With the exception of the Community Shield, recent match-ups between Leicester City and Manchester City have only really ended one way, with one team battering the other. It’s just a case of whose turn it is that makes predicting this fixture incredibly tricky, though fortune currently favours the away side based on the last four games. And even more surprising that this instance played out on a Saturday at 3pm instead of live in the UK. A 1-0 was a previously rare outcome, but this made two in a row, so, what did we learn?
1) Foxes put up their best performance yet for the season, a shame then that it was against the world class player conveyer belt that is Manchester City
I left the King Power frustrated at first, feeling we deserved more than a 1-0 loss. Then I remembered that Manchester City had the luxury of not starting Raheem Sterling, didn’t even want to use Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden and started their new, one hundred million pound man, Jack Grealish. The fact that we were defensively resilient and only lost by one is not so bad. Not to mention when we invite that much pressure for that long with the players Pep Guardiola has at his disposal, you’d be hard pressed to shut them out for a whole game.
This was easily the best performance we’ve seen this season. Despite struggling to get out of first gear, West Ham aside, we’d managed to pick up points regardless. It wasn’t perfect against Manchester City, but it was better. It was the most solid our defence has looked, early signs that Vestergaard is a perfect addition. It was a welcome return to his former self too for Caglar Soyuncu, perhaps the midweek red card for Turkey was the catalyst after a challenging start to the campaign.
While we looked more assured at the back, this was a jarring performance going forward. Life is tough enough trying to attack Guardiola’s side when Ruben Dias and Ederson are there, but we stuttered in the final third. A couple of key chances aside and the disallowed goal, our balls in the final third were disappointing. We’ve had quite a static starting set of players in attack, and the signs are now pretty clear that it might be time to try a different approach.
2) Jannik Vestergaard made the best of a tough call for Brendan Rodgers
The decision to substitute Vestergaard during the second half and bring on Jonny Evans was met with a mixed response in the King Power. Some seem to think it was a mistake on the part of Rodgers and his staff, but was there much choice? Evans has been back in training for around a week, and hasn’t played in any match this season. Vestergaard is recently back from injury and is still new to this Leicester team. Given our short supply of any other centre-backs and the fact that Daniel Amartey and Caglar Soyuncu have not particularly partnered up effectively, what other options were there? Given the Europa League is looming, probably best we don’t re-break another defender.
Live footage of Jannik Vestergaard in the first half pic.twitter.com/eQfSGton5E— Owynn Palmer-Atkin (@OwynnPA) September 11, 2021
Despite not being able to play for ninety minutes, Vestergaard was pretty outstanding in the minutes he was on the pitch. He seems to bring the stability and balance that Soyuncu needs in a defensive partner and the two were able to deal with almost everything Manchester City threw at us, Kasper Schmeichel picking up on the rare occasions they couldn’t. Vestergaard’s aerial presence and movement were alert to all threats, but his key moment may have been a diving header to clear the ball away. Everybody knows the way to a football fan’s heart is a strong, diving header.
The Dane has the leadership qualities akin to Evans that may well have contributed to why Soyuncu looked more assured than in previous games. While he may still be adjusting to getting to know our players, he has the advantage of knowing Schmeichel’s style of play and expectations for his defenders. Most importantly, he’s calm and he’s not afraid to play the ball if needed, but he’s just as adept at throwing himself at the ball. We had a number of blocks between our centre-backs.
It’s going to feel pretty great when we have all four centre-backs fully fit because there’s an argument for which partnership, or trio given Rodgers likes a back three, works best depending on our opponents. Having that option is going to feel akin to a lottery win after makeshift partnerships for two seasons.
3) Where Youri Tielemans is concerned, fan expectation is huge
Never underestimate expectation for how you, or somebody else, perceives something. Perhaps we’re best comparing Youri’s performance against Manchester City to a long awaited Hollywood film. Say the next James Bond. It’s probably going to be Daniel Craig’s last, it’s got a Hans Zimmer score and it’s been super delayed. People went from hyped to bored of waiting, to incredibly hyped as the release date looms. If it’s not great, these people will be disappointed and instead of saying it’s good, they’ll only remember their disappointment. It wasn’t a trademark Youri performance, but there’s been a lot of people commenting that he looked off his game, which doesn’t feel entirely accurate.
I take no joy in typing this, the same as it was no fun watching Youri lose the ball and misstep a few times against Manchester City, but he wasn’t his typical, near excellent self. Put it down to just one of those games, fatigue (I can’t believe the amount of games he’s played versus rest he’s had since 2019) or the ongoing transfer speculation, we’ll never know. Leicester fans generally perceive it as a disappointing game for him. Yet, our opponents’ fans generally seem to be admiring him. This thread in particular caught my eye and made me reassess some of the moments in the game. He wasn’t perfect, but given the level he usually operates at, perhaps expectation is clouding how we’re seeing his game.
