The end of the season is a grand old time to revisit key matches of the past year, and a match which featured two of the stories of the season were Leicester’s Claudio-culling tumble down the table, and Pep Guardiola’s struggles at Manchester City. Pep’s face on the side-line was usually of a man who’d just come out of the Total Perspective Vortex and seen his own, miniscule place in the universe. With the hype he’s received for over a decade, it must have been a real shock to him.
Leicester scored twice in 5 minutes. In one sense, it was unfortunate that they conceded twice from the first two chances of the game. On the other, John Stones didn’t seem to realise that allowing passes past oneself as a central defender is a bad thing; Claudio Bravo was so reminiscent of a hologram that he may actually have been played by Andy Serkis; and City apparently hadn’t been aware of a throw-in routine which Leicester had been executing throughout their whole title-winning season.
Still, they were playing Pablo Zabaleta as a false full-back on the right, so what could go wrong?
They had 85 minutes to overhaul a 2-0 deficit, and, before the match, a bet on City winning two or three to nothing wouldn’t have been a bad one. This was Leicester, for goodness sake, and not even good Leicester.
Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy started up-top together, a strike duo which rarely clicked outside of this match. Somehow, Pep managed to make Slimanivardy play well together. It really is magical what he can do from the dugout, and I hope, for Mrs Guardiola’s sake, that Pep is as selfless a lover as he was to Leicester’s line-up.
Leicester were also playing Andy King and Daniel Amartey as their central midfield, neither of whom played particularly well during their spell as starters during the winter. Throughout their time playing together, they struggled with movement between the lines behind them, which was generally exploited. David Silva though, ever the gracious Achilles-scraper, took the bold move to avoid this area wherever possible and Kelechi Iheanacho, who could have dropped into this space, didn’t.
Guardiola’s made some bizarre decisions over the course of the season so far be it for me to second guess his mind, but it’s presumably because of this sort of thing that Pep stopped playing him.
For a man so tied to the concept of sound defensive structure and Positional Play, it’s quite amazing that no-one on Pep’s team was in position to track Riyad Mahrez’s run for Leicester’s third goal. Kolarov meanwhile, tracking Vardy in the middle, was as fast as 1920s Internet, although City were unfortunate that Mahrez’s assist was the best pass made in the entirety of 2016. By God it was fantastic, a first touch pass from an 80-yard long ball perfectly weighted into Vardy’s path.
City only got going after 32 minutes, following a brief spell of time following Leicester’s third goal when Guardiola decided to make like 2015 UK politics and desert the left-wing entirely. There were times when there were no City players at all to the left of the central strip of the pitch, in what would have been a way to stretch the play. Things got so bad at one point that Fernando took up a position at left-wing, and that’s not even a joke (well… ).
Even so, there was precious little movement between the lines and it looked exactly like a side who were being taught the tenets of Positional Play, but didn’t get it yet. Like a student aware of the structural aspects of an essay but still, essentially, giving the sample answer word-for-word.
As the ball moves across the pitch, the defending team moves as a structure in response. Moments, excitement, problems happen when opposition players make a counter-move, going left when the defence goes right, dropping into holes laterally or vertically. City looked like they were shadow-defending their own on-ball movements.
They were at least more balanced in the second half, with Jesus Navas switched to the left, him and Zabaleta offering consistent options out wide on opposite flanks. There was gradual growth, interspersed with Guardiola being confused about whether he wanted to play Yaya Toure as a big-man-up-top or as a no-legs-midfielder (take a wild guess at which he settled on).
Stones’ no-look pass to a goalkeeper who wasn’t there – actually wasn’t there, rather than just generally being absent from his duties – added further embarrassment to the scoreline, goal-line tech giving the fourth goal.
Kolarov hit a consolation free-kick, and then, y’know what, City actually created a couple of decent chances in injury time. Cut-backs from the left into Nolito, in consecutive minutes, yielded two shots and one goal. Guardiola is usually ahead of the curve, but in this match his side turned up 90 minutes too late.
FT: Leicester 4 (Vardy 3’, 20’, 78’; King 5’) – Man City 2 (Kolarov 82’; Nolito 90’)
Leicester: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez, King, Amartey, Albrighton; Vardy, Slimani
Manchester City: Bravo; Zabaleta, Sagna, Stones, Kolarov; Fernando; Navas, Gundogan, Silva, De Bruyne; Iheanacho