Ünder takes and Barnes storms (*)

LCFC 2 v 0 AEK Athens

Report by Stuart Dawkins (* – no more puns please – Ed)

What a difference three years (and two days) makes.  We all, I suspect, have our “I remember the first time I saw Harvey Barnes play” stories.  For a few thousand Leicester fans, the punchline of that story goes something like, “It was from miles away at the back of a stand … through some form of netting … in Porto … he didn’t do much … we lost five-nil”. 

Remember the first sight of Harvey ?

Well, three years (and two days) later, our view of the players was, sadly, far clearer – ‘sadly’ as it was through a high-definition TV screen – and Barnes was a worthy contender for man-of-the-match … in Leicester … and we won two-nil.

For many, those ‘European’ moments are an essential part of the exhilaration of following Leicester City for many years.  The friendliness of the Porto police (are you watching, Madrid??), hanging a City scarf from the window of a UNESCO-heritage listed hotel, the visit to the Grahams Port cellar – none of these are specifically connected to football, of course, but it was Leicester City that set the context for it to happen. 

And today’s equivalent?  Squinting to try to spot our “Clarendon Park Foxes on Tour” banner behind the goal when the camera pans out (we couldn’t see it!  It’s either been moved or has wilted after eight months in the open air) and drinking Portuguese wine whilst taking notes on the match.  Such is 2020, but hopefully future years will see a return to something more usual.

I dwell on the preamble to this match because the match itself does not require much description.  City played well; Athens were simply not in their class; it was a job well done.

Rodgers used his squad effectively again, with seven changes from the win against Sheffield United.  This meant a rare start for Ward in goal (Evans taking the Captain’s armband), a reversion to a back four, with Thomas getting the left-back spot, and Barnes and Ünder chosen to support Iheanacho in attack.  As it was a home match, there was no need to rest players by not even flying them out to be on the bench, so regulars such as Vardy, Schmeichel and Mendy were there if needed – although Maddison was absent with a minor injury.  Ndidi also got the welcome chance to get more minutes on the pitch following his return to the team.

City started briskly, with Barnes and Thomas having free rein on the left-hand side numerous times in the first fifteen minutes.  Ünder was taking corners from both wings, and Praet was operating in front of Ndidi and Tielemans in midfield. 

For once, this season, the early pressure bore fruit.  In the twelfth minute poor defending let the ball squirt on to Tielemans on the left wing, his moderate cross was completely mis-hit by an AEK defender: it spun up into the air and Ünder volleyed it home from about 12-yards with his left foot.  It is hard to be certain from a TV view, but I doubt any shot has been hit harder or faster at the King Power Stadium.  It was a worthy first Leicester goal for Ünder.

A couple of minutes later and the match was pretty much sewn up.  Thomas played a Fuchs-like 50-yard pass from defence to find Barnes behind the retreating AEK defence.  Barnes cut inside and hit a shot from an ambitious angle, it struck the back of the closing defender – the ricochet giving the AEK ‘keeper no chance.  Two-nil to Leicester, and well-deserved.

A minute later AEK got their first, and only, shot of the half – flying over the bar from 20-yards.  The rest was a constant stream of neat City possession and chances not quite taken.  Fofana completely missed a free header from a corner, Barnes and Thomas linked to create a chance for Iheanacho, but he mis-judged the bounce and the ball passed behind him, Ndidi headed just wide from an Ünder free kick, Praet and Ünder both had shots denied.

As the half progressed, AEK began to manage Barnes a little better: initially by constantly fouling him and then by changing their formation, but the consequence of that change was that the Athens side posed even less of an attacking threat; indeed much of the time they were barely able to keep possession of the ball.

Neither side made changes at half-time, and the second half carried on much as the first.  The principal change being that most of Leicester’s pressure was now from the right-wing, with Ünder having free rein and the AEK defenders not coping at all.

