Manchester City vs Leicester City match report: Fearless Foxes fly into six point lead over sorry City

Manchester City 1 Leicester City 3

In deference to the vast Chinese investment in their club, Manchester City chose to celebrate the start of the Year of the Monkey with dancers and dragons. The next 12 months will be worth celebrating, but they got the wrong animal. This has turned out to be the Year of the Fox.

February was meant to be the month when football’s rough reality would announce itself to Leicester City. Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal stood in front of them like sentries. The first two have been disarmed with astonishing ease and, if Arsenal cannot halt them at the Emirates Stadium a week today, the Premier League’s old order will be on the brink of collapse.

After routing Manchester City in their own stadium, the Foxes find themselves five points clear of the pack and for the first time they are favourites to win the Premier League. In August they were 5,000-1.

With the prospect of pulling off the biggest shock in English football since a newly promoted Nottingham Forest won the championship in 1978, Claudio Ranieri searched for ways of calming the mood.

Huth.jpg
Robert Huth is congratulated on scoring Leicester's opener

“You know the bookmakers, at the beginning they said: ‘Sack Ranieri’,” the Leicester manager smiled. “We know it is a crazy league and we know there are some big teams who have to win but we have no pressure. For the fans it is fantastic and they must continue to dream.”

The bookmakers were not the only ones who thought it foolish to  appoint a man whose had overseen one of the great humiliations of Greek football in his last job – losing at home to the Faroe Islands. 

At Chelsea, where Leicester end the season with the astonishing prospect of being crowned champions, Ranieri was mocked as “The Tinkerman” for continually changing his line-up. At Leicester, his great achievement has been not to interfere with the team he inherited and to maintain the togetherness that enabled them to escape relegation with victories almost as remarkable as those of this season. Their spirit, he said, was the best he had known in his 30-year managerial career.

The spirit in Manchester City’s dressing room, however, would be open to serious question before their second game since Manuel Pellegrini announced he would be making way for Pep Guardiola. 

The first was a fortunate 1-0 win at Sunderland and now came this desultory display. Fans began leaving with more than 20 minutes to play and by the time City had mounted a fightback, with Sergio Aguero heading home from close range on 87 minutes, the stadium was a mass of empty blue seats.

In contrast, Leicester were compact and committed. In March 1996 their goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s father, Peter, made a string of astonishing saves to give Manchester United what proved a season-turning victory at Newcastle. Now, in a game with similarly high stakes, Schmeichel Jnr was  required to make a brilliant low block at his near post from Fernando’s close-range header. Leicester, in contrast, put their chances away ruthlessly.

The first came in the third minute. Riyad Mahrez feigned to take a free-kick, stopped and then delivered the ball. It was a routine that had been practised in training, though Ranieri pointed out: “It takes courage to do it when you are alone on the pitch.” City’s defence hesitated and Robert Huth fired the ball in with his instep. When it struck the net, there was silence, as if the fans could not believe what they’d seen.

What were the game’s two key moments came either side of the interval. First, Pablo Zabaleta was upended by Christian Fuchs on the edge of the 18-yard box. A few inches the other way and it would have been a penalty, but Pellegrini brushed the incident away as irrelevant.

Leicester’s second goal came when Zabaleta committed himself and left Mahrez with Demichelis in front of him. The defender expected Mahrez to cross for Jamie Vardy, near the penalty spot, but was deceived when the Algerian cut inside and drove his shot past a helpless Joe Hart.

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