Leicester City pushed title-chasers Manchester City to the limit Monday night at the Etihad, but left with none of the spoils. A Vincent Kompany wonder-goal provided the margin in an engaging match that leaves the Citizens one win from repeating as Premier League champions.
Manager Brendan Rodgers kept faith with the starting XI who beat Arsenal 3-0 last week. One thing that this season has taught us is that formations are a very fluid thing and not always suited a simple three-number description. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a four-man defense of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chiwell. After that it gets dicey. Wilfred Ndidi and Hamza Choudhury were the defensive midfielders, with Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, and Marc Albrighton in attack, or defense, or all over the pitch. Jamie Vardy was the lone attacker, which was both good and proper.
The match started at the sort of tempo you’d expect of a match that had the potential to determine the Premier League’s top spot. Manchester City were the epitome of control and patience in possession, while the Leicester were all dogged defense and fast breaks. Both clubs looked a little nervy in a way that totally befitted the occasion.
The first important decision referee Mike Dean (and he always seems to like to make them) was a penalty appeal for the hosts. The Citizens worked the ball deep into the Leicester area to Raheem Sterling. The ball caromed off of Sterling, then Evans, then Sterling’s arm, then Evans’ arm, then Evans’ other arm. Dean chose to make no call, which seemed reasonable given the amount of arms the ball struck, but it could easily have been called.
The traffic wasn’t strictly one way, but the hosts were starting to find the range. The Foxes’ defense did well to block several shots in a row before forcing Manchester City to settle for a corner. Schmeichel did incredibly well to claw an Aguero header off the line when it seemed impossible for him not to score. Shortly after, Sterling was in again, but a last ditch tackle by Ndidi saved the day.
Leicester were able to counter several times, each down the right through Albrighton and Ricardo, but there were never enough bodies in the box to produce a scoring opportunity. The Foxes were defending in numbers and trying to make Manchester City beat them with long shots and it was, for the most part, working. Schmeichel had to make 3 saves during the half, but only the one on Aguero was dangerous. At the break, neither side had been able to break down the other.
The nerves were still on display for all to see at the start of the second period. Defending a rare Leicester foray forward, David Silva, already on a yellow, swung a wild boot that missed the ball entirely but caught Albrighton instead. Dean blew for the foul but kept his cards in his pocket. Shortly after, a high ball into the box found Sterling unmarked in front of Schmeichel’s goal, but he headed over instead from close range when scoring would have been easier.
On only 55’, Pep Guardiola made his first move, withdrawing Phil Foden for Leroy Sane because apparently the Citizens didn’t have enough scoring options on the pitch. Leicester were looking a bit ragged at this point, with slightly more desperate tackles and struggling to get out of their own area. Ilkay Gundogan had a wide-open net to shoot at from outside the box, but curled the ball just wide.
The Foxes had a golden chance to take the lead on a rare break by...Harry Maguire? Yes, Maguire carried the ball out of defense past Aguero and down the left flank, then past Gundogan like he wasn’t even there. He centered the ball for Madders who went for glory instead of laying it off for a wide-open Albrighton. He got plenty on the shot but it was always going wide.
Harry Maguire you beautiful stallion pic.twitter.com/YgO7PmYl2c— michael (@MichaelEFranca) May 6, 2019
Watch this video while it’s still up. Things this beautiful should be free for all to see, but we don’t make the rules...
Disaster struck for the Foxes on the 70’ mark through the most unlikely of characters. Vincent Kompany picked up the ball 35 yards out and, as no one closed him down, he ambled forward and tried his luck from distance. His luck was very, very good as he curled a rocket in off the crossbar that no keeper on this planet could have hoped to have saved. Credit where it is due: That was an incredible shot, worthy of Messi and Ronaldo and Vardy.
Leicester now had a hill to climb, and they would have to climb it without their talisman Tielemans. Rodgers sent Harvey Barnes on to replace the we-hope-ever-so-badly-future-permanent-Leicesteer-player on 74’. The Foxes carved out a half-chance, with the ball ricocheting off of couple of 50/50 challenges and falling to Albrighton, but his snap-shot was directly at Ederson and easily saved.
On 80’, Rodgers made his second role of the dice, sending Kelechi Iheancho on for Maddison. It may seem odd to remove one of your top offesnive players when you need a goal, but Madders had worked his socks off and there just wasn’t anything left in the tank. On 85’, the similarly-out-of-gas Albrighton was withdrawn for Demarai Gray.
The Foxes should have been level on 87’. It really was that close. Choudhury won back a misplaced pass in the host’s half. With Vardy screaming for the ball, he instead played a perfect ball for Iheanacho, who had only Ederson to beat. The former Citizen took the ball well, but swept it wide of the post when you’d have expected him to at least test the keeper. That would be the last serious threat to the Citizens’ lead as the defending champions ran out 1-0 winners.
Hell of a match.
It is frustrating to have played this well, this long, against this level of competition and have nothing to show for it, but it happens sometimes. Against Manchester City, it happens a lot. This is a really, really good Leicester side and I fully expect us to be knocking on the door of the “Big 6” next year if we can keep this squad together.
Iheanacho is not match fit. He gets ten minutes here and there. His confidence is rock bottom. Ridiculous to slate the lad for fluffing one chance. #lcfc— Jonathan (@JonathanLCFC) May 6, 2019
How good were the Leicester players? Even in defeat, the top two players on whoscored.com were Foxes: Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo. The entire XI should feel good about their performance, but I suspect they won’t. And honestly, that pleases me. We’re to the point now where a close defeat to a top club doesn’t feel like a “moral victory.” We’re good enough now to make life really unpleasant for them and take points from them when we’re clicking.
There’s only match left now: On Sunday, we host Chelsea in a match that won’t have much meaning to either side as the Blues have qualified for the Champions League and our faint Europa League hopes are officially over. Still, tune in to see what will likely be the last performance in a Leicester shirt by some of the heroes of 2015/16, as well as the final match this year for some of the heroes of 2019/20.