City created fewer chances in the second half, but they did not really need to.  AEK created nothing until 80-minutes had been completed, despite making five substitutions to try to change the tone of the game.

Leicester kept possession, made a few forays towards goal, and simply looked comfortable and in complete control.

Ndidi was substituted on the hour, having played well in circumstances that did not require too much of him; Mendy took his place.  A few minutes later, Pérez replaced Iheanacho, who had held the ball up well but had not had too much to do.

Barnes weaved passed two defenders to shoot just wide, a corner was headed to Praet who could only toe-poke the chance just wide, Barnes released Pérez whose shot went under the keeper from close range yet somehow was kept out of the goal by the keeper’s heel.  It was a professional performance which did not seem to tax the City team at all.

As full-time approached, Morgan and Choudhury came on for Fofana and Tielemans.  AEK held the ball a little more in the final ten minutes, and finally put together a move that resulted in a shot sent over the bar.  Even in stoppage time, it was City who created two more decent chances, somehow managing not to score from a three-on-one break which was stopped by a fine defensive tackle.

Barens and Ünder were very good.  AEK were not very good.  City cannot read too much from the comfort with which they beat opposition who gave them more time and space than any team in the Premier League would ever do.  Still, top of their Europa League Group and fourth in the Premier League is a pretty good place to be – particularly given the injuries to many key players.  Rodgers and the team deserve praise for that.

Leicester: Ward, Justin, Fofana, Evans, Thomas, Praet, Ndidi, Tielemans, Ünder, Barnes, Iheanacho. Subs: Schmeichel, Morgan, Vardy, Albrighton, Pérez, Choudhury, Mendy, Fuchs, Jakupovic

AEK Athens: Tsintotas, Hnid, Nedelcearu, Svarnas, Vasilantonopoulos, Mantalos, Gomes Simoes, Krsticic, Mitaj, Garcia, Ansarifard. Subs: Albanis, Laci, Tankovic, Oliveira, Galanopoulos, Shakhov, Athanasiadis, Sabanadzovic, Sardelis, Christopoulos, Macheras, Theocharis

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

Never discount Vardy

Sheffield Utd 1 City 2

Report by Kate Thompson

For not the first time, or hopefully the last, Vardy proved that he can be anonymous for 85 minutes but opposition defenders take him lightly at their peril!

There were ten changes from the last game and, much to my surprise, Perez started; it was an inspired choice as he had an excellent game. 

Good return to the starting 11

The back three was used again, which I am not convinced by, but who am I to tell Rodgers how to play!  It was pleasing to see City start in a much livelier fashion than we have seen recently and early possession statistics showed that we had 77%.  For once this figure was reflected in the result. 

The first goal came halfway through the first half; Albrighton had a shot blocked and Perez was on hand to rifle the ball into the net.  However, the lead only lasted two minutes, when McBurnie scored with a header from a corner, something we seem to have difficulty preventing.  Apparently, more goals have been scored against us from corners than any other team in the Premier League.

The high press meant that the front men was offside quite a few times but, as we all know, there are very fine lines in matches.  I got cross with Maddison for slowing the game down too much and the way he strolls across to take corners (which rarely trouble the opposition) is particularly irritating. 

I thought we should have had a penalty when Tielemans was wrestled to the ground in the box, in the 34th minute.  Lowe was booked in the 37th minute and shortly after he brought Perez down, which would ordinarily have merited a yellow card.  The referee decided to let it go and I was annoyed to see Maddison clearly saying it should have been a second yellow.  I hate this unsporting gesture that we see far too often.  It was no surprise when Lowe was substituted at half-time, to be replaced by Osborn.

Sheffield United were defending as if their lives depended on it, and there was block after block from City efforts; in addition, both Vardy and Maddison hit the same post.  In the second half the pace of the game slowed and it looked as if it would be another disappointing draw.  Sheffield had a few efforts, mainly headers from corners, and City continued to dominate, without reward. 

