Leicester City and Southampton fought to a 0-0 draw at the King Power on Tuesday night with the Foxes advancing on penalties to the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup. Both sides scored their first five penalty attempts, but Foxes’ keeper Danny Ward was able to turn Manolo Gabbiadini’s attempt around the best, setting up Nampalys Mendy to score the winner for the hosts.
As expected, Manager Claude Puel made a fistful of changes to the starting lineup for this Carabao Cup clash. Ward started in goal behind a back line of Danny Simpson, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Christian Fuchs. Adrien Silva partnered with Wilfred Ndidi in the midfield with Fousenni Diabate and Demarai Gray on the wings. Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy, the captain for the night, spearheaded the attack.
Both teams were quick out of the gate, but the pace and intensity dropped off precipitously soon after. Simpson, making his first start in (*checks notes*) quite a long time, did a very Danny Simpson thing, catching Marino Lemina with a late challenge. After a great deal of deliberation and consultation with the VAR, the former QPR fullback escaped with a yellow.
The visitors had the first clear-cut chance of the match, breaking down the Leicester right Michael Obamfeti cut inside and placed his shot beyond Ward, but just wide of the net. City attempted a couple of speculative long-range shots from Ndidi and Gray, but the pace of play dictated that the defenses would always be on top.
The match sparked to life at the end of the first half as Nathan Redmond’s long-range effort narrowly missed the target. At the other end, Vardy took the ball down the left side of the area and his low cross was nearly turned into the net by Jannick Vestergaard. This proved to be the last (and best) Leicester attack of the half.
Neither manager made any changes at the half and, unsurprisingly, the run of play was much the same as it had been. Both teams kept tight back lines and dared the other side to break them down. That dare was not often accepted.
City probably should have been on top on 59’. Gray’s effort from distance was blocked and careened across the penalty area to Iheanacho. The Nigeria man was unable to leap high enough to get over the ball and his effort went tamely over the bar.
On the hour mark Puel sent on Nampalys Mendy and Shinji Okazaki in place of Silva and Iheanacho in an effort to break the deadlock. It was, however, Southampton who very nearly opened the scoring. Redmond hit the crossbar from 20 yards out and the ball fell directly to Obafemi, who somehow turned the ball wide with the goalmouth at his mercy.
With a quarter hour to play, Puel cast his dice a final time, sending Marc Albrighton on for Diabate. The former Villa man immediately set up Gray, but the shot was just over the bar.
With only 8 minutes of regular time remaining, the visitors had the ball in the back of the net. Steven Davis calmly netted from close range, but the VAR revealed a handball by Redmond in the buildup and the goal was chalked off.
The Saints nearly snatched the victory four minutes into injury time. Southampton won a free kick deep in the Leicester half. Gabbiadini’s effort was goal-bound, but Ward was just able to touch it on the bar. That proved to be the last action of the match and, since the Carabao Cup makes up new rules every year, the match went straight to penalties without the traditional 30 minutes of extra time.
The drama of a penalty shootout doesn’t translate well to text, but rest assured, there was drama. Leicester’s first five penalty takers (Fuchs, Albrighton, Söyüncü, Gray, and Vardy) all took their chances well, but their efforts were cancelled by Southampton’s first five. It wasn’t until Ward saved Gabbiadini’s effort that City were given the opportunity to put the Saints to the sword. Mendy made it 6-for-6 and put the Foxes through to the quarterfinals of the Cup.
Let’s be honest: This was not a great football match. It was exactly what you’d expect of two teams, already struggling to find a rhythm, who make wholesale changes from their regular lineup. Puel’s system struggles without a central midfield playmaker, and with both Maddison (suspension) and Ghezzal (injury) absent, City were always going to struggle to create chances.
I have to admit, my feelings on Puel change like the wind. I want it to work out. My head tells me we need stability. But then I sit through 90 minutes of dross like this & I’m back on the fence. It’s all very uninspiring isn’t it. #lcfc— WTFox (@WTFox1884) November 27, 2018
The entire defense, and especially Danny Ward, had a solid match. Söyüncü showed some hints as to why we were so excited to get him in the fold. Silva pinged the ball around sweetly, and Gray was involved to a greater degree than we’ve seen in other matches. On another day, he might well have had a goal or two, but today was not that day.
By virtue of topping Southampton, the Foxes have earned the pleasure of hosting Manchester City, who I understand are quite good, on 18 December. Our next league match is at home to Watford this coming Saturday.