Leicester City can at least go into 2016 with the knowledge that they have a goalkeeper capable of keeping them in the league title race after Kasper Schmeichel took a leaf out of his father’s book to frustrate Manchester City.
Claudio Ranieri’s team, bottom of the table on 1 January 2015, will end the year second only to league leaders Arsenal following an absorbing stalemate against pre-season title favourites Manchester City.
The visitors may have shaded it, and become the first team since Hull in March to prevent Leciester from scoring at home, but they once again failed to win on their travels and the hosts showed just why only Arsenal and Liverpool have beaten them in the league this season.
Schmeichel’s array of saves were the crucial factor, though, and his father Peter, a five-time title winner with Manchester United in the 1990s, will have enjoyed his son’s performance.
Whatever happens to Ranieri’s team over the second half of this campaign, Leicester’s remarkable year has ensured that the team now approaches encounters with the likes of City with the self-confidence to go toe to toe with the Premier League’s established superpowers.
Attaining that heavyweight status themselves will take longer than one incredible season at the sharp end of the table, but Leicester went into this game two points clear of the visitors and the respect shown by Manuel Pellegrini’s players was evident from the start.
Defenders Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi began the game with greater focus than usual and one would instantly protect the other whenever there was even a hint of Jamie Vardy being played through by his team-mates.
But having lost at Arsenal last week – a defeat which extended their winless away run to five in the Premier League, making it their worst sequence since April 2011 – Pellegrini’s team perhaps also played with added caution at the back in order to give themselves a platform on which to build that long-awaited away victory.
It has been the defensive frailties that have compromised City on the road, usually in the absence of injured captain Vincent Kompany because, as they showcased in the first-half, they possess true quality going forward.
Despite Leicester’s record of having scored in each of their last 14 Premier League home games, it was the visitors who created the better chances, with the opening 45 minutes ultimately becoming a battle of wills between Raheem Sterling and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Schmeichel went in at the interval having shaded his personal duel, however, by denying Sterling on numerous occasions.
The England winger saw three goalbound efforts kept out by former City keeper Schmeichel, with a 27th minute right-handed save from a Sterling volley the most impressive.
Sergio Aguero also saw a scuffed effort kept out by Schmeichel, with Kevin De Bruyne another City forward frustrated by the Dane.
And after surviving City’s increasing pressure, Leicester attempted to catch Pellegrini’s men on the counter late in the first-half.
Aside from a 25th minute strike from Riyad Mahrez which flew over Joe Hart’s crossbar, Leicester struggled to worry the visitors until a dangerous Christian Fuchs cross evaded Vardy before being directed wide by Marc Albrighton at the far post.
Vardy, the Premier League’s leading scorer, then spurned a golden chance to break the deadlock on 40 minutes when he was put through on goal by Danny Drinkwater.
Drinkwater and Vardy had teamed up to hustle Fernandinho into a mistake 30 yards from goal, but having broke clear, Vardy let City the hook by shooting over the crossbar from 18 yards.
Restricting Vardy and Mahrez to just one chance apiece in the first-half was an achievement in itself for City, with the two Leicester attackers accounting for 28 of the 37 league goals scored by the team ahead of this game.
Aguero should perhaps have scored the opener on 46 minutes, when he escaped his marker before only being able to flick De Bruyne’s cross over the bar from close range.
The Argentine remains one of the most lethal forwards to grace the Premier League, but he was not at his best at the King Power Stadium and he displayed little of the pace and threat of Vardy.
His recent ankle and hamstring injuries perhaps continue to trouble the City striker, but with such a track record for scoring crucial goals, it is understandable that Pellegrini continues to prefer him ahead of Wilfried Bony or the teenager Kelechi Iheanacho. But when Aguero was replaced by Bony on 63 minutes, it was not before time.
They remained finely balanced, though, thanks largely to the efforts of Leicester midfielders Drinkwater and N’Golo Kanté, who chased and harried constantly, affording the likes of Yaya Toure and David Silva no time whatsoever to dictate the play.
It was becoming a game in which one goal would almost certainly decide the outcome, and Kanté sent a right-footed shot wide from 25 yards on 54 minutes before Otamendi forced another save from Schmeichel 10 minutes later.
As the game entered the closing stages, Ranieri upped the ante by replacing midfielder Gokhan Inler with forward Leonardo Ulloa in an attempt to force the breakthrough.
It was a case of he who dares might win and the switch almost brought an instant reward when Ulloa earned a free-kick on the edge of the Manchester City penalty area following a clumsy foul by Mangala.
The set-piece was a yard outside the box and teed up perfectly for a left-footer, but although Fuchs struck the ball well, Hart was equal to the challenge and the England goalkeeper pushed the ball away.
Having seen Schmeichel perform a series of heroics at the other end, it was perhaps fitting that Hart made his own decisive contribution to save his team from defeat.Reuse content