They started the irritating sideways passes between the back three, which I guess suggests a lack of confidence.  However, the talisman Vardy, who had been kept pretty quiet, was released by Maddison, with a bit of help from the Sheffield defenders, and he calmly slotted the ball past Ramsdale.  His over-exuberant celebrations shattered the corner flag, for which he was booked. 

Last minute smash (well certainly the corner flag) and grab

To quote one of the Sky commentators, ‘hardly seen him tonight’.  Two other City players received yellow cards, Fuchs and Maddison, for what looked like innocuous challenges, and no other Sheffield players were cautioned.  In the 68th minute Ndidi replaced Mendy and Iheanacho came on for Perez; the final substitution, Praet for Maddison, came in the 93rd minute.

So, a much better performance but we have to remember the quality of the opposition.  I hope Sheffield stay up, but it is not looking good for them.  I don’t think a single Leicester player had a bad game, but I would pick out Justin, Perez and Evans as being particularly effective.

Leicester City: 1 Kasper Schmeichel, 3 Wesley Fofana, 6 Jonny Evans, 28 Christian Fuchs: 11 Marc Albrighton, 8 Youri Tielemans, 24 Nampalys Mendy (25 Wilf Ndidi 68), 2 James Justin: 17 Ayoze Pérez (14 Kelechi Iheanacho 68), 10 James Maddison (26 Dennis Praet 90+3), 9 Jamie Vardy. Subs not used: 5 Wes Morgan, 12 Danny Ward, 15 Harvey Barnes, 19 Cengiz Under.

The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation

City’s late slip

Zorya Luhansk 1-0 Leicester City

Report by Chris Griffin

An 84th minute tap in at the far post by substitute Sayyadmanesh saw the Ukraine team snatch victory. After a sluggish start City had grown into the game and had the best of the second half but failed to score. With Braga winning comfortably against AEK, City now find themselves level on points at the top of Group G with one home game to come. Going into the knock-out stage as group winners still lies in the balance.

City made wholesale changes with only Justin and Praet keeping their places from the starting 11 from the excruciating Monday defeat to Fulham. Pereira, Soyuncu and Ndidi returned after long absences due to injury. Morgan, Choudhury, Ward, Under, Barnes and Iheanacho all started. Among City’s 12 subs were four players aged 19 or under including 16 year old Ben Wilson.

Zorya started brightly and were quicker to the ball. Kochergin forced Ward into an excellent low save to his right. Ndidi then tackled late on the edge of the box but Nazaryma’s hard strike was blocked by the wall. City cleared the follow-up corner comfortably. At the other end Under made a good run down the right, cut inside but his shot flew high and wide. City were getting into the tempo of the game but wayward passing kept surrendering possession.

In the 17th minute Soyuncu’s return was cut short. He neatly anticipated a through pass which he cut out but immediately pulled up with what turned out to be a recurrence of his groin strain. Fofana replaced him.

The dangerous Kochergin broke from midfield but sent his fierce shot over the bar. For Leicester Under presented the main threat going forward. After a good run he found Iheanacho in the box but the striker’s first touch let him down. A fluent move released Justin into the box but his right foot shot sailed wide.

Ndidi was making a very assured return breaking up attacks and winning possession. After one successful tackle he set Under forward but the winger’s shot lacked direction. Then Under was through from a good Barnes pass. This was an excellent one-on-one chance but the shot was blocked by keeper Vasilj. 

Ciganiks, who had received a yellow card for clattering Under, then nearly redeemed himself with a fierce 20 yard shot that Ward did well to parry. Barnes then combined well with Iheanacho only to scuff his shot when well-placed in the penalty area.

The referee seemed very hard on challenges in the air. Both Pereira and Iheanacho picked up yellow cards following genuine efforts to win headers. By half time there was little to choose between the teams in a game which lacked entertainment.

