February’s face is full of frost, of storm, of cloudiness. Nigel Pearson seems to be the man wearing February’s face. His team remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, their continued poor form the backdrop of a bizarre week for their manager – who after tangling with Crystal Palace’s James McArthur exchanging frosty words and glances on the Saturday, appeared to have lost his job in the storm on the Sunday, only to stumble on into midweek under the cloud.
Pearson is a combative man, and his post-match assertion that he is “more than capable of looking after himself” suggests he likes to be considered that way. While his coming together with McArthur escaped further scrutiny from the FA, an altercation with a fan towards at the beginning of December saw him pick up a fine and a touchline ban. After that incident, where he claimed to be protecting his players and himself, Pearson initially refused to apologise, drawing criticism from Leicester’s Supporters Club. This time around, Pearson took aim at the BBC, accusing the Match of The Day team of making more of the McArthur incident than was there, and claiming his club didn’t want to sack him – despite Sunday’s rumours – and that he had the support of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
Regardless of what he says, Pearson is a man under pressure. Managing the league’s bottom placed side, even if it’s one you got into that league in the first place, is a tough gig to hold on to.
There are two possible explanations for Pearson’s recent behaviour: either he is genuinely feeling the strain, or he is attempting to create a siege mentality at the club.
The second option – although possibly a generous explanation – is an approach that gets results. Jose Mourinho is a master at creating a sense among his team that it is them against the world. Referees are out to get them, opposition teams are out to get them, the media are out to get them. But the players don’t have to worry, the boss has their backs. He’ll fight for them, he’ll take the stick, and they’ll all be in the bunker together getting the job done.
Mourinho may employ this technique when fighting for titles, but it’s equally as valid when fighting relegation. If anything, it’s more of a war down there. Dirty and cheap. If that’s what Pearson is doing, then good luck to him. If he keeps the board on his side, the fans on his side and, most importantly, keeps the faith of the players, it could work. But he has to be in control himself. Every move part of a larger plan. Calculation not emotion.
All of those things are easier when you’re riding high towards the top of the league, not at the bottom with your face in the mud…or shoving someone else’s face in the mud.
Leicester spent in the summer, and topped 100 points as they won the Championship to earn promotion. Expectations were high. Football fans can be a slightly delusional bunch, but they reassess quickly. For Leicester fans, dreams of sneaking a European place will have been replaced by hopes of survival within a few weeks. Even with the spending. The players that earned promotion hold a special place, and big money, highly paid signings have to earn their keep. The clubs which acclimatise well to the Premiership – Southampton’s development is a good example – manage to add strength to their squad, integrate it around existing talent. Leonardo Ulloa joined in the summer for a club record fee, and has done well. Pearson needs a few of them to step up – not least Andrej Kramaric, whose £6.7million transfer in January means all eyes are on him as the saviour. Goals win games, Andrej – he’s on the scoreboard now, after scoring the consolation in a 2-1 loss at Arsenal in midweek. The first of many his manager will be hoping, to keep the fans off both their backs.
Pearson needs belief. He needs his players to believe they can survive. He needs the fans to believe they can survive. And he needs the board to believe he’s the right man to do it.
A lot of this comes down to one fundamental question – is Pearson creating a siege mentality at Leicester, or is he feeling under siege? If it’s the former, and he’s in control, it might come off. If it’s the latter, and he responds the wrong way, he won’t be in the job much longer.
We’ll probably find out sooner rather than later.
Leicester City 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the King Power
Riyad Mahrez’s stunning 97th-minute free-kick rescued a point for Leicester City against Bournemouth.
Mahrez, who had been heavily linked with a move to Manchester City in the January transfer window, curled the ball past Asmir Begovic from 30 yards to deny the Cherries victory in a grandstand finish at the King Power Stadium.
Joshua King had given Bournemouth a first-half lead when he stepped up to dispatch a spot-kick after being fouled inside the area.
The Foxes threw everything at their opponents in the second period but had to wait until deep into added-time for a dramatic equaliser.
Here are three talking points…
Redemption for Mahrez after troubling period
The Algerian’s attempts to engineer a switch to City and subsequent failure to report to training had not been well received by Leicester supporters.
Mahrez had been a key figure in the Foxes’ phenomenal Premier League title triumph two years ago, but his reputation suffered a battering when he made it clear he saw his future away from the club.
After a difficult period for all involved, Mahrez is back in the fold and now back in the fans’ good books.
His last-minute goal against the Cherries certainly was evidence of his redemption.
Thirty yards out, the 27-year-old started the ball outside the wall and watched it bend back past Begovic’s outstretched right hand.
Leicester, who have never beaten Bournemouth in the top-flight, are winless in five Premier League matches, but they remain eighth in the table.
With Mahrez’s reintegration seemingly complete, a fruitful finish to the season could even help them push for a European place.
Howe ‘disgusted’ as Bournemouth concede so late
Bournemouth’s backs had been firmly up against the wall in the second half as they sought to hold on to their tenuous advantage.
It looked to have been a worthwhile effort until Mahrez’s moment of magic.
A share of the spoils was probably fair in the context of the game, but Cherries manager Eddie Howe admitted he felt ‘disgusted’ after watching the visitors concede so late.
Only four minutes of stoppage-time had been scheduled, but an injury to Simon Francis as well as a substitution meant referee Lee Probert played nearly double that amount.
Despite missing out on what would have been a crucial win, Bournemouth are edging towards safety.
They have lost only once since Christmas, a run that has helped them climb out of the relegation zone and amass 33 points.
Two more victories from their remaining nine fixtures should be enough to secure Premier League football for a fourth successive campaign.
