Leicester City played out a scintillating final game of the season against Tottenham Hotspur this weekend, losing 5-4 at Wembley in a game where defending appeared to be abandoned. One of the highlights of the game was a magnificent strike from Leicester striker Kelechi Iheanacho. He picked up the ball from 25 yards out and fired a rasping left-footed drive into the top corner of Hugo Lloris’ goal. It was, simply unstoppable.
For Leicester fans, it was probably just as frustrating as it was pulsating to see this strike go in. Because every Foxes fan is acutely aware that this is what the Nigerian is capable of, yet he struggles to do it on a regular basis.
In August last year, Leicester beat off a host of competition to sign the striker from Manchester City. According to ESPN, the Nigerian set the club back £25 million. But it was an investment in what is clear talent.
The former wonderkid had shown in his brief appearances for Manchester City and with the Nigeria senior team that he is a ruthless finisher in front of goal. If given chances, surely he would be a lethal Premier League striker.
But his application is often not at the right level. This season, Iheanacho managed just three goals in 21 Premier League appearances.
Yet this strike against Tottenham highlighted the fact Leicester have a potential star on their hands. He was brilliant in the Foxes FA Cup campaign, with four goals in five games. This summer he will lead the line for Nigeria at the World Cup and has a fine record with the Super Eagles.
Leicester paid £25 million for a player they hope can become a top talent. Incidentally, the 21-year-old’s middle name is ‘Promise’. If he can deliver on that next season, Leicester’s investment will not be in vain.
One winner and loser from Leicester’s defeat to Manchester United
A new season for Leicester began with a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford.
An early penalty from Paul Pogba added to Luke Shaw’s first senior goal condemned Claude Puel’s side to defeat on the opening night of the new season, which brought a case of deja vu to supporters after the 4-3 defeat to Arsenal on a Friday night 12 months ago.
Leicester enjoyed plenty of possession in their trip to Manchester, putting Jose Mourinho’s side under a lot of pressure, but failed to make it count as David De Gea was largely untested. While some impressed, there was others who need to improve.
Here, we have identified one winner and one loser from the game.
Winner: James Maddison
Signed from Norwich City, James Maddison arrived at Leicester City with plenty of expectation as he was widely regarded to be one of the best players outside of the top-flight last season. From the early signs, there is a lot to be excited about.
Maddison proved to be the creative hub for Leicester throughout the match, central to anything positive that the Foxes created and not afraid to get stuck in – with a stern battle up against Manchester United’s new recruit Fred in the heart of midfield.
Having scored 14 goals and contributing eight assists last season, Maddison should be able to provide the spark in the final third that Claude Puel’s side lost following the sale of Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City.
Loser: Daniel Amartey
If you were to describe the worst possible start to a new Premier League season, conceding a penalty just minutes into the opening game would certainly be right up there – and Daniel Amartey was the unfortunate party last night.
His handball mere minutes into the new campaign saw Paul Pogba score from the spot and the Ghana midfielder struggled to get a foothold in the match from then on, riding his luck with a few clumsy challenges before picking up a deserved yellow card.
He was taken off by Puel in a double change shortly after the hour mark and may now face a test to retain his spot in the side.
Three things learnt from Leicester’s defeat to Manchester United
For the second year in a row, Leicester began the season with a Friday night defeat.
Paul Pogba’s penalty mere minutes into the match left Claude Puel’s side trailing early on and, despite plenty of possession, the Foxes failed to make it count and Luke Shaw’s first senior goal ensured all three points were secured by the home side, despite Jamie Vardy’s late consolation.
Going to Manchester and taking a result off a Jose Mourinho side is never an easy task but fans will have wanted to see more from their side given the possession that they had, which has left plenty of room for improvement over the coming weeks.
Here, we have identified three things we learnt from the result.
In an away game against a side like Manchester United, set-pieces are always going to be valuable as clear-cut chances are often few and far between. On top of that, Harry Maguire enters the campaign on the back of an excellent World Cup with England where he was highly effective from a dead ball situation.
However, Leicester failed to create anything of note from the free-kicks and corners they earned – which will be a major area for Claude Puel’s side to improve over the coming weeks if they are to enjoy a more successful campaign this term.
Clearly the loss of Riyad Mahrez, who was the regular set-piece taker, to Manchester City has seen the Foxes take a hit and they will need the players within their squad to step-up in order to provide opportunities from this positions.
Still just 21 years of age, it seems like Ben Chilwell has been up and coming for a while but he already boasts over 30 league appearances for the Foxes. He will now be focused on becoming a regular part of Claude Puel’s side and the early signs are positive.
Chilwell proved to be extremely effective as an attacking outlet down the left-side for the Foxes, causing Manchester United problems, but the lack of support ahead of him proved to be an issue. However, with Jamie Vardy returning to action and James Maddison now part of the squad, there’s a real chance for a strong relationship to develop.
With Christian Fuchs now 32, Chilwell could become first-choice this season and could even start to push for a spot in the England squad.
“Chilwell is a young player without experience but with good attributes to take the space to join in attack also. It is a good choice for me with good opportunities.”
Lack of cutting edge
Unfortunately for Leicester, the absence of Jamie Vardy at the front of the attack, fresh from signing a new four-year deal, was obvious as the Foxes struggled to test David De Gea – and he proved his worth by scoring a late goal off the bench.
Had Vardy started from the off, Manchester United’s defence would have had a much harder game on their hands as his pace and drive would have put the Red Devils defence, which Jose Mourinho famously doesn’t rate all that highly, under real pressure.
Kelechi Iheanacho was the man who led the line at Old Trafford but he did not really get a sniff at goal, while the wingers often struggled to find space to work with when they broke into the final third and the majority of their play came in the middle area of the pitch.
One to watch: West Brom’s 20-year-old midfielder Harvey Barnes
Introducing The Boot Room’s 2018/19 One to Watch series…
There are high hopes for Harvey Barnes at Leicester City.
Earlier this summer, Barnes signed a new four-year deal before being loaned out to West Bromwich Albion for the upcoming Championship season.
He already has second-tier experience, after scoring five goals and assisting four in 1,408 league minutes on loan for the first half of last season with Barnsley.
Barnes has already smashed in an absolute pearler this season, highlighting the danger he presents from range.
The direct threat he poses from out wide – he likes to start wide and drift inside where he is capable of shooting accurately on either foot – is an increasingly desirable trait in modern football.
Conversely, he is also adept at playing the final ball in such situations.
Sometimes, he simply just likes to take up position in the channel from the start.
Darren Moore praised Barnes upon his arrival, pointing towards the Englishman’s X-factor.
“He is an exciting young player – one that I think our supporters will enjoy watching,” Moore told the club website.
“He’s got good experience of the Championship already and I am thrilled at the prospect of him adding his talents to our group. I couldn’t be happier that we have been able to bring him in.”
Those comments are promising to hear as Barnes looks to get minutes under his belt in view of returning to his parent club and being integrated there.
In the meantime, it will be fascinating to see if he can put together a consistent 42-game Championship season.
He did well for six months last season before he was recalled in January by Leicester.
West Brom will certainly be leaning on him as a key pillar in their hopes to return straight back into the Premier League.
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