Leicester City topped Manchester City by a score of 5-2 at the Etihad this Sunday morning in one of the more...eventful...matches in recent memory. A first-half Jamie Vardy penalty cancelled an early Riyad Mahrez strike in a tense first period. The floodgates opened in the second half, with Vardy and Tielemans getting penalties and Vardy and Madders scoring some really special goals while Nathan Ake got one back for the hosts.
Won’t go home without them.
You’d think that the return of Jonny Evans would have eased manager Brendan Rodgers’ selection headaches, but with Wilfred Ndidi set to miss 12 weeks following surgery, today’s lineup had a looser, more improvisational feel to it. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back three of Jonny Evans, Daniel Amartey, and Çaglar Söyüncü. Timothy Castagne and James Justin lined up at wing back, flanking a midfield three of Dennis Praet, Nampalys Mendy, and Youri Tielemans. Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy lined up in a two-pronged attack. (Note: This is the formation the BBC announced. NBC had us in a 4-1-4-1 and ESPN suggested a 3-4-1-2. Your guess is as good as mine and at least as good as that of any of the networks.)
The match had only just begun when the hosts took the lead in absolutely spectacular fashion. The Cityzens won an early corner that was cleared by Justin in front of the net. It fell to an unmarked Riyad Mahrez on the edge of the area who took a step forward and lined up an unstoppable drive with his right foot. As the commentators noted, no two goalkeepers on the planet would have prevented it from nestling inside the far post. Just tip your hat; there was no preventing that one.
After the initial fireworks, the match settled into the pattern one would have anticipated prior to the opening whistle. Manchester City bossed possession and sought to break down the packed Foxes’ defense with the patience of an experience lock-picker. When Leicester regained possession, they attempted to break at pace through Vardy or, more often, Barnes.
Schmeichel was called into action around the 17’ mark as an intricate passing move between Kevin De Bruyne and Mahrez put Raheem Sterling one-on-one with the Danish stopper. The England striker’s low drive had plenty of power, but it was directly at the keeper and easily saved.
Leicester launched their first credible attack five minutes later. A reverse ball to Barnes gave him a chance to run at the defense, but Eric Garcia did well to put it behind for a corner. The ensuing effort was easily cleared, allowing the Cityzens to break at pace. Tielemans did the safe thing and wrapped up De Bruyne with both arms, taking the yellow but preventing the break. The Belgium midfielder delivered an inch-perfect ball to Fernandinho, but the centre-half directed his header directly to Schmeichel.
The match started to open up a little. Castagne laid a marvelous ball into the path of Vardy. The former England striker’s touch wasn’t quite right, but the ball fell to Justin unmarked on the left. He tried to pull the ball back for either Vardy or Barnes and only found Garcia when he would have been well-advised to shoot instead.
The hosts had the ball in the back of the net on the 35’ minute mark but Leicester were saved by the offside flag. Tielemans was again the culprit and De Bruyne again the provider. The ball was met by Rodri who planted it firmly past Schmeichel. The flag was up, however, as the former Atletico Madrid man was well offisde.
The Foxes were level moments later thanks to a fine pass by Barnes, a clever run by Vardy, and some lazy defending by Kyle Walker. Barnes held up the ball allowing Vardy to get back on to Walker’s shoulder. The ball was beautiful and Vardy was in, but the England right back pulled Leicester’s talisman back (although not nearly as much as Vardy’s fall would suggest). It was an obvious penalty and the referee didn’t hesitate to point to the spot. Ederson guessed correctly, but Vardy fired it over the outstretched keeper and into the back of the net.
Leicester ended the half, if not on the front foot, then at least on their feet. The Foxes won a late corner that was put behind for another corner. The referee then blew the which with only 50 seconds of the minute added on played because...reasons? In fairness, it is incredibly unlikely that Leicester would score from one or more additional corners, but we do need the practice, don’t we?
Man City had approximately 100% of the ball in the early going of the second half, with both Amartey and Söyüncü going into the book for fouls in the midfield. Pep Guardiola wasn’t happy with the lack of urgency in attack and withdrew Fernandinho in favor of 17 year-old striker Liam Delap. It was, however, the Foxes who would strike next, and what a strike it was.