Summer will be a key time for both clubs
In a league that is dominated by the so-called ‘Big Six’, the primary aim of the other 14 clubs is survival.
As mentioned above, both Leicester and Bournemouth are all but guaranteed to be playing in the top-flight next season.
The question for both in the summer will be, how can they push on?
The first job for the Foxes’ hierarchy and manager Claude Puel will be deciding the future of Mahrez.
Do they cash in on their star player and reinvest the funds into the squad, or do they try to tie him down to a new contract?
Bournemouth’s ambitions are perhaps not as high as Leicester’s, but after finishing ninth last season, another mid-table position will consolidate their status as a bona fide Premier League outfit.
On the field, there may be some significant outgoings as Howe looks to freshen his resources.
The out-of-favour Harry Arter is one player who looks likely to leave the south coast.
Off the field, the club will hope its plans for a new stadium get closer to becoming a reality.
Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola
Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.
Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.
Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.
Then came the fireworks.
Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.
City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.
Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.
Here are three talking points…
Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola
There is only one place to start.
At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.
However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.
Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.
All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.
This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.
Off-field issues undermine Leicester
With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.
Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.
A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.
Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.
When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.
Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.
But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.
De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond
This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.
Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.
He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.
De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.
The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.
Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.
Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.
Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.
Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.
How do Leicester City solve a problem like Riyad Mahrez?
January interest from Manchester City has turned the head of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez. Now it is down to the Foxes hierarchy to dictate the Algerian’s short term future, writes Rob Meech.
As bargains go, few can beat Leicester City’s capture of Riyad Mahrez.
Signed from French outfit Le Havre for the nominal fee of £320,000 in January 2014, the Algerian has exceeded all expectations to become one of the world’s best footballers.
Mahrez played a starring role in arguably the biggest shock in British sporting history, as the Foxes defied odds of 5,000-1 to lift the Premier League trophy in 2016.
The 26-year-old dazzled spectators with his mazy runs and goals, scoring 17 times in total.
Cutting in from the right wing and curling the ball past the goalkeeper’s outstretched right glove was his trademark.
The nucleus of that title-winning side has since disbanded, with Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante having both swapped the King Power Stadium for Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.
Mahrez had pledged his future to the Foxes in the months following their sensational triumph, putting pen-to-paper on a bumper four-year-contract.
However, speculation linking the 2016 PFA Player of the Year with a transfer grew and after a disappointing campaign both personally and collectively, he announced his wish to leave the Midlands outfit, saying he felt it was the time to ‘move on.‘
A number of clubs were linked with him, but a move failed to materialise.
After initially being omitted from the starting line-up in the early stages of this season, the appointment of Claude Puel revitalised Mahrez, who reminded everyone why he had been so highly coveted.
Since then, his relationship with Leicester has turned sour.
Sanctioning his departure on deadline day would have given Leicester very little time to sign a replacement.
Moreover, any potential deal would have been greatly inflated, with clubs wise to Leicester’s sudden windfall. Mahrez though, has effectively gone on strike.
He has not appeared at training this week and skipped the club’s past two fixtures.
Mahrez believes he has been denied his dream move.
He has given the club another 18 months of his career after they won the Premier League and in that time has seen the club sell the likes of Drinkwater and Kante.
Now, he feels the club should repay his loyalty. Instead, he feels betrayed.
It leaves Leicester in a predicament.
Even if Mahrez reported for training, it is likely he would incur a heavy fine and/or suspension.
It is hard to believe his team-mates feel anything other than let down by their star player.
By refusing to work at the club that pays his handsome wages, he is also damaging his reputation among the fans, who worshipped him as a hero.
One course of action for Leicester is to banish Mahrez to the reserves, much like Southampton did with Virgil van Dijk.
In reality, the hierarchy will understand it makes no sense in the long-term.
Selling their prized asset for an amount that meets their valuation, at a time that enables them to identify a replacement, would be best for both parties.
On top of the financial aspect is the effect this saga is having on the squad.
In an environment as highly charged as the Premier League, unwanted distractions can have major impacts.
Ultimately, there are rules that must be obeyed and respected.
No player can be allowed to breach his contract and go AWOL just because he doesn’t get what he wants.
Mahrez is tied to Leicester until 2020, a contract he was more than happy to sign.
He is in a privileged position and his childish behaviour only enhances the disconnect between footballers and the man on the street.
Reopening dialogue with the club and apologising for his actions would be a first step towards reconciliation.
Mahrez’s future may lie away from the King Power Stadium, but there are ways and means of going about it. Remaining professional is top of the list.
The supporters deserve better from a man who achieved more than he could possibly have dreamt of at Leicester City.
Are Manchester United finding form at the perfect time?
Derby defeat to Cheltenham highlights wider issues for Swindon Town
Sevilla triumph will have Everton fans regretting Steven N’Zonzi failure
Brendan Rodgers should finally get Kyriakos Papadopoulos this summer
Amadou Haidara released by Leeds United, bringing an end to bizarre transfer chapter
Tottenham Hotspur2 weeks ago
Tottenham Hotspur must push Toby Alderweireld toward Barcelona
Liverpool2 weeks ago
Jurgen Klopp’s brave January decision is playing off thanks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Brentford3 weeks ago
Romaine Sawyers – Blossoming in the Championship with play-off contenders Brentford
Liverpool4 weeks ago
Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Mohamed Salah: Is Liverpool’s Egyptian star the best player in the world right now?
Chelsea4 weeks ago
Chelsea 4-0 Hull City – Willian plays himself into Champions League contention
Liverpool2 weeks ago
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold finds himself at the centre of Jurgen Klopp’s plans
English Premier League2 weeks ago
Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle United: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain growing into role under Jurgen Klopp