Luke Thomas came on for Pereira for the second half. Praet and Justin combined well to feed Under but his shot went over the bar. Then an excellent cross from Under was just out of reach of Barnes in the six yard box. City had a lucky escape in the 55th minute. Kochergin centred and Yurchenko’s header beat Ward all ends up, only for the ball to rebound off the cross bar. City had to sustain some pressure. Praet handled and Fofana cleared the resulting wickedly swerving free kick from Nazaryna.

In the 56th minute Mendy came on for Ndidi and Morgan, with a back problem, was replaced by Fuchs. Mendy’s first tackle saw him receive a yellow card. Excellent work by Choudhury saw him win possession and release Barnes whose progress was cynically stopped by a Zorya defender. Then Mendy was fouled outside the Zorya penalty area. Under took a superb free kick which found Fofana unmarked in front of goal. His header flew well wide – a really good opportunity not taken.

City were building up more pressure as shown by a frequent increase in the highly robust and not always legal tackling from the home team which the referee seemed quite relaxed about. With ten minutes left Maddison came on for Praet and was immediately in the game. A firm long-range Iheanacho effort was well saved by the goalkeeper Vasilj. The rebound fell to Maddison whose fierce cross shot was goal bound until the keeper managed to extend a leg and block: an excellent double save by the goalkeeper. City followed this with some really smart play and one touch passing. The final pass found Justin but he could not get enough purchase on his shot and the ball went into the side netting.

City were then caught cold immediately after that near miss. Zorya swept forward down the left then worked the ball to the right from where Favorov crossed hard and low and found Sayyadmanesh unmarked at the back post only three yards out. A goal down with only six minutes and added time left.

City did not take the setback lying down. With the clock well into overtime Under sent in a superb shot which was heading for the top corner until parried round the post by the excellent Vasilj.

Brendan Rodgers was honest about his frustration. “It’s frustrating overall. I didn’t think the players deserved to lose that at all. As the second half went on, we looked like the only team going to win. The players put so much into it.”

Valid comments and it is fair to say that goalkeeper Vasilj played a big part in stopping a City win. But with no Vardy there are many fans who will say a reliable source of goals is hard to see: maybe that’s a job for the recruitment team in January.

Zorya Luhansk: Vasilj, Favorov, Ivanisenya, Abu Hanna, Ciganiks, Yurchenko, Nazaryna, Kochergin, Kabaev, Gromov (sub Sayyadmenash 81’), Gladkiy (sub Perovic 93’).

Leicester City: Ward, Pereira, Soyuncu (sub Fofana 17’), Morgan (sub Fuchs 56’), Justin, Praet (sub Maddison 77’), Ndidi (sub Mendy 56’), Choudhury, Under, Barnes, Iheanacho

Referee Espen Eskas (Norway)

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

Team selection and tactics fail to reverse poor home form.

Leicester City 1 vs Fulham 2

King Power Stadium, 30 November 2020

Report by Colin Murrant

Fulham arrived at the KP in 19th place with only 4 points, the hosts lay in 4th place with 18 points and could, perhaps improbably, have gone top with a large win. It was a surprise then to see the City line-up with only Vardy as a recognised forward as Barnes dropped to the bench: Albrighton also missed out from the starting line-up. The Cottagers left out Crainey and Mitrovic two of their better-known, and, on their day, most dangerous players.

Before the match the players paid their respects to Diego Maradona and Papa Bouba Diop who both passed away during the last week.

Fulham set up to defend deep with a 5-man defence and to hit City on the break, the folly of Rodger’s team selection quickly became apparent as The Foxes were getting nowhere trying to pass their way through a resolute and packed defence. With City over committing there were couple of occasions when Fulham broke away, notably a Lookman chance: the signs were there when just before the half hour with City defence in disarray. Anguissa broke from his own half, avoided a desperate tackle from Praet, and laid the ball to Lookman who, unchallenged, coolly slotted past Schmeichel.

