Leicester City lost a hard-fought battle against Manchester City by a score of 1-0 at the King Power Stadium in Saturday’s late match. Jamie Vardy hit the post in the first half but that was as close at Leicester came to scoring. Kasper Schmeichel saved a second-half Sergio Agüero penalty to keep the match level, but a late strike by substitute Gabriel Jesus doomed the Foxes to defeat.
With a recognized defensive midfielder, manager Brendan Rodgers was forced to get creative with the starting XI. He went with three at the back, with Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Christian Fuchs arrayed in front of keeper Kasper Schmeichel. Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell lined up as wingbacks flanking a three-man central midfield of Dennis Praet, Youri Tielemans, and James Maddison. The Foxes fielded two strikers, with Kelechi Iheanacho alongside Jamie Vardy up top.
After an early spell of possession by the visitors, the Foxes settled and started to carve out chances. A brilliant pass from the outside of Madder’s boot found Iheahancho alone in front of the Man City goal, but the Nigeria man’s touch was all manner of wrong and the chance was lost. Minutes later, a long ball out of midfield from Tielemans released Vardy behind the defense. His low strike beat Ederson, but the shot came back off the inside of the far post.
It wasn’t one-way traffic, not that that was ever in the cards against City. Marhez was allowed to drift inside and curl a ball towards goal, but Schmeichel was wise to it and turned it out for a corner. On the quarter-hour mark, Sergio Agüero tapped the ball to an unmarked Ilkay Gündogan ten yards from goal. The Turkey international fired a tame shot directly at the keeper when it might have been easier to score.
The visitors were absolutely bossing possession, but the chances were pretty even as the half hour mark approached. Iheanacho won a free kick in the D at the Man City end and Madders lined it up, but his effort struck the wall and bounced safely to the keeper. There were some half-hearted shouts for handball as De Bruyne raised his arms to protect his face, but nothing was given because there are few positions more natural than “trying to keep a free kick from hitting you in the nose.”
Maddison won the free kick himself the next time and his effort was significantly better, beating the wall and forcing Ederson to turn it out for a corner. Nothing came of it, but the Foxes were starting to look dangerous again after having been pinned back by the Citizens for a full five minute spell.
Moments later, a spectacular ball over the top found Iheanacho’s run into the box. Ederson came for the ball late and wiped out the former Man City man after the ball had gone. The striker was down on the pitch for four minutes receiving treatment but was ultimately able to carry on. The commentators felt it was a clear penalty, but neither the referee nor VAR were interested. More importantly, Iheanacho was able to carry on without any obvious impairment.
The visitors had the ball in the back of the net at the beginning of stoppage time. A Man City break saw De Bruyne slip the ball to Agüero. The Argentine goal machine turned and spun the ball off the far post and into the net, but he was a good yard offside. Moments later, Agüero was fouled by Söyüncü in a coming-together of the umlauts just outside the area. Mahrez lined up the free kick, but rifled it well wide. That was the last kick of the half that was probably a good one for the neutrals but a little frustrating for those of us who aren’t.
Perhaps Iheanacho wasn’t quite as unscathed as we had hoped. Rodgers hauled him off at the half and replaced him with Harvey Barnes. The move almost paid immediate dividends. From the opening kickoff, Barnes was able to beat Mendy on the right and drive all the way into penalty box, but his low cross to Vardy was picked off by Ederson when missing it would have resulted in a certain goal.
While Leicester were looking dangerous on the break, the Citizens were looking dangerous every time they touched the ball. From a Mahrez corner, the ball was cleared as far as the edge of the area. Gündogan fired in a drive that was blocked by Praet, or, more specifically, Praet’s elbow. The referee missed it, but VAR got the call right and the penalty was given. Agüero stepped up and blasted it down the middle, but Schmeichel did well to stop it with his knee and put it out for a throw.
It was breathless stuff at both ends as Vardy tried a spectacular volley from a Ricardo ball over the top but couldn’t quite get on target. Benjamin Mendy made a terrific run a played a one-two in the Leicester box but he couldn’t get around Evans and the chance was lost. Back in the visitors’ half, Barnes got free again on the right and picked out Ricardo’s run, but his first touch was poor and he failed to spot Tielemans on the penalty spot and the chance was lost.
A long ball down the left found Vardy who skipped away from Fernandinho and fired in a cross for Barnes, but it was too high. At the other end, the visitors finally broke the deadlock. It was Mahrez pulling the strings and drawing the defense to him with a run inside from the right. He laid it off for Gabriel Jesus who slipped in behind the defense and beat Schmeichel with a low strike. There was a hint of offside, but only in the sense that “La Croix has a hint of flavor” as Evans was just playing him on and the goal stood.
Brendan Rodgers responded by replacing with Dennis Praet with Matty James. It was marvelous to see Matty back on the pitch, but he wasn’t able to influence the action in any meaningful way. Just before injury time, Fuchs was hauled off for Ayoze Perez, but it wasn’t to be. Leicester couldn’t find a breakthrough and the whistle blew, leaving the Foxes with nothing to show for a solid effort against the Citizens.
I can only speak for myself here, but it’s my opinion that the referee and VAR got most of the big calls right. De Bruyne had his hands covering his face, Praet’s elbow was extended from his body even if he didn’t try to block the ball. It was close, but Jesus was clearly onside for his goal. I can’t find any serious fault with any of those calls.
However, for the second time this season, Ederson somehow got away with wiping out a Leicester player after the ball had gone. In the first match, he took out Harvey Barnes and the league’s explanation was that “the collision was inevitable”. This time, he attempted to punch the ball and missed, striking Iheanacho in the face instead. I haven’t heard the explanation for this one, but it’s kind of irrelevant. The use of replay in the Premier League has somehow made officiating more capricious and less transparent.
It’s unfortunate that we have to talk about this because it was a terrific game otherwise. There were plenty of attacks at both ends of the pitch and some fine last-ditch defending. I was worried about playing a different system against City, but the three centre-halfs all acquitted themselves well. As per usual, Ricardo was a force on the right, Madders was at the heart of everything good, and Vardy’s form looks to be thiiiiiis close (that’s me making a gesture indicating two things which are not far apart at all) to be back.
The defeat leaves with 50 points from 27 matches, third on the table 7 points behind Manchester City and 6 ahead of Chelsea. More importantly, the Foxes have a 10 point margin over Spurs for the final Champions League spot. We travel to Carrow Road to take on struggling Norwich City next Friday and then it’s back to the King Power for an FA Cup match against Birmingham City.