Leicester’s best chance of the 1st half comes after Soyuncu and Castagne are cornered. Soyuncu finds a pass into Tielemans who, under pressure from Cancelo, back-heels it beautifully down the line to Albrighton. His pass over the top leads to an excellent Ederson save 5/ pic.twitter.com/npe9NictaU— Man City Tactics (@city_tactics) September 13, 2021
The role Tielemans plays is also very dependent on what’s happening ahead of him. Yes, he’s a creative player, but he’s not afraid to sit back and do some of the defensive work, or to be the outlet for our defenders, as proven above. Depending on the position of the likes of Harvey Barnes and James Maddison, he may opt to sit further back than rush forward. Helpful when your opponents are Manchester City. He was also unlucky that some of his best moments didn’t lead to a goal. A couple of through balls were very promising but Jamie Vardy was offside.
A little like Leicester’s general start, our midfield duo of Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi haven’t quite demonstrated their usual level yet, but then with our defense struggling in all previous games, their jobs have been made harder by the need to chase back more. Do we expect too much? Possibly. I’m not saying they are exempt from criticism, I just wonder if in the moment, we aren’t looking at the bigger picture, or the demands of a particular game. Given that some people in our own fanbase don’t rate Ndidi at all, it can be a little concerning!
First Leicester fan I've ever seen who doesn't rate Ndidi— _ (@LCFCshitposting) September 11, 2021
I didn't think it was possible https://t.co/8YBFjTHqY8
4) Kelechi Iheanacho and Ademola Lookman’s instant impact should be enough to earn them both a start
How much can you really learn from a seventeen minute debut? Not much but when Ademola Lookman’s contribution was instant and almost gave us an equaliser, it’s hard not to be a little excited. Combining pace and a willingness to get things going, Lookman made for an exciting debut. Against a different team without the likes of an Ederson in goal, it could have been a much happier cameo too. Lesser goalkeepers would not have been so quick to rush out. Had it gone in, he would have been thanking Kelechi Iheanacho for a gorgeous through ball.
Lookman got a decent enough reception when he was substituted which is pleasing, given the underwhelming response his signing attracted. Perhaps we’re just cautious about loans given some of the recent spells that haven’t worked out. He looks to offer some balance though, and additional speed on whichever wing we choose to deploy him. It was understandable not to start him given how much time he’s had with the full squad (those dang international breaks!) but when he managed to do more than some players did in three times the minutes, he must be pushing for a start. Particularly when we’re about to head into two game weeks for the next month.
You have to feel for Iheanacho again too. Despite his impact last season, and some very favourable statistics, now that Harvey Barnes is fit again, it feels like Rodgers is less keen to play two up top. To the detriment of Iheanacho, Daka and our general creativity if Saturday is anything to go by. With James Maddison reduced to a passenger again, and looking very off the pace, it really feels like we have to change something up. We looked brighter and better for having Iheanacho and Lookman on the pitch. It’s a shame they got less than twenty minutes to try and change proceedings.
Only Harry Kane has scored more Premier League goals in 2021 than Kelechi Iheanacho’s 12.— GoalScorer Challenge ⚽️ (@GoalscorerC) September 13, 2021
Yet Iheanacho has only played 67 minutes so far this season. He must be getting annoyed. pic.twitter.com/JnMlb08YTs
He isn’t the only one getting annoyed.
5) Much work to be done in the final third
Much as there’s some positives to be had from the performance, the biggest area for work was in our delivery and play in the opposition box. So many times we broke forward, or had somebody in a great position, only to make the wrong decisions, run out of steam and give the ball away, or fire a pretty poor ball into the box that was all too easy for Ederson to deal with. Our creative players weren’t quite where we needed them to be.
It’s tough to analyse Harvey Barnes. On balance, his header that went off the bar was our best chance and unlucky not to go in, but he did squander another opportunity and wasn’t quite as effective down the wing as usual. That said, Guardiola implied the focus had been on keeping him and Jamie Vardy out of it as much as possible. Fitness doesn’t seem to be the issue, but there’s an argument for him still recovering his match sharpness after a pretty serious injury. He at least tried to make some runs and move us forward. It feels like for him it’s a matter of time until it clicks, rather than a serious issue.
Harvey Barnes was useless again today, but his name isn't James Maddison, so you won't hear about it.— Chris (@Chris89Bennett) September 11, 2021
Feels a little harsh when he came closest to notching a goal...
A little tougher then to diagnose quite why it isn’t happening for Maddison. Plenty of mutterings about ‘head’s at Arsenal’ were overhead in the King Power and it was difficult hearing him get booed off when substituted for Iheanacho. Whether you choose to read it as a lack of effort or that he’s just missing that spark, booing never feels like a solution. It does feel like somebody else deserves a start in that position against Napoli though. At times, Maddison made a better impact player from the bench and it might ease the pressure from some of the less happy part of the fanbase.
Bonus Learn: Bringing this back where there’s something deserving of it and Filbert the Fox’s move entirely deserves this. Leicester and Jack Grealish have a past, one he started with that Ricardo injury but getting trolled by somebody in a fox costume is pretty entertaining. So if you’ve not seen it already, check out our mascot channeling his or her inner Jamie Vardy.