A few minutes later and Fulham were two up; Reid chased a ball into the box and would have closed in on the City goal, Fuchs made a challenge and replays on the TV showed it was a foul. City fans had little hope as play went on for a couple of minutes before VAR advised referee Hooper to look at the replay; inevitably the penalty was awarded and Cavaleiro hammered the ball into the roof of the net.

By half time it was difficult to remember too many City chances. A free kick from Maddison that rebounded off the wall to Tielemans who hit the post from 25 yards, the ball broke to Fofana who hit the bar from close range. Apart from that one incident, a clever back heel from Vardy was the only other chance of note.

At half time Under and Barnes replaced Thomas and Praet replacing Thomas and Praet as the team switched to a back for. City had plenty of possession in the Fulham half but were still creating very little in the way of good chances. The two-goal lead let Fulham to defend deeper and in greater numbers.

On the hour Iheanacho came on for Mendy. Almost immediately City were in trouble as Evans was fouled in the corner. He took the free kick himself and, in haste to get the ball in play, rolled the ball past Schmeichel and towards the goal line: Fofana gathered the ball but came back across his goal into more danger with City eventually conceding a corner. On 75 minutes a good inter-passing move by the visitors led to Lookman avoiding Fofana’s challenge and his close-range shot was brilliantly saved by Schmeichel.

Under was looking lively, cutting in from the right he got his shot away but managed to hit Iheanacho which about summed up City’s night.

On 86 minutes City finally scored as Vardy headed the ball to Barnes who took a touch before blasting home from 10 yards. Maddison tried his luck from 25 yards but failed to trouble the keeper. There were half chances for Iheanacho but nothing of real consequence.

The comedy was complete when City had a corner well into added on time. Schmeichel came up for the corner but the ball failed to beat the first man. The ball was won from Tielemans by Fulham who broke with the City keeper racing back towards his own goal. Mitrovic, on as a late substitute, gathered the ball and ran from his own half and should have shot but decided instead to pass; Schmeichel still chasing back to goal managed to tackle in midfield and the ball broke for a Fulham corner. As soon as the kick was taken the whistle blew and City suffered their third defeat in four EPL home games.

It is difficult to understand the negativity of Rodgers at times, particularly at home. Of the last four home matches in the EPL, City have lost to Villa, WHU, Fulham and a dubious penalty 1-0 win against Wolves. Apart from the penalty, the only goal in the 4 matches has been the Barnes effort tonight.

Whilst the manager’s defensive tactics work wonderfully well away, at home they are totally unwarranted, especially against teams not in the higher echelons of the League. The mindset of the players must be impacted by the team and tactics chosen by the manager. For a manager who claims to like the tactics of the game, his regular swings between getting it so right and then so wrong is hard to comprehend.

No doubt there will be claims that the players failed to carry out the tactics but Rodgers needs to find away to win at home. With away sides defending deep to stifle Vardy’s runs, City need to have more ideas than trying to pass their way through packed defences.

City are at their best when they play at a faster tempo, the second half at Brava is but one example of this. It is hoped that the imminent return from injury of the more experienced players will enable City to be more adventurous at home.

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Justin, Fofana, Evans, Fuchs, Thomas, Mendy, Tielemans, Praet, Maddison, Vardy. Subs: Ward, Choudhury, Morgan, Albrighton, Barnes, Under, Iheanacho.

Fulham: Areola, Aina, Andersen, Adarabioyo, Robinson, Reed, Anguissa, Cavaleiro, Loftus-Cheek, Decordova-Reid, Lookman. Subs: Rodak, Ream, Bryan, Cairney, Lemina, Mitrovic, Kamara

Referee: Simon Hooper

The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation

CITY LEAVE IT LATE

BRAGA 3 LEICESTER CITY 3

Report by Paul Weston

The memory of the so disappointing performance against Liverpool was still in the mind as the key Europa League away match got closer on Thursday night. Like many City fans I had hoped for so much better. Worryingly we seemed to lack belief that Liverpool could be beaten and consequently we were comfortably defeated.

