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Five things we learned from Leicester v Manchester City

Foxes may be third but it’s a long way to the top as Guardiola’s side showed them

Leicester City v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

1) Lookout above, that gap to the top is even bigger than we might have thought

There’s absolutely no shame in losing to a Manchester City team for whom a quadruple is still on the cards. As you’d expect from a Pep Guardiola team littered with world class players like Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero, they made it a very tough, unenjoyable afternoon as a Leicester City fan. They let Brendan Rodgers’ side have so little of the ball that the constant onslaught of attack ensured it always felt like a goal was coming for them, even if the Foxes defended well to get in at 0-0 at half-time. Defensive for ninety minutes isn’t our style though.

Our record against the traditional big six has been much improved lately. We even got one over Liverpool, showing our progression. There’ll be a lot to learn from the Manchester City defeat. It’s the least likely we have looked to impose ourselves and our natural style on a Premier League game in a while. It’s Manchester City so it’s not cause for alarm but it was frustrating. We’ve been rustling some teams and managers for a while in the way we’ve beaten them but this showed exactly why Guardiola is held in the regard he is tactically.

For context, while our bench looked the strongest it has for a while, James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira and Dennis Praet, we still had some academy products. As opposed to the Manchester City bench which was worth over a cool £200 million. Leicester City have improved a lot in the last five years. The manager, the calibre of players we can attract and having (pre Covid) some money to spend in transfer windows. This match was a reminder that progress is gradual for a club like ours. Something our newly promoted women’s team are about to explore more as they will take on some of the top teams next season.

In the race for the Champions League, this hopefully won’t haunt is too much as neither Chelsea or Tottenham picked up a win, protecting the points difference over them.

2) A tough afternoon unless your name is Wilfred Ndidi

Let’s take a minute to appreciate Wilfred Ndidi. It’s fair to say not many of our players got too much opportunity to show what they’re capable of in this game. On the rare occasions we did get the ball, there was always at least one Manchester City player snapping at the heels. However, Ndidi still looked entirely in his comfort zone. We already know he’s one of the best defensive midfielders, but his work on the ball lately is just so impressive. He’s really becoming that all around midfielder, and considering his partner is one too, the future of our midfield is bright!

To say Ndidi’s added to his overall game is an understatement. Perhaps we forgot because he’s already so good that given his age he will only keep getting better. His passing and touches on the ball continue to look more and more threatening offensively too. The ability to link up with countryman Kelechi Iheanacho isn’t doing him any harm either. We didn’t get a goal from them combining against Manchester City but they demonstrated their understanding. Assists weren’t typically part of his game before this season, perhaps that’s something that has improved by having the likes of Youri Tielemans next to him. Either way, he is becoming pretty unstoppable given all areas of his game are now covered.

Unfortunately Rodgers had to make the understandable but annoying call to substitute Ndidi. It didn’t help our already lost looking cause. The Nigerian was already on a yellow card though and with the refereeing quality (ahem), it was the wise choice. We really don’t need to be without Ndidi for any game at the minute. As he proved yesterday, he’s much more than just the powerful DM many pundits would reduce him to. Every manager wishes they had a player like Ndidi for whom football just looks so effortless.

3) Some fans may still be on the fence but Rodgers sees exactly what Ayoze Perez offers

A lot of talk pre-match was whether James Maddison would feature. If not a start, a substitution was guaranteed and when it seemed certain, the logical choice if you only looked at position would have been Ayoze Perez. Given the impact Ayoze has had in the last couple of games, and being one of the better players in the first half, it seemed less certain. Sure, we needed the potential creativity of Maddison, but Perez was having a great game.

Some won’t agree with Rodgers taking off in form Iheanacho but it did make sense with the way the game was going. Perez had arguably done more than most on the pitch and by withdrawing Iheanacho, it allowed the chance to push the Spaniard up the pitch and open up more of the spaces that Maddison loves to operate in. Perhaps it could have been Vardy instead of Iheanacho if you follow the media narrative that Vardy is not playing well. That narrative ignores that Vardy is in arguably the form of his Foxes career in terms of assists and overall play though.

Perez has been very impressive since his fight to return to fitness and help the team. He looks more aggressive in his play, not just by way of tackling but by getting a foot in to take the ball, pressing more to pressure mistakes. Manchester City aren’t a team who’ll make many of those so Perez was forced to come a little deeper and work that little bit harder. Something he does without complaint. It’s not especially sexy football at times and he isn’t netting twenty goals so it’ll never impress everybody but we need a player like Perez in a game like this. He often located space that others didn’t and was deserving of an assist at the least had we managed to find the back of the net in an onside position.

