Leicester City fell to Manchester City by a score of 3-1 on Saturday evening at the Etihad Stadium. Jamie Vardy gave the Foxes an early lead against the run of play, but goals from Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, and an Ilkay Gündogan penalty doomed the Foxes to their first defeat since Liverpool.
Manager Brendan Rodgers ditched the rotation for what was clearly the biggest match of the campaign (until next Thusday, at least). Kasper Schmeichel, the mid-week penalty hero, kept his place in goal. The back four of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Ben Chilwell lined up behind defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi. James Maddison and Youri Tielemans partnered in central midfield between wingers Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez. The Premier League’s top scorer Jamie Vardy led the attack as the lone striker.
The hosts made the brighter start to match, pinning the Foxes in their own area and Evans into multiple long clearances that immediately returned the ball to the opposition. There were several nervy early moments, with Evans getting back well to stop Raheem Sterling from a certain goal, Kevin De Bruyne hitting the outside of the post with a low drive, and former Fox Riyad Mahrez sending a close-range shot directly at Schmeichel.
The Citizens probably should have been up by a goal on the quarter hour when a long cross-field ball found Mahrez one-on-one with Chilwell. The Algeria man turned his former teammate inside-out and pulled the ball back for Gabriel Jesus, whose shot was well blocked by Schmeichel and then cleared by Ndidi.
Leicester had their first opportunity moments later. Bernardo Silva clattered into Ayoze, but the referee played advantage, allowing Tielemans to find Vardy deep in the Man City area. His pull-back for the onrushing Barnes had too much on it and the chance was lost. But, twenty minutes in, the Foxes were finally showing intent.
And twenty-one minutes in, they had the lead. A poor pass from Söyüncü failed to find Barnes, but the deflection fell to Chilwell. His ball found Barnes in acres of space, giving him the opportunity to spot Vardy on Fernandinho’s shoulder. Barnes gave him a perfect ball to run on to. The former Stockbridge Steels man bore down on Ederson and just lifted the ball over the keeper for his 17th Premier League goal of the season.
Manchester City were still well on top in terms of possession, passing, and creating chances, so it was no shock that they restored parity a few minutes later. Another long ball found Mahrez on the right wing. He cut inside on his left foot and fired a low drive towards goal that Schmeichel appeared to have well covered. It took a deflection off of Söyüncü, giving the Leicester stopper no chance of keeping it out.
I would like to report that Leicester reacted well to the goal, but I can’t because they didn’t. The visitors were in complete control of the match and carving out chance after chance.
The second goal finally came when a cross found Sterling isolated on Ricardo inside the penalty area. Ricardo knew his opponent well enough to know what was going to happen, but the former Liverpool man still managed to send the Portugal defender the wrong way, stand on his foot, and go down in a heap. Mike Dean blew for the penalty and Gündogan buried it.
Getting penalties for stepping on oppositions feet now. Go figure. #lcfc pic.twitter.com/Dysf50rSTQ— WTFox (@WTFox1884) December 21, 2019
Click the image. It’s pretty clear.
Maddison had an opportunity to level it just before the half, but Ederson got down well to save his shot at the far post. A goal would have flattered the Foxes who were second-best for the entire half and could count themselves fortunate to be down by a single goal at the break.
The second half started with the same cast, but it wasn’t quite as one sided. Both Cities struggled to carve out chances, although the hosts still looked the more likely. The match was less open, which also meant it got a little more contentious. Mike Dean had a perpetual scowl on his face as players on both sides protested their innocence and their opponents’ guilt.
Leicester carved out the first top chance of the match. It was, again, a long ball over the top to Vardy that opened up the Man City defense. His run took him wide to the right behind the defense and allowed him to send in a low, curling cross. Barnes made a run down the middle and got a touch to but couldn’t get it in target. To add insult to injury, Ederson arrived late, missed the ball entirely, and wiped Barnes out, injuring the Leicester winger in the process.
Rodgers made two rapid substitutions, sending Marc Albrighton on for the injured Barnes, and Demarai Gray for the uninjured but largely anonymous Ayoze. The changes didn’t have the immediate desired effect as it was the hosts extended their lead through an absolutely sublime move. De Bruyne carried the ball down the right channel, glided past a Söyüncü challenge, and crossed the ball to Jesus at the back post who had a simple tap-in for Manchester City’s third.
To be honest, there could have been more. Schmeichel made fines saves with either arm, while Söyüncü made one with, well, somewhere well south of his famous chin. With the Citizens rampant and looking like extending their lead, Rodgers made his last change, introducing Dennis Praet for Tielemans.
Things just sort of ran out of steam from there. The intensity went out of the match and neither side seriously threatened the other’s goal. Leicester were better in the second half, but it made no difference and, if I’m being perfectly frank, there could be no complaints with the result or the scoreline.
Strange match, huh? If you squint and pick at two key calls, you can imagine a scenario where Leicester City get a point out of this match. So, go do that for a moment, get it over with, and get it out of your head. We were poor, and Manchester City were the other thing, the opposite of poor. It’s just as easy to imagine a scenario where the hosts win by five because they were that good.
There were precisely two standout players for the Foxes today, one at either end of the pitch. Both Vardy and Schmeichel showed why they are absolutely essential to this team. Everyone else struggled, and no one more so than Brendan Rodgers. Last year, we won this fixture by playing a defensive 4-3-3 that protect the back four; this time around, Ndidi was left by himself to deal with the Mancunians’ movement and that just wasn’t going to happen today.
The defeat leaves Leicester City on 39 points from 18 matches, still good for 2nd on the table. We host leaders Liverpool on Boxing Day, then it’s off to London to face West Ham on the 28th, and up to Newcastle on New Year’s Day.