Leicester City saw off a stubborn Burton Albion side by a score of 2-0 in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday evening. First-half goals from Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi seal the tie for the Foxes as the Brewers couldn’t muster a comeback in the goalless second period.
Manager Enzo Maresca made an incalculable number of changes to the lineup that defeated Coventry City in the season opener on Sunday (Note: It was “seven,” Jake. That is a very calculable number). The starting XI: Jakub Stolarczyk, Marc Albrighton (C), Wout Faes, Callum Doyle, James Justin, Hamza Choudhury, Wilfred Ndidi, Harry Winks, Dennis Praet, Wanya Marcal-Madivadua, Kelechi Iheanacho.
On paper, this looked like it might be a mismatch in spite of the much-changed lineup. In this case, what was on paper turned out to be pretty accurate. The Foxes dominated from the start, with Iheanacho not quite able to get on top of Albrighton’s cross, putting his header over the bar.
City had had their noses in front on just 6’. It was again Albrighton who was the provider, cutting inside from the right and chipped the ball towards the middle. Iheanacho stuck his left peg out and backheel-volleyed it past Burton keeper Jamal Blackman. My description doesn’t really do it justice.
This link is so going to get taken down, so enjoy it while you can.
The Brewers seldom got forward, but when they did, Faes aggressively led the line and ensured that Stolarczyk was a spectator for the first half. Having both Choudhury and Ndidi in the side ensured that the hosts never kept possession for any significant period of time. The Foxes held the ball for 80% of the time, and honestly, it felt like more than that.
In injury time, Iheanacho got free in the left channel. He was closed down just yards from the goal, so he flicked it back for the onrushing Ndidi. He took it first time, opening his foot to take it with his instep, and flicked it over the keeper and just inside the right post and under the bar to give City a 2-0 lead at the break.
GOAL! Wilfred Ndidi scores for Leicester!— Football View (@FootballViewYT) August 9, 2023
Sweet assist from Kelechi Iheanacho pic.twitter.com/N2HxqIXYD6
The finish was pretty sweet too...
The Foxes emerged unchanged from the tunnel at the Pirelli. The team may have been unchanged, but the pace dropped and quality dropped significantly. Rather than press for a quick goal to get back into the match, the hosts fell back and kept the Leicester attack at arm's length which made for less-than-scintillating football.
The gaffer (Maresca really does not look like a “gaffer,” does he?) made a double substitution just before the hour mark, introducing Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Ricardo Pereira for Ndidi and Winks. In case you were wondering, this put Ricardo in a holding role in central midfield. I expect we’re going to see quite a few unexpected shapes and roles in the early going.
Neither team did much interesting in their opponents’ final third, which suited the Foxes more than it did their opponents. There was a Puel-esque amount of possession for the men in blue, but an equally Puel-esque amount of progressive passing. Nonetheless, the clock was doing its bit and time was running out for Albion.
With a quarter-hour to play, Maresca withdrew Iheanacho for Kasey McAteer giving us a very Manchester City-ish false nine up top. City laid siege to the Burton goal for several long periods, but the siege was inevitably lifted when a long shot from outside the box sailed over the bar.
The Brewers had been saving their strength for a big push, and they finally started pushing forward in search of a lifeline. There were some nervy moments from set pieces when the Foxes characteristically struggled to clear their lines, but in the end, Stolarczyk didn’t have to make a single save. The whistle blew, and City were through to the second round.
That was...comfortable. You had the sense that we could have played another couple of hours and not conceded. That’s no slight to Burton Albion; the Foxes had a formidable number of players with Champions League experience at their disposal and that’s a big ask for a club in League One. Could we have been more incisive? Sure, but credit to the hosts for defending well.
There was a lot to like: Iheanacho is so ridiculously good, Ndidi was much sharper than he was against Coventry. Nigeria has been very, very good to us. Albrighton reminded us that you underestimate him at your peril, Choudhury showed why he was the best defensive midfielder in the Championship last year and hats off to James Justin for a fantastic performance. Wout Faes’ leadership at the back may have flown under the radar a little bit, but he kept the defence tight and was very much in command of every situation.
This being a cup match, the win makes leaves our position on the table unchanged. It does get us into the pot for the 2nd round draw...and that draw has already been made. We’re away to Tranmere Rovers, a club we haven’t faced since 2009. Next up for City is a trip to West Yorkshire to face Huddersfield Town this Saturday. After that, we host Welsh side Cardiff City on 19 August.