It seemed the game was over when Manchester City raced to a four-goal lead against Leicester within the first 25 minutes of their game at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. City tightened their grip on the Premier League top spot leaving Liverpool and Chelsea to fight for second place.
The Reds could close the gap to just three points with a win in their next league game but for now City sit pretty comfortable at the helm with a six-point cushion.
However, the team was given a scare when the crowd at the Etihad Stadium watched almost in disbelief as Brendan Rodgers’ men clawed their way back scoring three goals in just 11 second half minutes to bring the score to 4-3.
Former Blues forward Kelechi Iheanacho had a game to remember with a goal and two assists despite ending up on the losing side.
It took an Aymeric Laporte header from a corner to settle the nerves for the Blues faithful before Raheem Sterling added a sixth and his second of the game to settle the tie at 6-3.
The game delivered some lessons for the rest of the season.
Ruben Dias and John Stones Remain City’s Best Centre-back Pairing
It was a partnership that played a key role in winning the EPL title last season. But despite the success of the team Laporte was unhappy. The Spanish international spent more time on the bench than he expected, as Dias and Stones propelled the team forward.
At the end of the campaign, he threatened to leave if not given regular game time. He was not alone in the protest line as Guardiola said four or five players were facing the exit door. It’s difficult to say if that has influenced the manager’s choice of his centre-back pairing this season.
What is easy to see though is that Laporte is certainly not City’s best centre-back. He ranks third behind Dias and Stones. The fact that he is the only City player to have been red-carded this season is not a coincidence. He has also collected his fair share of yellow cards.
His unforced error gifted Leicester a golden opportunity to get back into the game when they were almost dead and buried. An unlikely come back from the dead almost ruined a perfect evening for the City faithful.
Yes he did make amends but getting the fifth goal. But against a more formidable opponent in a difficult match like a Champions League semifinal or final, such an error could be deadly.
That brings to mind his gift to Son Heung-min that the Tottenham forward gladly accepted and slotted home to dump City out of the UCL in 2019.
That doesn’t make Laporte a bad defender. Everyone makes mistakes. He is just not the best pairing for Dias in the really tough games. John Stones is.
Rodri vs Fernandinho; the Student is Now the Master
He was once the commander of City’s midfield. The Brazilian will dictate play, bring his teammates into the game and even initiate attacks. The 2017/18 campaign was one of his best in the City shirt.
He was often the first name on the team sheet for Pep Guardiola helping the Catalan manager land his first Premier League title. He played 34 out of 38 matches in the Premier League for City scoring five times and setting up another three goals.
Add to that his role in helping his teammates off the pitch and Guardiola was thoroughly impressed. When Audrey was signed from atletico Madrid in 2019 he was expected to be an understudy.
But age seems to have finally caught up with the Brazilian. He scored just one league goal in the last three seasons. Fortunately for the Cityzens, his prodigy has risen steadily.
It’s so much that the student has now become the master. The Spaniard is now a powerhouse in the City midfield. His absence against Leicester was clearly felt.
That’s not to say that Fernandinho is no longer doing a good job. He is. But the difference between the duo has become very clear.
Title Race Far from Over
A dreadful 11-minute spell in which Leicester scored three goals to go from 4-0 down to 4-3 just showed how fast things can change in the Premier League. City found themselves battling to keep their lead after a first half that suggested the game was done and dusted.
It was a timely reminder that City will be making a big mistake to think that they can coast to the league title this season. The Blues may be sitting comfortably on top of the league table at the moment, but that does not mean the team will have it easy going forward.
The solution to stay ahead of the chasing pack is to keep the foot on the throttle and keep hammering away. The level of competition this season, especially coming from Liverpool and Chelsea (and not writing off Antonio Conte’s Tottenham as well as Manchester United) means that City cannot take their position at the top of the table for granted.
Things can change within a twinkle of an eye. It takes just two losses and a draw for the shape of the table to change. So the scare from Leicester should serve as both a timely warning and a wake-up call.