Manchester City were a battering ram against Leicester City on Saturday, cruising to a 5-1 victory with Sergio Agüero putting four in the back of the net by himself. Pep Guardiola started what was arguably his strongest lineup with David Silva still working his way back from the injury he picked up last week.
Even though City have a run of games coming up that is not only challenging but tightly scheduled, you get the sense that Pep wants to wrap the league title up as soon as possible and doesn’t plan on taking any chances in letting anyone else back into this race. Leicester City are a formidable opponent and usually play the Blues well. They certainly had stretches in this game that worried the City fans in the first half, but they were unable to sustain this quality.
Pep Guardiola’s team got on the scoreboard quickly, with Raheem Sterling scoring in the third minute from a wonderful assist from Kevin De Bruyne. Early City goals are usually an indication that the flood gates are about to open and for the 10-15 minutes that followed, it looked as if they had. The Blues created chance after chance, exposing a shell-shocked Leicester City coping with the fact that they were facing a deficit almost immediately. But the hosts lacked some technical polish in the first half and all the dangerous opportunities failed to materialize into more goals.
Leicester City manager Claude Puel made an interesting tactical change at this time. His team had started the game in a 3-man backline with Christian Fuchs, a natural full-back, as the outside center-back on the left. But after City’s early domination, Puel dropped Marc Albrighton, who is normally a midfielder, back into the right-back position and reverted to a standard 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 hybrid formation.
This move gave Leicester more bite in carrying the ball out of their defensive third and frustrated City’s wide play enough to get them back in the game. Leicester were able to flood attackers in the corner with a full-back along with a defensive midfielder, preventing cutbacks and rerouting City’s attack well away from goal.
Puel’s tactical change was accompanied with some uncharacteristically poor turnovers by City that ultimately led to Leicester equalizing. The lone goal for the opponents actually originated from an odd-man break that City usually finish off with ease but was mishandled and carried out by Leicester. At first glance, the Blues did a good job of breaking up the counter and it appeared as if they would recycle the attack and get right back to work in Leicester’s half.
However, the play quickly devolved into a mad scramble with Nicolas Otamendi coming away with the ball and he just simply made a very poor pass directly to the feet of Jamie Vardy, who survived an Ilkay Gundogan tackle and took advantage of Aymeric Laporte, who gave him a little too much space for the strike and the equalizer.
This was not the only instance of City giving up possession in their own half but was fortunately the only one that led to a Leicester goal. Ederson turned out to be crucial in this match given Leicester’s propensity to attack with long balls over the top to Vardy on the counter. Ederson is naturally aggressive but was even more aware of Vardy’s ability to get in behind and snuffed quite a few attacks that may have exposed a less capable keeper.
While the first half was a variety of ups and down for City, the second half was a beautiful display that was truly fun to watch. Leicester brought in Danny Simpson, allowing them to convert everyone into their natural positions, though I don’t think it would have mattered much what changes they made. City were just that good.
I’m convinced that Kevin De Bruyne is an alien because he can make passes that not only seem impossible to make, but even having the vision to see the openings he exposes is ridiculous. He had three assists in this game, two of which were mind-blowing crosses into the box that curved around multiple Leicester defenders where only his teammate could access it. Agüero also deserves a tip of the cap obviously, scoring four goals with each finish increasingly more difficult than the one before it. His ability to play every game at the level he has without much of a break at all is incredible.
City’s press and work rate also outpaced Leicester’s technical ability and awareness for two goals. Kyle Walker chased down a bad pass he had made to the end line when every other player on the pitch was certain it would go out for a goal kick. Leicester center-back Harry Maguire was forced to play it back to Schmeichel, and his poor clearance was quickly turned into an Agüero goal within seconds. The following goal came directly off City’s press forcing Schmeichel into a terrible pass easily intercepted by Agüero, who expertly chipped the opposing keeper.
Overall, this was a masterclass by Manchester City and with good injury news coming out over the past couple days (Leroy Sané and Gabriel Jesus may be closer than expected), this team looks poised to attack the coming weeks with full force. Four competitions will be in play over the upcoming weeks, and this game erased any doubt (if there was any at all) that City are capable of thriving through it.