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Three talking points as Leicester City and Stoke City played out an entertaining draw

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Peter Crouch’s trademark header proved enough to salvage a point for Stoke City in a thoroughly compelling encounter with Leicester City at the bet365 Stadium in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off.

Vicente Iborra was the unlikely figure to break the deadlock after a slow start to proceedings, with the ex-Sevilla man popping up inside the six-yard box from a corner to thump an effort into the net.

This began an end-to-end passage of play to finish the first-half, with the visitors going close to doubling their lead when Shinji Okazaki’s header was brilliantly kept out by Jack Butland in the Stoke goal, but it was the hosts who struck the next blow when Xherdan Shaqiri smartly tucked home.

The second-half continued with the high tempo of the first and it was Leicester who took the lead once again, with Riyad Mahrez wriggling his way into the area and squirming a shot beyond Butland.

Yet the hosts rallied for a second time and, just moments after coming on, Peter Crouch marked his 142nd league appearance from the bench with a typically towering header to set up a frenetic finale.

Both sides pushed in search of a late winner and Stoke nearly found one, but Kasper Schmeichel pulled off a superb diving stop from Crouch in the last action of the day to ensure the spoils were shared.

Script aborted as the bet365 plays host to compelling encounter

Considering the pedigree of some of the fixtures on show this weekend in the Premier League, not many would have been excited by a Saturday lunchtime clash between Stoke City and Leicester City.

Neither side are particularly known for their free-flowing approach on the football field, nor have either side had the ideal start to the 2017-18 campaign, so the prospect of two mid-table teams having a showdown at the bet365 Stadium did little to whet the appetite for the weekend ahead.

A drab opening 25 minutes – within which the most exciting thing to happen was an enforced change of officials – did little to suggest the game would follow anything other than this script.

Yet the match all of a sudden burst into life with Iborra’s opener for the visitors, sparking a frantic ending to the first-half that saw a sensational save from Jack Butland and a sublime Stoke equaliser.

The end-to-end nature of the game was a combination of some poor defending some both sides and some severe pace in their respective attacking outlets, with the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Demarai Gray and Xherdan Shaqiri all posing a potent threat with their raw acceleration up the field.

Yet the way the match transpired just outlined how both managers have ambitions of the top-half this season – perhaps even going as far as challenging for the European spots – and it led to a compelling game full of clear opportunities which completely subverted any pre-match conceptions.

Demarai Gray and Riyad Mahrez shine again under Claude Puel

It’s been quite the week for Leicester City’s Demarai Gray.

After being awarded just his second Premier League start of the season by new manager Claude Puel last weekend against Everton, a match where the England Under-21 star found the back of the net and influenced heavily, it was announced that Gray had penned a new four-year deal at the King Power.

And after last week’s performance it was little surprise that the youngster was named in Puel’s starting line-up for the trip to Stoke, making back-to-back league starts for the first time since early April.

It seems like Gray is ready to take his opportunity to impress under a new manager, and he was a constant thorn in Stoke’s side on Saturday afternoon with a combination of his pace and tricky runs.

He caused regular problems for Mame Biram Diouf in the host’s defence, twisting and turning him inside out on a number of occasion, and he can count himself unfortunate not to grab an assist when his perfectly-weighted cross for Okazaki was miraculously kept out from close-range by Butland.

Yet Gray’s rise to prominence under Puel has equally brought the best out of Riyad Mahrez, with the Algerian celebrating his 150th appearance for the Foxes with his second league goal of the season.

The duo were unarguably Leicester’s biggest threat all afternoon, working in tandem on the wings to provide some width and offer a constant outlet on the counter-attack, and Mahrez was good value for his second-half strike after a display full of the trickery and confidence from the 2015-16 season.

The fact that Mahrez is beginning to re-find some form on the pitch is only a good sign for Leicester fans and it seems that he is responding to the impressive displays from Gray over on the other flank.

Puel’s decision to persist with a 4-2-3-1 formation, starting both Mahrez and Gray, has worked wonders in his opening few matches and there’s suddenly a lot of promise for the season ahead.

Peter Crouch effort papers over Stoke’s defensive cracks

Was it ever in doubt?

With Stoke in need of a goal after falling behind for the second time, Mark Hughes looked to his bench and turned to the obdurate figure of Peter Crouch to try and provide his threat from the air.

The tactic of lumping long balls forward to the England striker was a far cry from the pattern of play from the preceding 69 minutes but, as proven time and time again in the past, Crouch simply has this way of popping up inside the 18-yard-box and getting his team out of jail with his golden head.

Leicester would have known what was coming from the second Crouch stepped on the pitch but knowing about it and dealing with it are two different things, and the 34-year-old almost inevitably nodded home with 15 minutes to go for his 15th goal as a Premier League substitute.

However, Crouch’s late contribution will only serve to paper over the cracks of another below-par performance from Mark Hughes’ side, who can count themselves lucky to have earnt a point.