Leicester had the ball in an advance position on right. Tielemans’ perfectly-weighted through ball found Castagne’s run and put him through absolutely alone. He fired in a low cross that found Vardy’s run to the near post. The former Fleetwood Town man let it run to his back heel and flicked it over the helpless Ederson for the cheekiest goal you’ll see until his next cheeky goal.
The Foxes were flying now, with Barnes testing Ederson from distance and forcing a good save out of the keeper. The ensuing corner came to nothing, but poor defending again gave Leicester a chance from the spot. A nothing ball into the box looked like it would be dealt with by Garcia, but Vardy dashed between the defender and the ball and allowed the defender’s momentum to bundle him over. Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Again, Ederson guessed correctly, but he couldn’t stop Vardy from tucking it in the right corner and completing his second hat trick at the Etihad.
I presume all those who moaned about the team news and moaned all through the first half have gone quiet? #lcfc— Jonathan (@JonathanLCFC) September 27, 2020
Your optimism is, as ever, appreciated.
This being Manchester City, the match was a long way from over. Benjamin Mendy fired in a marvelous cross from the left and Delap rose to meet it, but his header just clipped the top of the bar. The hosts were looking a threat every time down the pitch, but the defense were holding firm and growing in confidence.
Rodgers made his first change on the 68’ mark, introducing James Maddison in favor of Dennis Praet. Praet was carrying a knock coming in to the match and was clearly hobbling as he came off. It was still Manchester City carrying the majority of the threat at this point. De Bruyne fired in a low cross that just missed Sterling’s run between the Leicester defenders. At the other end, Barnes was allowed to carry ball all the way into the box unmarked. His shot had plenty of power, but lacked placement presuming that he wasn’t aiming directly for the keeper.
Remember James Maddison? I mean the real James Maddison, the one who doens’t hesitate to try ridiculous things and somehow manages to pull them off? That James Maddison chose today to make his return. There was nothing on when Mendy slipped him the ball on the left wing. The former Norwich City man drifted inside and lined up his shot, a beautiful curling effort that found the corner at the far post and left Ederson no chance.
Rodgers made his next change, with Evans limping off and Christian Fuchs manning the left side of the back three. The Foxes need to hold on for another seven minutes, but they weren’t helped when Mendy clipped Mahrez’ heels on the edge of the box. Sterling’s free kick was poor and put out for a corner, which Mahrez delivered to Nathan Ake who buried his free header from close range.
Kelechi Iheanacho brought some fresh legs into the match, replacing the also-limping Vardy. The hosts were breaking every time they got the ball, but the Foxes’ defense and once again poor defending let Manchester City down. A through ball to Madders in the box saw Benjamin Mendy make a silly challenge that once again was embellished by the Leicester player. Tielemans sent the keeper the wrong way and restored Leicester’s 3-goal lead.
The Foxes were able to see out the remaining 8 minutes plus injury time without any notable incidents, which surely suited Brendan Rodgers just fine. Michael Oliver blew the final whistle and, incredibly, Leicester were 5-2 winners at the Etihad in a game in which they trailed after four minutes.
That was ridiculous. Brendan Rodgers deserves massive credit for getting the tactics right and you have to question the Manchester City defense’s plan for handling balls behind and the substitution of Fernandinho. But, you have to credit the Foxes for getting so many players behind the defense and for seldom allowing the Manchester City attackers space to create.
This marked the first time a Guardiola team has ever surrendered five goal at home. It’s the first time a Premier League team has ever scored three penalties. Jamie Vardy’s hat trick was only the third ever scored against Guardiola’s City, putting him in the esteemed company of Lionel Messi and....Jamie Vardy. The Foxes somehow scored five goals in spite of having only 28% of the possession. I could go on, but you get the idea: This isn’t the sort of match that happens very often unless you’re Leicester.
The victory gives the Foxes 9 points from 3 matches which would be hard to improve upon. Leicester remain top of the table thanks to a +8 goal differential. We host West Ham United next Sunday and then Aston Villa travel to the King Power on Saturday the 17th.