Leicester City fell to Crystal Palace 1-0 Saturday evening on a dreary night at Selhurst Park. A drab first half saw the Foxes go down a goal near half time through a Luka Milivojevic blast from outside the area. City looked the stronger side after the break, but were unable to break down a decidedly average Palace side.
Claude Puel’s starting XI was much closer to the Platonic ideal of a City lineup than it has been for several weeks. Kasper Schmeichel got the nod in goal behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire, and Christian Fuchs. The Nampalys Mendy/Wilfred Ndidi axis held down the central midfield behind Demarai Gray, James Maddison, and Marc Albrighton. Jamie Vardy plowed a lone furrow as the solitary striker. The joy of getting Maguire and Vardy back was mitigated somewhat by the absence of Ben Chilwell due to a knee concern.
Maguire’s return was very nearly cut extremely short. A Palace attack down the left wing inside the first minute saw Maguire stumble awkwardly and fall to the ground. The England man was in obvious pain, holding his knee. The physios came on and escorted the big defender off the pitch to receive treatment, but somewhat surprisingly, he was able to carry on without any apparent impact.
The next forty minutes might be charitably described as “scrappy”. They might be more accurately described as “poor”. Neither team created any chances of note. The announcers struggled to find anything positive to say about the match. City worked some clever long diagonal balls that had the potential to trouble the Palace defense. The Eagles caused some bother with direct attacks down the middle, but in the end the ball was given away and the final ball was lacking at both ends of the pitch.
As the urgency was draining out of the affair, Palace broke the deadlock out of absolutely nothing. Ndidi and Mendy were slow to close down the ball on the edge of area, so Eagles’ captain Luka Milivojevic decided to try his luck from the edge of the area. He couldn’t possibly have struck it more sweetly. His rasping drive into the far corner left Schmeichel no chance and Palace had their nose in front.
At half time, Puel shook things up, replacing James Maddison with Rachid Ghezzal in a move that he confirmed post match was for tactical reasons. It was an odd decision, but Leicester had a little more life and directness to their play out of the gate. Gray, in particular, was a menace, driving with purpose toward the goal and putting defenders on their back heal. A lucky bounce of a defender put him in one-on-one with the keeper, but the ball was just far enough behind him keep him from putting the ball into the corner.
Trying to keep the pressure on, the gaffer sent Kelechi Iheanacho into the fray for the impressive Gray. With a quarter hour to play, the Foxes engineered their best chance of the match. A wide ball to Ghezzal cut Palace wide open. His low cross to Iheanacho was turned into the path of Vardy. His first time snap shot was palmed onto the far post and rolled agonizingly across the face of the goal before it was gathered by a grateful Guaita.
Time was rapidly becoming the enemy of the Foxes. As injury time approached, Puel called on Shinji Okazaki for Albrighton. The Japan international injected more urgency into the attack, but in the end, it was comfortable down the stretch for Palace and the hosts were able to see out the match and take the three points.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this was not an especially effervescent performance. The considerable talent on the pitch for the Foxes never quite gelled. In spite of maintianing 57% of the possession, City only put two shots on target, with only one looking like beating the keeper. You could argue that Leicester deserved a point from this match, but it’s not the most convincing case, is it?
This wasn’t a “must-win” affair, but it was certainly a “it would be awfully nice to get something from this” match. The next two league matches against Chelsea and Manchester City are going to be difficult based on the evidence of this performance and the “Puel Out” crowd will be in fine voice if we go to Cardiff on the back of three straight reverses.
Look at it this way,Schmeichel, Maguire,Benkovic, Chilwell,Maddison &Ndidi have all been linked with top clubs, while Ricardo, Silva& Iborra are were chased by top clubs before joining, Gray a star for ENG U21’s, Vardy still one of the best in the league. We have the talent #LCFC— WTFox (@WTFox1884) December 15, 2018
Perhaps it was a case of rust on the part of the key players. The brightest players on the pitch for the Foxes were Vardy, Maguire, and Ghezzal. The Algerian, in particular, is starting to show his ability after an unsteady start to his career in the Premier League. The back four looked a strong unit, permitting only one shot on goal from distance, but for the second straight match, Schmeichel did not make a single save during the match.
The defeat drops City to 11th on the table with 22 points from 17 matches. It doesn’t get any easier in the coming week as the Foxes face off against top of the table (for now) Manchester City on Tuesday in the League Cup quarterfinal at the King Power. We travel to London yet again to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.