F365 Says: Leicester facing some familiar questions…

Date published: Tuesday 17th October 2017 1:30

There was a moment in the first half when Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel sent a goal-kick straight out of play on the full, badly over-hitting his pass over the head of Christian Fuchs. It would not have been noticeable had West Brom goalkeeper Boaz Myhill not done precisely the same thing two minutes previously. It was that sort of night.

West Brom and Leicester headed into their eighth league games of the season having failed to win in a combined ten league matches. If that gave both teams the opportunity to surge back into form against an opponent with wavering belief, the reality was a great deal different. The 22 players moved at half-speed with and without the ball, as if hamstrung by a lack of confidence. When players are in form, they play on instinct; this was the opposite. Make that 12 games.

On nights such as this, with the wind whipping around the King Power Stadium and the temperature somehow lower than anywhere else in the East Midlands, it is easy to lose faith in the Premier League dream. Neither of these two teams are likely to be in any danger of relegation, but they will make up a bloated dirge of mid-to-low ranking clubs for whom the excitement is doled out in meagre rations.

Even the basics were lacking. As well as the goal-kicks, defenders and midfielders were too eager to launch the ball forward. With defences sitting deep, Jamie Vardy and Salomon Rondon were negated. The game became an extended exercise to see which team could lose possession the quickest. Manchester City attempted 501 passes during the first half against Stoke City this weekend; Leicester and West Brom managed 476 between them.

Yet these are also the evenings for which Tony Pulis was created in a laboratory before being dressed head to toe in club shop couture. West Brom have won three league games since March, and each of them by the same scoreline. It gets better: Since Pulis was appointed, West Brom have won 10 Premier League away games. Seven of them had been 1-0 victories.

It took a moment… no wait, the moment of real quality to give the away side the lead. Kelechi Iheanacho gave away a free-kick after another lunge following another poor touch, and Nacer Chadli bent his shot up and over Schmeichel’s wall. We are used to West Brom scoring set-piece goals, but not like this.

Craig Shakespeare, no doubt under some pressure, can reasonably claim that his team have been the victim of an unkind fixture list. Leicester have faced Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool in their opening eight games and lost each one.

Yet Leicester have also looked decidedly stodgy against Huddersfield, Bournemouth and now West Brom. Wilfried Ndidi’s excellent form of last season has tailed off badly, and Vardy cut a frustrated figure after a bright opening ten minutes. Shakespeare’s team are generally defending competently, but the transition from midfield to attack has been abject. If only they had a competent Portuguese midfielder sitting in the wings waiting to be used.

Iheanacho just looks broken. The Nigerian touched the ball 20 times in his 74 minutes, and close to half of those were immediately followed by a tackle having miscontrolled or mislaid possession. The claps as he left the field were out of sympathy rather than celebration.

Riyad Mahrez has also often been lacking this season, no doubt disappointed by the lack of transfer over the summer. Mahrez was wonderful against Brighton in August, but since then the tricks and flicks have not come off. They have provoked groans where once they brought gasps.

Yet there is no doubting the natural talent, nor too the foolishness of leaving him in open space in the penalty area. Pulis has drilled West Brom against such actions, and they can expect to receive the same lessons again this week. Mahrez arrowed the ball past Myhill, and Leicester had their point.

For all Leicester’s response to adversity, Shakespeare will be concerned by another game passing by without victory. His team have scored the opening goal in only one of their last 11 league games. They can’t keep having to come from behind.

Leicester have had their wonder for one lifetime, of course, but Shakespeare is facing a similar – if hugely watered down – version of the ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ effect that did for Claudio Ranieri last season. Even the noise created by the free plastic clappers has died down, sporadic raindrops on a tin roof rather than thunderous applause. I’ve waited until now to make the laboured pun, but Leicester’s manager quickly requires an autumn statement if he is to avoid his own winter of discontent.

Daniel Storey

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