Heading into Saturday’s clash the Potters had the second-worst defensive record in the Premier League behind bottom side Crystal Palace, conceding 20 goals in their ten games.

Whilst 16 of these came in the absence of Ryan Shawcross the Stoke captain did little to consolidate his side’s back-three against the Foxes and the likes of Gray and Mahrez caused havoc down the flanks, and Leicester will feel aggrieved that they didn’t leave with all three points.

Stoke were indebted to goalkeeper Butland on a number of occasions, including the aforementioned outstanding stop from Okazaki from just a matter of yards out, but the way in which they were exposed on the counter-attack would have set the alarm bells ringing for the Potters’ coaching staff.

It was their defending from set-pieces that caused most concern though, with their zonal approach to corners leaving a number of Leicester runners free on each occasion, and it was little surprise when Iborra was left all alone inside the penalty area to thump home and give the visitors the lead.

There are a number of talented individuals in the Stoke defence, who have all impressed in their own right at times this season, but it’s time for Hughes to now get them working together to try and stop leaking goals.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

Leicester City

Who is Leicester City’s new signing, Ricardo Pereira?

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Photo: Getty Images.

He may come to the Premier League as a regular in a league winning side set to travel to the World Cup as a Champions League regular, but few had heard of Porto full-back Ricardo Pereira when it was announced that terms have been agreed for him to join Leicester City.

The deal was confirmed on the club’s official website as the 24-year-old put pen to paper on a five year contract which will be confirmed on June 9th, when the international transfer window opens.

Yet, those who know Pereira well will not be surprised. The right-back was Claude Puel’s undisputed first choice at OGC Nice during his spell in France and was one of the first names on the current Leicester boss’ team-sheet week in, week out.

(Photo credit should read FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)

Then, Pereira was deployed as both a right-back and a left-back, with his versatility being one of his biggest strengths in the eyes of Puel. Since then, he has added another dimension to his game, improving his attacking play and featuring in a more advanced role in midfield and even as a forward on the right hand side for Porto.

The Portuguese side have relied on the number 21 as they returned to the top of Liga NOS this season and his fine form has earned him a spot in his national team, adding to his two caps from 2015 with another in November and then being selected ahead of Barcelona’s Nelson Semedo for Fernando Santos’ World Cup squad to travel to Russia.

A strong dribbler who likes to overlap down the flank, he is a clear upgrade on Danny Simpson provided he can rapidly adapt to the pace and physicality of the Premier League.

With a WhoScored rating of 7.59 in 2017/18, Pereira is one of the most highly rated full-backs in Europe and possessed some of the best statistical returns in the world in his position. His signing for the Foxes represents a step in the right direction in the club’s quest to return to European football.

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Leicester City

Leicester City will hope Kelechi Iheanacho can live up to price-tag next season

The Nigerian striker still has to prove himself at Leicester City.

Mathew Coull

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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.

(Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

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.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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.

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Does Arsenal win justify stay for Claude Puel at Leicester?

Josh Kerr

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Claude Puel
Photo: Getty Images

Claude Puel helped Leicester secure their first win over Arsenal in 24-years on Wednesday night to round off their home campaign in spectacular fashion.

However, does the win do enough to justify why the Frenchman should stay at King Power for next season?

The Foxes ended a miserable run of five games without a win and six at the King Power Stadium by inflicting a first-ever defeat to the Gunners.

The victory, courtesy of goals from Kelechi Iheanacho, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, ensured Puel’s side now cannot finish lower than ninth.

After the win, Puel dedicated the final home game of the season to his Leicester supporters, despite many fans wanting a change of management in the East Midlands.

Puel took over from Leicester with the Foxes sitting third from the bottom – a position that had resulted in the sacking of Craig Shakespeare back in October.

Puel was a breath of fresh air for the former Premier League champions and got them quickly flying up the league table.

However, his poor form in recent weeks has also seen fans unhappy with his unimaginative style of play, and some have called for their fourth managerial change in just over a year.

The current Leicester boss found himself in an almost identical position last season when he was sacked by Southampton on the final day of the season, despite guiding the team to an impressive 8th place finish.

It comes as a cruel reminder to Puel that wins just aren’t enough in the modern game. Fans still want to see their team playing a positive brand of football that lifts them off their seats each weekend.

Puel’s obsession with results had clearly upset the Leicester dressing room, who looked jaded and unimpressed with the manager’s tactics in recent weeks, but Wednesday’s win may inspire the board to keep the 56-year-old in charge of the Foxes for next season.

Leicester can’t afford to keep going through managers and Puel’s style may not be the most imaginative, but the former Saints manager has dragged them up the table dramatically when they looked a serious contender for the drop just months ago.

The supporters need only look to Burnley for inspiration, with the Clarets recording a stunning seventh place finish that has secured them European football for next season.

Puel has an 8th and 9th place finish on his managerial CV, and supporters should be delighted with the progress made since his appointment back in October.

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