Manchester City were ruthless, fell asleep, and then awoke to end finally a Leicester resistance that came in a sparkling second-half riposte to the champions, who were 4-0 up at the break. Yet the story might have ended differently if Brendan Rodgers’ men had been as ruthless as City.
When James Maddison slipped in Kelechi Iheanacho on 70 minutes, the Nigerian was stopped by a defiant Ederson from moving the visitors to only 5-4 behind and Marc Albrighton later spurned a headed chance to do the same. If either opening had been taken, who knows what the closing phase might have thrown up.
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Pep Guardiola, then, is bound to hate a slipshod passage from City while surely marvelling at the opening 45 minutes. The bottom line is the champions have 17 goals in their past three games and remain leaders after completing half their 38 Premier League matches, having won their last nine.
Guardiola left Phil Foden and Jack Grealish on the bench again, as he plotted to continue a winning run against opponents who had Jamie Vardy among their substitutes. Whatever the thinking from Rodgers, this seemed to make the Foxes’s challenge even tougher as the No 9’s pace could have snared City on the counter, any quick ball likely to expose the hardly jet-heeled Rúben Dias and Aymeric Laporte.
Kevin De Bruyne celebrates putting Manchester City 1-0 up against Leicester inside five minutes.Photograph: Matt McNulty/Manchester City FC/Getty Images
The problem, as Guardiola explained in the buildup, is City’s ascendancy is predicated on their hogging of possession. Any defensive weaknesses are nullified if the opposition cannot get hold of the ball. A latest imperious illustration came only five minutes in. Fernandinho’s chip found Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva’s run along the blindside dragged out defenders and the Belgian’s sweet pirouette inside preceded a cannon of a strike that allowed Kasper Schmeichel zero chance.
The visitors had been overrun virtually from the opening whistle. Further disaster arrived when Riyad Mahrez swung in a corner and Youri Tielemans grappled with Dias. VAR called Chris Kavanagh to the pitchside monitor and, as usual when this occurs, he pointed to the spot. Mahrez blast his kick beyond Schmeichel.
Inside a quarter of an hour there was a strong temptation to deem this contest over but the response was instant, as Maddison saw Ederson tip a 20-yard free-kick on to the bar. The goalkeeper then palmed away the corner and saved a low Ayoze Pérez shot.
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This, though, was the falsest of dawns. Silva, City’s performer of the season, collected and fed De Bruyne. The Belgian is the master of the quick tap-on and he fed João Cancelo this way, the right-back crossed, a flailing Schmeichel pushed the ball into Ilkay Gündogan’s path and he did not miss. Leicester’s shock became deep embarrassment when City scored a fourth. Raheem Sterling ran at Tielemans inside the area, the hapless No 8 fouled him and this was the home side’s second spot-kick. This time, despite Guardiola billing Mahrez as City’s best penalty executioner, it was Sterling who beat Schmeichel.
City had scored 15 goals without reply in their previous two games plus the first 25 minutes of this one. For the resurgent Sterling it was a seventh in his last nine club appearances. Soon there was nearly a sublime eighth. Oleksandr Zinchenko’s left-footed dink was an exhibition-like pass, the ball floating in on a bewitching parabola to Silva, whose volleyed delivery across goal was as good and there was the England man to take aim first-time, but Schmeichel parried.
Leicester did manage a rare foray that set up Luke Thomas from the D but the left-back blazed over. City closed the half how they began: at Leicester’s jugular, De Bruyne’s free-kick wrong-footing Leicester, setting up a Gündogan rocket that Schmeichel beat away.
Rodgers may have missed a whole first-choice rearguard because of injury but the supposed master-tactician was still culpable for a passive performance from his side. But this changed in the 55th minute as a quick break did now unlock City.
Kelechi Iheanacho scores against his old team to bring Leicester back to 4-3 down. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Images
It began at the back – Albrighton pinged the ball to Maddison before, really, Dias should have cleaned the playmaker out. He did not, possession was moved to Iheanacho, who returned it and Maddison slid in Leicester’s first, under Ederson’s body.
Seconds later, a near-replica. Maddison pickpocketed Gündogan, left Zinchenko and Fernandinho challenging air, and rolled the ball to Iheanacho, whose assist this time was for Ademola Lookman.
At 4-2 the contest had fresh life. City had done what Guardiola detests: they had surrendered the ball. Fernadinho’s riposte was to head what appeared a fifth until Daniel Amartey intervened and in the next twist in a topsy-turvy affair Iheanacho scored, the striker following up when Maddison’s shot was steered on to his bar by Ederson.
But Laporte rose above Iheanacho and Thomas to meet Mahrez’s corner perfectly and stretch City’s lead again and, after the Iheanacho and Albrighton misses, Sterling made it 6-3.