Leicester City’s hopes for European football were buried at Turf Moor on Saturday as the Clarets scored early and held on for a 2-1 victory over the visiting Foxes. Realistically, nothing but a win would keep the dream of qualifying for the Europa League alive. The loss leaves Leicester in 8th place, 9 points adrift of Burnley and just 1 point ahead of 9th-placed Everton.
The day couldn’t have started any worse for Foxes as it only took 6 minutes for the Clarets to take the lead. Under no pressure at all, Wes Morgan gave the ball away to Ashley Barnes deep in the Leicester half. Barnes slid the ball to former Fox Chris Wood, who was played onside by virtue of Ben Chilwell playing 10 yards behind the other defenders. Kasper Schmeichel made himself big and blocked Wood’s strike, but the ball fell kindly to the New Zealand international who made no mistake with his second attempt.
Just two minutes later, the home side won a corner. Johann Gudmundsson set up a beauty of a ball at the far post and defender Kevin Long lost his marker and thumped the ball into the back of the net. Less than 10 minutes off the clock and already the visitors had a mountain to climb to rescue any hope of European football next year.
The next twenty minutes were a study in frustration as City had bags of possession but did little with it. Burnley were happy to stay tight and let Leicester pass the ball around the midfield without any real fear of conceding. It wasn’t so much that we weren’t “turning the screw” as we seemed to be unable to find a screw to turn and you got the sense we wouldn’t have known what to do with it had we found it.
Around the half hour mark, it felt as though the tide was starting to turn. After a brilliant run, Chilwell crossed the ball to Vardy who badly mishit his header when he had more time than he thought. Shortly after, Demarai Gray lofted a cross that found Mahrez 8 yards out, only for his bullet header to be held by Nick Pope. Harry Maguire of all people played a lovely ball into the box which found Vardy behind the defense, but again, Pope was up to the task.
On the stroke of halftime, an unusually quiet Shinji Okazaki won a free kick just outside the area. Mahrez’ effort beat the Burnley keeper but just grazed the wrong side of the post. So, a promising end to the half, but still a two goal deficit.
At the start of the second half, Puel brought on Kelechi Iheanacho for Okazaki in an effort to bolster the attack. The Foxes began the second half much as they ended the first, with most of the possession, most of the chances, but no goals.
The early parts of the second half were marked by a bizarre ten minutes or so where referee Martin Atkinson seemed to be using M8BAR (Magic 8-Ball Assistant Referee™). What constituted a hand ball or even a foul changed from moment to moment and both teams were baffled by the decisions. Puel sent on Fousseni Diabate for Gray and that screw I mentioned earlier was suddenly starting to turn.
With a quarter hour to go, Diabate started a move with a lovely turn, getting the ball to Iheanacho. The Nigeria international sacrificed his body to slip the ball to Vardy who blasted the ball over Pope and into the back of the net. Game on!
That was the last serious goalmouth action of the game. Barnes, who spent the entire game throwing himself to the ground in search of fouls, took out Schmeichel so Ben Hamer came on for his first Premier League action in three years. Burnley put on a masterclass in “seeing a game out.” Throw-ins took thirty seconds, players fell over if their City counterparts looked at them, and, to be fair, Burnley defended very, very well.
Really disappointed with #LCFC today because they have handed the victory to a Burnley side that on this evidence are well organised but quite average.— Rob Tanner (@RobTannerMerc) April 14, 2018
I’d like to take a moment here to discuss our central midfield. Due to injuries and suspension, a makeshift partnership of Adrien Silva and Hamza Choudhury started and played the full 90’. The verdict? OK? Neither did anything of note in terms of attack, neither did a great job distributing the ball, but Choudhury did win 4 tackles and was the least of our problems.
It’s a difficult match to judge. The statistics make it look as though Leicester were dominant. The Foxes had most of the ball, most of the corners, and most of the chances. But, that’s what happens when you spot your opponent two goals in the first ten minutes. The bottom line is that we weren’t nearly good enough over the last 80 minutes to make up for the first 10.
The loss leaves Leicester in unfamiliar territory: With no hope of silverware or qualifying for Europe, and no fear of relegation, we’re a mid-table team. That leaves us two alternatives for the remaining five matches. We can either play like we have nothing to play for, or we can play like we have nothing to lose.