Leicester City fought 10-man West Ham to a 1-1 draw Saturday evening at the King Power Stadium. It was City’s first draw of the season and it was both unlucky in that the Foxes had the preponderance of chances against the Hammers and somewhat fortunate as it took an 89th minute deflection to level the score.
Manager Claude Puel, perhaps feeling as though his job security was on the wane, made four changes to the starting XI that lost to Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates on Monday, dropping Ricardo Pereira, Nampalys Mendy, Jonny Evans, and, controversially, Jamie Vardy from the lineup. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back four of Daniel Amartey, Çağlar Söyüncü, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi lined up beside Vicente Iborra in central midfield. Attacking midfielders Rachid Ghezzal, James Maddison, and Marc Albrighton started behind line striker Kelechi Iheanacho. The bench consisted of Danny Ward, Evans, Ricardo, Mendy, Shinji Okazaki, Vardy, and Demarai Gray, making his very welcome return from an ankle injury.
I wouldn’t have put it quite so delicately, James...
City started brightly and had the ball in the back of the net on just two minutes with a sweet finish from a Marc Albrighton cross, but the former Manchester City man was just offside when the ball was played in. Spoiler alert: This is not the last time the word “offside” will appear in this match report.
The match was being played at a fairly relaxed pace. This resulted in half an hour of both sides knocking the ball around and playing from the back without either keeper being much involved beyond the occasional goal kick. With the defenses well on top, it looked as though dead ball situations would be the most likely means of breaking the deadlock.
Unfortunately, it was the Hammers who took advantage. A free kick on the left side of the Leicester defense found an unmarked Fabien Balbuena, who planted his header against the far post. The ball rolled across the face of the goal with Schmeichel chasing it like a pound note on a fishing line, unable to gather it in. It was Balbuena who reacted first and smashed the ball into the net from close range, giving the Londoners a 1-0 lead on the half-hour mark.
The visitors provided the Foxes with an unexpected gift just 8 minutes later when Mark Noble lost the ball near the halfway line and dove into a tackle on Ndidi to try to win it back. He missed the ball and caught the Nigeria man’s shin with his studs, leaving referee Michael Oliver an easy decision to produce a straight red and reduce West Ham to 10 men for the last 50 minutes of the match.
The Foxes should have equalized on 42’ minutes when Madders swung in a free kick that found an unmarked Iborra, but the Spaniard’s header was too close to Lucasz Fabianski, who did will to save it. Iheanacho produced a half-chance shortly after, but the Poland keeper got his fingertips to it and turned it wide. That was it for the half, which ended 1-0 to 10-man West Ham.
Puel sent on Vardy to start the second half for the ineffective Ghezzal. The introduction of the former Fleetwood Town man brought a level of pressing and urgency to the City attack. The Foxes were immediately on the hunt for an equaliser, with a Ben Chilwell cross finding Vardy just offside in front of the goal.
City had a pair of penalty shouts on 56’ when James Maddison went down from a Balbuena challenge. I was watching a Spanish language feed and the announcers kept using the word simulador, which means exactly what it sounds like and was probably appropriate. Immediately afterwards, an Iheanacho shot from inside the area was blocked by Pablo Zabaleta’s hand. His arm was down and close to his side, but it definitely blocked a goal-bound shot and probably should have been a penalty.
Demarai Gray came on for Iheancho on the hour mark to insert some pace into the attack. Gray manned the left wing and Albrighton shifted to the right. It was the former Villa man who had City’s next, and probably best, chance of the match just after the hour mark. He met Chilwell’s cross on the volley, but Fabianski got down well and preserved the Hammers’ lead.
The Foxes were now camped in the West Ham end in search of an equaliser. Harry Maguire met a corner sweetly, but smashed his header off of the crossbar with Fabianski beaten. City’s next attack was a rare foray down the right, with an Albrighton through ball finding Amartey alone in the area, but the Ghana defender was adjudged to have been just offside.
On 80’, Puel sent on Okazaki for the debutante Söyüncü and Angelo Ogbanna came on for the Hammers. It was Ogbanna who had the immediate impact, heading over when he should have put the game to rest. City then had the ball in the back of the net again as Ndidi tapped in Chilwell’s low cross, but Okazaki was offside in the buildup and the goal was rightly chalked off.
The Foxes finally got their reward on 89’ minutes. Ndidi received the ball 30 yards out and, with no one closing him down, strolled towards the goal and unleashed a powerful drive towards the upper right-hand corner. At least, that’s where it was probably headed. Instead, it struck the back of Balbuena and looped into the left side of the net, leaving Fabianski flat-footed. If you’re a West Ham fan, it was heartbreaking, but if you’re a West Ham fan, I’m not sure why you’re reading this report.
In injury time, Amartey went down after catching his studs with what looks to have been a serious injury. He received oxygen and was stretchered off the pitch. City were down to 10 men for the last 3 minutes of extra time, but continued to press for a winner. Attack after attack was undone by a lack of awareness and West Ham’s high line. City were flagged for offside no less than 7 times over the course of the match. The Foxes pressed, but were unable to find a winner and the match ended a 1-1 draw.
For the third straight match, a red card (or the lack of one) marked the turning point of a match. This time, City were the rightful beneficiary of the decision but were unable to take full advantage of the extra man and only salvaged a draw through a fortunate deflection. In some ways, this result was more disappointing than the defeat at Arsenal. You’d have fancied City to get three points against West Ham, especially with a man advantage for more than half of the match.
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini got his tactics spot-on, marking Maddison out of the game and forcing Leicester wide. The Hammers’ centre-halfs were always favorites to win high crosses against the Foxes’ attackers, and when they didn’t, City bailed them out by being caught offside. You can’t fault Leicester’s effort and they were clearly the better side over the course of the match, with 64% of the possession and 21 shots to the visitors’ 11, but there weren’t as many moments of real danger as you’d have expected given the situation.
Conclusions from the #lcfc match.— Johnny Buckley (@Johnny_Buckley) October 27, 2018
• Ben Chilwell MOTM again
• Soyuncu looks decent
• First job Monday learn the offside
• Dont understand the Maddison hype
• Inheanacho is a striker that looks afraid
of entering the penalty area
• It’s cold
I agree with four of these. Feel free to guess which.
The draw drops City to 12th on the table, one spot above the Hammers. The Foxes host Southampton a League Cup tie on Tuesday and then travel to Wales on Saturday to face Cardiff City in the league.
Finally, our thoughts go out tonight to Daniel Amartey. Here’s hoping that his injury isn’t terribly severe and is less painful than it looked.