A performance which was not imbued with champion class and which was not what Manuel Pellegrini had in mind when he said for the umpteenth time this week that: “We have a style of play.” But Manchester City are lurching precariously into the season’s last few months and the stadium recruitment advertisements flashing “Looking for a new job?” in front of the Chilean’s eyes keep offering ironic significance. So any old three points will do.
The kind of opposition that the champions would have swished away the minimal effort at this point in the last two seasons hit the base of Joe Hart’s post ten minutes from time and the thin margin of City’s lead at that stage suggested that anything might happen until James Milner made sure of things, with his adroit half volley from Jesus Navas’s cross which finally bear Leicester’s valiant Mark Schwarzer, in the 89th minute.
The win ensures Chelsea are not out of sight, though it all added up to the same sense of a club struggling to push on and look stronger, as they strengthen their squad. The goalscorers, once again, belonged to the era before this club became set on a process of Barcelona-fication and the jewel, once again, was David Silva – whose contribution is so consistent that you wonder how he had not scored ten goals in a season before his opening strike took him to that tally tonight.
For a deeper sense of whether this club are advancing or stagnating, we must look beyond the relatively smooth terrain they must next cross – Burnley, West Bromwich, Crystal Palace – to the course of events 13 days from now in Barcelona. Truth is, there are very few elite side left to face for the manager to show that his champions are evolving and becoming stronger.
Pellegrini looked like a man trying to understand how to make this squad work. The relegation of Vincent Kompany to the bench, after an assessment of his form by the Chilean on Tuesday which was a very long way from glowing, seemed deeply significance.
It was a public acceptance from this club at last that the captain has not been at the level; the removal of the pillar of the side, whose obsessive drive to overcome the muscular injuries which have stalked him for years reveals a little of the intensity within. Removing him would not have been a decision lightly taken, particularly when there are few other obvious contenders to fill a leader’s shoes. The sight of Yaya Toure – who was assigned the role – screaming and gesturing at Jesus Navas for a pass not given, midway through the first half, revealed how few captains there are in this team. It was hard to countenance, in that moment, that we were watching the champions of the land, facing the division’s bottom team – an outfit who have lost ten of their 14 away games all season and were self-evidently here to defend.
Neither Samir Nasri, mediocre in Sunday’s desperate defeat at Anfield, nor Fernandinho made the bench. Edin Dzeko, Pablo Zabaleta were both relegated to it. The night represented a chance for last summer’s signings, who have frankly not delivered, to reveal themselves. They just about managed.
The defence looked resolute enough, though barely tested but there was little to shout about and only flickers of menace from City. The first shot from Jesus Navas which Schwarzer palmed away presaged a performance from the Spaniard which improved as the evening wore on. But it was hardly a resuscitation of a side who had taken only nine points from 21 in the Premier League before last night.
The atmosphere was as subdued as it has been at the stadium at any time this season, with Leicester’s two penalty appeals in the first half hour doing little to lift the mood. Wilfried Bony was the luckier to escape with an awkward challenge on Andrej Kramaric on the edge of the City area. The Croatian might have been given the benefit of the doubt, had he not gone down so dramatically. Hart did not foul the same player as he raced to deal with Kramaric - set into the box by a clever ball struck with pace inside Martin Demichelis by the impressive Riyad Mahrez. Fernando was very lucky to escape with a penalty box infringement on the same player in the second half.
For Bony, there was an enduring struggle to make an impression in his first start. The £25m signing’s skewed shot which hit the corner flag in the early moments of second half did not strike fear into the hearts of Leicester, who defended with discipline and intelligence and frustrated City. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth were resolute and it took a very scrappy finish to claim the lead. Yaya Toure seized possession and drove forward to find Aleksandr Kolarov, whose low cross Leicester had two attempts to clear – Huth blocking from Bony and Morgan from Silva - before the little Spaniard took the rebound and poked the ball in.
City looked marginally brighter after the interval with Navas emerging as more of a threat and Schwarzer producing a performance of the very highest quality to keep Nigel Pearson’s side holding on, saving sharply from Aguero and palming away Toure’s arcing shot in the second half. Leicester always looked capable of an opportunistic counter-attacking strike. Mahrez shot against the post was a scare before another of the City old guard to tie things up. Milner needed 15 minutes on the field to get his goal after Toure’s lofted ball released Navas to deliver the important cross.
Little more evidence, then, to contradict the idea that Pellegrini’s survival may rest on the lack of suitable candidates to take over and get City playing and actually developing - the Barcelona way.Reuse content