Manchester City’s Laporte and Sterling end Leicester’s comeback in 6-3 thriller | premier league
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Manchester City were ruthless, fell asleep and then woke up to end resistance from Leicester which came in a sparkling second-half retaliation to the Champions, who led 4-0 at the break. But what Pep Guardiola called a ‘typical Boxing Day’ encounter – a throwback to the high profile business of yesteryear – might have ended differently if Brendan Rodgers’ men were as ruthless as City.
When James Maddison slipped into Kelechi Iheanacho in the 70th minute, the forward was prevented by Ederson from moving the visitors just 5-4 behind. Marc Albrighton then pushed back an opportunity to do the same. If either opening had been taken, it’s unclear what the closing phase might have vomited.
Guardiola explained that even in the interim, he didn’t feel comfortable. “The game was open at 4-0, it was not closed,” he said. Yet the end result is that City have scored 17 goals in their last three games and remain leaders after completing half of their 38 Premier League appearances, the winners of all of their last nine. As Guardiola said: “The important thing is that we finish the [first] leg with 47 points. That’s a lot, so we’re starting over against Brentford in three days.
The manager once again left Phil Foden and Jack Grealish on the bench, as he plotted to continue a winning run against opponents who had Jamie Vardy among their substitutes due to a tight hamstring. This made the visitors’ challenge even more difficult as Vardy’s pace could trap City on the clock, exposing barely behind Rúben Dias and Aymeric Laporte.
The problem is, City’s ascendancy rests on their monopolization of the ball. Any defensive weakness is canceled out if the opposition fails to seize it. An illustration came five minutes later. Fernandinho’s chip found Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva’s run along the blind side took the defenders and the Belgian’s pirouette inside was followed by a cannon shot which gave no chance to Kasper Schmeichel.
The visitors had been passed from the opening whistle. Another disaster happened when Riyad Mahrez tipped into a corner and Yuri Tielemans struggled with Dias. VAR called Chris Kavanagh on the monitor and, as usual when this happens, he pointed to the spot. Riyaz Mahrez detonated the kick beyond Schmeichel.
With City 2-0 in under a quarter of an hour, there was a temptation to consider this contest over, but the response was instantaneous, with Maddison forcing Ederson to give the bar a 20-yard free kick. The goalkeeper then pushed back the corner and saved a low shot from Ayoze Pérez.
This, however, was the most false of the aurora. City’s interpreter of the season Silva recovered the ball and found De Bruyne. The midfielder is the master of the quick tap-on and he fed João Cancelo that way, the right-back crossed, a restless Schmeichel pushed the ball into Ilkay Gündogan’s path, and he didn’t lack. Leicester’s shock became embarrassing when City scored a fourth goal. Raheem Sterling ran to Tielemans inside the box, the unlucky No.8 fouled it to give the home side a second shot on goal. This time around, although Guardiola pitched Mahrez as City’s best penalty killer, it was Sterling who beat Schmeichel.
City had scored 15 unanswered goals in their previous two games plus the opening 25 minutes of it. For the resurgent Sterling, it was a seventh in his last nine club appearances. Soon there was almost an eighth sublime. Oleksandr Zinchenko’s left-footed dink was an exhibition-like pass, the ball hovering over a haunting parabola towards Silva, whose volley volley through the goal was equally good, and there was Sterling to aim, but Schmeichel parried.
City closed the half as they had started: at Leicester’s jugular, a free kick from De Bruyne against Leicester, setting up a Gündogan rocket which Schmeichel repelled.
Rodgers may have missed out on an entire first-choice rearguard with injury, but the supposed master tactician was still guilty of a passive performance on his end. However, that changed after 55 minutes, as a quick break finally unlocked City.
It started at the back. Albrighton sent the ball to Maddison before, really, Dias should have cleaned up the playmaker. The reason he didn’t, according to Guardiola, is because “a yellow and he’s suspended.” Possession went to Iheanacho, who returned it, and Maddison slipped into Leicester’s opening goal, under Ederson’s body.
A few seconds later came a near aftershock. Maddison stole Gündogan, left Zinchenko and Fernandinho in the air and threw the ball to Iheanacho, whose assist this time was for Ademola Lookman.
At 4-2 it had become a thriller with new life. City had done what Guardiola hates: return the ball. Fernandinho’s retaliation was to lead what appeared to be City’s fifth goal until Daniel Amartey intervened. In the next turn, Iheanacho scored, the forward continued as Maddison’s shot was aimed at the bar by Ederson.
Laporte quickly retaliated, soaring above Iheanacho and Luke Thomas to perfectly meet Mahrez’s corner and extend City’s lead again. Finally, after Iheanacho and Albrighton misfires, Sterling scored 6-3.
Rodgers offered injury updates for some of his absent players. “Patson [Daka] will probably last around three weeks, Caglar Soyuncu around three weeks, ”said the Leicester manager, before turning to Ricardo Pereira, who was forced out of the Carabao Cup in Liverpool by a challenge for which Tyler Morton was only shown a yellow card. “Six to eight weeks. He has a fractured fibula – he’s lucky it wasn’t worse, how the referee didn’t see this challenge. And then Ryan [Bertrand, a substitute] also twisted his knee during the warm-up.
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