Leicester City leveled through an unlikely source, Stoke keeper Jack Butland, to earn a draw at the King Power this afternoon. It was a largely poor performance from the home side and a point was all we really deserved despite playing the club with the worst away record of all 92 league clubs.
After the tactical debacle against Manchester City, manager Claude Puel reverted to the tried and true shape and brought some familiar faces back into the starting XI. Stalwarts Danny Simpson, Wes Morgan, and Riyad Mahrez were back. In theory, the formation looked something like:
I say “in theory” because Demarai Gray was effectively invisible for most of the match. Stoke’s new manager Paul Lambert has worked wonders tightening up their leaky defense and he got his tactics spot-on against the Foxes. Throughout the first half, Stoke played a high press, which would normally leave them vulnerable to longs balls over the top, but the defense stayed deep and tight. This left Leicester acres of space on the wings, but, without any height in the attack, City struggled to do anything threatening from wide positions.
You’d think that “letting Mahrez see as much of the ball as he wants” would be a losing wager, but it worked. Mahrez had more touches in the first half than any other player but, other than a shot-that-should-have-been-a-cross-because-Vardy-was-right-there, his impact was minimal. Albrighton’s crossing wasn’t up to his usual standards either, leaving Vardy utterly isolated up front. City have seldom looked less threatening when having so much possession.
Stoke weren’t exactly creating chances either, but when Joe Allen dispossessed Ndidi on the wing and slipped the ball to Xherdan Shaqiri, City should have been alert to the danger. Here’s a fun fact about Shaqiri: 8 of his 13 Premier League goals prior to Saturday were scored from outside the box. As he drifted inside, James was out of position and Morgan failed to close him down. That’s as good an invitation as the Swiss international needs, so he drilled a low shot past Schmeichel and into the back of the net.
And that was it for the half. Leicester were down 0-1 and it was a pretty fair reflection of the match up to that point. Neither manager made any changes at the break so, unsurprisingly, the match picked up where it left off. The Foxes won corner after corner but couldn’t muster a shot on target from them. Stoke would try to break but lacked the pace to beat the City defenders. Lather, rinse, repeat.
With a half an hour to play, Puel brought on Kelechi Iheanacho for Gray and Fousseni Diabate for Simpson. The versatile Albrighton switched from the left wing to right back, meaning that the two substitutions gave us more firepower at three positions. The Foxes immediately looked more threatening, with Diabete’s movement causing the Potters problems on the left. The breakthrough, however, came on the right as a low cross from Albrighton evaded Vardy, struck the Stoke keeper on the chest, and bounced into the net.
A 5 year old Leicester fans just mugged us off over Butland's goal. You me outside mate— Harry Russell (@Harry_Russell1) February 24, 2018
Pretty sure you don’t want any part of that 5 year old, Harry...
Out of nowhere, Leicester were level and the game suddenly came to life. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned a lot of specific incidents from the match up to this point. That’s due to the fact that there weren’t many specific incidents worthy of mention. That all changed in the final 20 minutes.
Lambert brought on Charlie Adam to foul Iheanacho and he fulfilled that role brilliantly. His first action was to bring the Nigeria striker down, prompting the commentators to question whether or not it was a yellow or a red. He escaped without punishment, so his second action was to grab the former Manchester City man by the shoulders see just how badly he would have to foul someone to get a card, which referee Michael Oliver duly produced (but it should have been a second yellow and thus a red).
Meanwhile, yet another Leicester corner was cleared, but this time only as far as Mahrez 18 yards out. The Algerian struck it sweetly, bending it through traffic, but Butland was up to the task, palming it away when it looked for all the world like City had gone in front.
The next corner found the head of Matty James, who beat Butland but was denied by the post. Harry Maguire of all people tried a right-footed shot from a tight angle and forced Butland to tip it onto to post. Charlie Adam headed the ball directly into the path of Mahrez, who was briefly one-on-one with the keeper. He hesitated and it turned into a one-on-four and the chance was gone.
In spite of all the chances, City were unable to get the goal that would have secured three points. Based on the first 70’ of the match, you’d be hard pressed to say we deserved anything, but our dominance was so complete at the end that a win wouldn’t have been an unjust result. We had 66% of the possession, out-shot Stoke 19-6, with 9 shots on target to their 2. We had 13 corners; the Potters only one.
So, in the end, you have to say it was 2 points dropped. Fair play to the visitors, who worked hard and got their tactics right. But, Stoke are dire on the road, and they’re 19th on the table, so anything less than a win is a disappointment.