Looking to benefit from the infamous ‘new manager bounce’, Leicester City travelled to the Etihad Stadium for Saturday’s late kickoff. Dean Smith, John Terry and Craig Shakespeare’s first challenge in charge of the Foxes wouldn’t be an easy one, as they faced an in-form Manchester City side battling for the title.
MCI: Ederson; Laporte, Dias, Stones; B. Silva; Rodri; Grealish, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Walker; Haaland
LEI: Iversen; Kristiansen, Soyuncu, Souttar, Faes, Castagne; Tielemans, Dewsbury-Hall, Ndidi; Vardy, Maddison
Any hopes that Leicester may have had of picking up a shock result at the Etihad were dealt a major blow early on, as John Stones fired home from a well-worked set piece to send the hosts into the lead. The Foxes hadn’t cleared City’s corner very well at all, and Stones picked the ball up on the edge of the box – rifling a thunderous finish into the back of the net.
Pep Guardiola’s side were presented with an opportunity to double their lead soon after, as Jack Grealish’s cross into the penalty area clipped Wilfred Ndidi’s hand. After a fairly quick review of the pitchside monitor, Darren England awarded the hosts a chance from twelve yards out, with Erling Haaland duly fired home. It had well and truly been a nightmare start for the Foxes.
Leicester’s first real chance of the game came around the twenty minute mark, as Kieran Dewsbury-Hall played in James Maddison on the edge of the area, but the latter’s shot was blocked. Jamie Vardy looked to get on the scoresheet moments later, working his way around Ederson before crashing a shot into the side netting – though the striker was offside anyway.
Manchester City made it three in the 25th minute though, and it really was looking like they’d pick up a landslide victory at the Etihad as Erling Haaland found the back of the net for his second goal of the day. Just as Leicester were starting to grow into the game, Kevin De Bruyne regained possession from Ndidi before playing in the Norwegian striker with a beautiful through ball. Haaland was as composed as ever, taking a touch out to the left before timing his strike to perfection, leaving Daniel Iversen stranded with no chance.
The Foxes didn’t give up there though, and looked to reduce the deficit as James Maddison sought to link up with Vardy and Dewsbury-Hall. Maddison opted to cut inside from the left and fire an effort towards the far post, but it took a deflection en-route and was dealt with effectively by the City defence.
Ultimately though, they weren’t able to do so – and Dean Smith’s first half-time team talk in charge of the Foxes would be a very difficult one. Both sides made changes up front at the break, and Haaland’s withdrawal should have offered the visitors some respite in the second half, though when the replacement was someone of Julián Álvarez’s quality, that was unlikely to happen.
The second half started in a fairly slow manner, but City were still in complete control of the game. Leicester never really looked like scoring in truth, and were in danger of conceding a few more as Jack Grealish looked to fire home from a corner – but the winger sent his shot over the crossbar.
Leicester looked vulnerable from set pieces, and could have conceded a fourth goal as City took a short corner that eventually found Riyad Mahrez on the edge of the area – with the Algerian forcing a magnificent save from Daniel Iversen who did well to tip the ball over the bar.
The Foxes did claw one back with fifteen minutes left to play though, as Harry Souttar rose highest following a Leicester corner – and while Ederson was able to parry the Australian’s effort away from goal, he could only clear it as far as Kelechi Iheanacho who made no mistake with his finish.
They could have bagged a second soon less than five minutes later, as Iheanacho was left in acres of space on the edge of the box. The Nigerian worked his way past Ruben Dias before firing a shot towards goal, though it sailed just over the crossbar. City had began to look a little complacent in the final stages of the game, and if they weren’t careful, they could easily slip up against this resilient Leicester side.
James Maddison had another opportunity to reduce the deficit with five minutes left to play, running through on goal- but the Englishman opted to shoot rather than squaring it to Iheanacho who would have had an open goal to fire into.
The Foxes thought they should have been awarded a penalty in the dying minutes, as Eric Garcia looked to have handled the ball inside the penalty area following Wout Faes’ diving header. After a VAR appeal, it was judged that the Spaniard’s hand wasn’t in an unnatural position – so City managed to get away with that one.
Kelechi Iheanacho could have scored his second of the game in injury time, though his strike rattled against the far post! The Foxes felt they could have been awarded a penalty soon after, as James Maddison’s run into the box was brought to an abrupt end following a challenge – though that wasn’t given either.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of positives to take from the second half for Leicester City. They managed to avoid conceding – and in the final twenty minutes or so, they were arguably the better side. If Dean Smith’s backroom staff can manage to build on this performance, the Foxes may well replicate their infamous Great Escape from the 2014/15 season – and we all know what happened the following season!