Braga and City both made five changes for the match. The Braga changes strengthened their side whereas the City changes were more of a gamble. Fofana, Vardy, Maddison, Tielemans and Mendy were all left on the bench. City played three at the back with Albrighton and Thomas as wingbacks. Three young players coming through the Academy were in the side – Barnes, Choudhury and Thomas.

City worryingly again started quite slowly and Braga went onto the offensive. After two shots were blocked Braga scored from long distance in the third minute, the goal beating Schmeichel’s despairing dive. However, it did not take long for City to equalise when, after an errant Braga pass was seized on by Icheanacho, Barnes scored a fine goal from a narrow angle with City’s first attack.

Despite the equaliser City still lacked intensity with little creativity in midfield and Icheanacho and Barnes were isolated. Schmeichel’s bellowing at his team was very audible, trying to goad the players into action. In the 23rd minute Braga broke through the middle too easily and, despite Schmeichel’s efforts, Fernandes scored a fine goal. 2-1 to Braga.

City still did not threaten with little movement and pressure on Braga’s defence. In the middle of this period of play Schmeichel made two cracking saves and Under should have scored twice when one on one with the goalie.

Rodgers decided he had enough and replaced Fuchs and Praet with Fofana and Tielemans respectively for the second half. The intensity of play picked up slightly and Under brought a good save from the goalie. However, Rodgers then made another positive move, bringing on the “big guns” Vardy and Maddison for Under and Barnes. Both Barnes and Under had tried hard but had been generally ineffective.

The introduction of Vardy and Maddison immediately changed the tempo of the game and City started to regain control. Perez was then brought on for Iheanacho to bolster City’s attacking intentions. Evans missed the goal from a great flick on from Vardy but then, from a bit of trickery from Maddison, Thomas stabbed in his first goal for the club- a wonderful moment for him. As the scores from other matches came through it looked like a draw would be enough to take City through to the next round.

Delighted with his first senior goal for the club

City had the momentum and, although a draw would be sufficient, went all out and pressed for a win. Fofana headed on from a good chance. In the last minute of the second half Vardy broke down the right at pace. Instead of playing to waste time into the corner (should he have done this?) Vardy sent in a good cross to Perez in the centre, which was taken by the goalie. In no time Braga had counterattacked and, for once, Fofana was easily beaten down the line and, with City players left up front, Braga scored. A looming defeat seemed cruel after City’s fine performance in the second half.

This team never knows when it is beaten, however, and, in the fifth minute of injury time, after a fine ball down the line from Thomas, Vardy hared forward and passed to Maddison in the middle but surrounded by Braga players. He cleverly brought Albrighton in on the right who smashed a low cross across to Vardy who scored the equaliser. 3-3 and justice after a great second half performance.

It was an enthralling match and the players fully deserved to lead the group and securing position into the next round with two matches still to play. Schmeichel, Justin and Thomas stood out for me in a game of two halves.

Despite injuries to key players Rodgers and the squad have done so well in the Europa League and the Premiership. However, as in the Liverpool match, our formation of three at the back and wing backs has been found wanting at times. It seems that the return of Castagne, Soyuncu, Ricardo and N’Didi will not be that far off. When that happens Rodgers will have a great squad to choose from and perhaps our defence will look less fragile.

The next challenge is a Monday night match against Fulham followed closely by a trip to Ukraine on Thursday. It is a tough run of fixtures but it is an exciting time to be a City fan. If only we could go to the King Power to cheer on our team….

Leicester: Schmeichel, Justin, Evans, Fuchs (Fofana 45), Albrighton, Praet (Tielemans 45), Choudhury, Thomas, Ünder (Vardy 62), Barnes (Maddison 62), Iheanacho (Perez 68)

Booked: Albrighton, Evans

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