For a player that earlier in the season you wondered what the future held, he’s more than deserved his place in the starting lineup. So has Iheanacho though so it’ll be interesting to see how Rodgers solves this issue ahead of the next game.

4) The first game we’ve really missed Harvey Barnes in?

It says a lot about how committed and flexible this Leicester team are that despite being without him for six games now, this is possibly the first time we’ve all said ‘we really missed Barnes today’. Sure, getting the ball to him would have been a challenge, Guardiola’s men just did not let up, but he’s the lighting in a bottle player that has so often popped up exactly when we’ve needed him. Iheanacho has been superb at taking up that mantle in a different part of the pitch meaning our gap on the left hasn’t been quite so noticeable.

In letting Demarai Gray leave for Bayer Leverkusen we effectively halved our options on the left wing. The right call as it was tough to see that concluding happily for either party but we hadn’t predicted losing Barnes so quickly afterwards. It’s a position Marc Albrighton can occupy, but then he’s been deputising at right wing-back or on the right wing given the not so successful loan of Cengiz Under. Albrighton is such a useful player but he’s not Barnes. We have nobody who can do what the Englishman does.

His absence, and the return of our first-choice centre-backs has been a big influence in switching up the formation and allowing us to play both Vardy and Iheanacho, but again, the unpredictability and speed of Barnes could have been the something different we needed. Because we definitely needed something, Manchester City having been tactically outwitted at the Etihad opted for simply just not allowing us the ball at all as a solution. Often, even when teams haven’t wanted to do that, Barnes has only needed one sniff of it to carve something out.

As the pundits have proved, they still feel we’re the counter-attacking unit we were in 2015/16, which is a little reductive of the different systems and tactics Rodgers has utilised this season. It would have been nice to have shown that but it wasn’t to be. That we’re not the one trick pony and how much change we’ve incorporated into our play. It would be a bonus to have more options available again once Barnes is fit, which still seems to be a few weeks away.

5) Ah you thought we’d survived the international break unscathed? Hah!

This had looked like a fairly successful international break for the Foxes, nobody coming back injured and no forced isolation for those who had travelled. Unfortunately when rumours of Caglar Soyuncu having to isolate began circulating, it seems that we’re back to a good news-bad news week. Sure we got Ricardo and Madders back but oh wait, Soyuncu has tested positive for Covid. Argh!

Perhaps it comes from a club over country bias that I have, but the international breaks rarely seem to assist us. They generally always come at a time where we’ve built up momentum and looked impressive and we so rarely get all players back uninjured too. Sure, Soyuncu’s absence will be brief, hopefully, but it’s still not great timing. It merely highlights the why did we need it now question again, especially given we’re not exactly over a world pandemic yet.

The absence of our Turkish centre back meant a return to the sign for Daniel Amartey. It definitely presents us a different option. He’s less adept on the ball in terms of picking out a pass and setting us off on the attack than the Turk or Fofana. Defensively, he’s solid enough but when you’re playing a back three who will see lots of the ball, even if it’s just near them, we’re accustomed to expecting a little more. Rodgers clearly trusts him enough, he didn’t put too much of a foot wrong against Manchester City either, he’s not quite as well rounded as our other defenders, so it’s unclear quite what kind of future he has. Sure, he can play at full-back but we look so stacked in those positions.

Defensively, the Foxes were pretty resilient given what came their way, for the first hour at least. Kasper Schmeichel didn’t have to make as many saves as you may expect, so credit to the back-line for trying to shut down attacks or force long range, wayward efforts. It’s not quite as solid without Soyuncu, but Jonny Evans was as reliable as ever and Fofana never looked flustered. It was another turn at left-back for Timothy Castagne too. While he overall looks more convincing on the right, I was impressed with how he tried to get forward. Watching the replays of the disallowed Vardy goal, Castagne may well have been the better option had Ayoze spotted him. He seemed to cope better with the Riyad Mahrez onslaught than other left-backs have done too.

Bonus Learn: In more normal times, this weekend would have been a game of both celebration and reflection for all, as it marked Khun Vichai’s birthday. These games have long seen the club hand out free beers or cake to mark the day and I’m sure every player wished they could have claimed three points for him to be proud of. While it was a tough weekend for the men, the Leicester City women did the boss proud, taking three points and more importantly sealing their status as Champions! Congratulations to all involved, a brilliant campaign and they deserve their chance against the big sides next season.