7, Soyuncu 5, Albrigton 7, Ndidi 6, Praet 5, Tielemans 6, Barnes 4, Vardy 5. Subs: Iheanacho 8, Maddison 7, Gray 6, Perez 5

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