1) Brendan Rodgers, take a bow, the tactics were perfect
The praise after a 5-2 win at the Etihad against a Pep Guardiola side will always go straight to the team and their performance. Kudos then to Brendan Rodgers for how he devised the tactics. It’s something he’s not got right before against a Guardiola side, see last December where we were rightly mauled by Manchester City. That day we fell for every single trap they put out. This time around, we had them exactly where we wanted them; reduced to long range efforts and a lot of frustration.
Rodgers’ lineup and tactics were criticised by some prior to kick-off. Social media jumped on this again when Riyad Mahrez opened the scoring, but it just needed a little patience. The Foxes took the first quarter or so of the game to ease into their instructions and with the three centre-backs. Who entirely knows if it was a back three, four or five? It worked though. We limited the chances Guardiola’s side had and put more than a decent amount of pressure on their back-line with just 28% possession of the ball. We know better than most that it’s what you do with your percentage, not the amount. None embody that theory more than hattrick hero, Jamie Vardy. Suspect he might haunt Pep’s dreams again.
Rodgers has opened himself up for criticism with previous tactics and substitutions, see Bournemouth away after the restart, but this was perfectly executed from the lineup, the changes he made and the instructions he deployed. Especially considering the starting eleven missed three of our key players in Wilfred Ndidi, James Maddison and Ricardo Pereira.
Anybody remember that gif that bounced around last season, the one where Brendon looks thrilled to be grabbed by Pep after we’d lost? I imagine he had that in mind when enjoying orchestrating this victory.
2) A performance that puts Daniel Amartey’s injury hell firmly behind him
It was hard to know whether to call out Jamie Vardy, Nampalys Mendy’s performance or Daniel Amartey. Amartey gets the nod purely because it could have been so different after such an extended absence and we always talk about Vardy (he’s so good it’s impossible not to). Starting his first Premier League game in two seasons, at Man City too, is no small feat. It’s fantastic just to see him back out there but that he looked pretty good overall is even more pleasing.
The Foxes had to employ a somewhat makeshift back-line again, any short term happiness of having Jonny Evans back was soured by him limping off again. Amartey hasn’t played centre-back often for us, but it was a solid ninety minutes from the Ghana international. He, like a couple, had a slightly less assured opening ten minutes but settled into the role and to the side.
With no new centre-back on the immediate horizon, and another possible injury spell for Evans, it must be reassuring to all that Amartey looks stronger and more confident with each minute. Plus who doesn’t enjoy a good comeback story?
3) The Belgians are more than alright...again!
Saying that Dennis Praet was less influential against Man City than his compatriots implies that he had a bad game. He didn’t, (I’m biased enough to suggest he is incapable) prior to him hobbling off, but it tells you a lot about just how great Youri Tielemans and Timothy Castagne were that he didn’t have as much impact. The trio are proving absolutely instrumental in almost every piece of build-up play this season though.
Against Man City, we got peak Tielemans. The one we first loaned, in all his smiley, hand-heart-making glory. He followed up two impressive outings already with a performance that, were it not for our talisman Vardy, probably would have merited the Man of the Match award. A sublime piece of play with Castagne before another perfectly weighted through ball helped set up Vardy’s cheeky middle goal and he seemed to have the right mix of defensive duty and creative outlet.
All Leicester fans have experienced the feeling where you watch a new signing have an incredible debut, they get all the plaudits and then it’s generally downhill from there. Castagne is not going to be one of those players. His transfer fee looks more of a bargain with every passing game. I’m sure the stats would tell me otherwise but it felt like he spent the entire ninety running into the Man City box and causing all kinds of problems.
Kevin De Bruyne has posters of Youri Tielemans on his bedroom wall pic.twitter.com/3OAWpPBv4X— BlueWombat (@KoloSZN) September 28, 2020
4) We finally look like a team that isn’t missing Riyad Mahrez
It’s impossible not to miss Mahrez sometimes, see that thunderbolt opening goal, but dare I say it...we finally look like a team who don’t miss Mahrez. Having sold him in 2018, it’s about time. It’s not just in this game that it’s felt that way. Our attacking play so far this campaign is back to previous levels of excitement and creativity. The goals are coming from all areas of the pitch and we’ve got various players who can supply Vardy in the way that the Algerian used to.
We’re not limited to just one or two players making things happen either. Even Mendy was involved in some of the more forward play at the Etihad, one particular ball through to Harvey Barnes stands out. With the threats from fullback in Castagne and Justin, Barnes and his pace, plus the ongoing relationship he’s building with Vardy, we have that bit of spark back. Topped off by the ever-underrated (outside of Leicester) Jamie Vardy.
We’ve even had the luxury of not having to rush back James Maddison following his injury. His cameo from the bench made headlines, rightly so as well, his solo goal was outrageous. It was the ideal mix of some great awareness and a brilliant strike on his part, and foolishness on the part of the City defenders to not close him down at all.
5) It’s probably not going to be another 2015/16 but we’ve got people rattled
Step up Pep and Rodri. This circles us back to the first lesson here, which is that not only did we get it tactically spot on, but it really rustled the home side. Jamie Vardy is our prime suspect where rustling is concerned. It’s really his world isn’t it, we just live in it. He admitted that part of our gameplay was to frustrate them. Based on post-match interviews from both, cross another thing off that pre-match checklist.
For Rodri to imply that Rodgers’ side came to the Etihad to put eleven men behind the ball is a little insulting, and maybe naive. A lot of sides will travel to the Etihad knowing that whatever they do creatively, they have a lot of defending to do. The Foxes though had plenty of attacks, some really well worked pieces of football thrown in. We took it to them when we could.
Guardiola is a little closer to the mark in talking about counter-attacking, but it’s hardly something new or revolutionary for a Leicester City side containing Jamie Vardy. As we know from previous campaigns, if that’s our only tactic, sides know how to stop it.
Let’s be realistic, this probably isn’t going to be another 2015/16 in terms of sustained surprise across a full season, but it’s nice to know we’ve still got it.
Bonus Learn: It’s not often Foxes fans have reason to be mad at our club and the way it’s fun. Recent ticket controversy aside, they’re generally easy to back, have a lot of likeable players. Maddison holding up a t-shirt honouring the late club doctor, Stuart Birtwhistle, was a perfect example of why. The one big family message gets spoken of a lot, but moments like that make it more believable. Classy touch from Madders.