Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola praised his players for passing “an incredible test” as Gabriel Jesus came off the bench to score a late winner at Leicester and cement themselves in second spot.
Jamie Vardy had hit the post for Leicester in the first half, but both sides wasted numerous chances before Jesus slotted home with a cool finish after a surging run from Riyad Mahrez had opened up the home defence.
The best of those opportunities saw Foxes keeper Kasper Schmeichel deny Sergio Aguero from the spot on the hour mark as the Blues’ penalty problems continued.
The defending champions are now seven points clear of the Foxes having won twice since being banned from European football for two years by Uefa.
“Don’t ask me about the attitude of these guys,” said Guardiola. “You still doubt what they have done. These players have won seven titles in the last eight [domestic] competitions.
“Today, after missing the penalty, see the reaction we had against an incredibly good team, not just for where they are in the table right now but the way they played in general this season. It was an incredible test for us.”
Guardiola’s side have now missed five of their seven Premier League spot-kicks this season, but Leicester will argue they should have been given two of their own before the break.
Nothing was given when Kevin de Bruyne had his arms up in the wall and James Maddison’s free-kick clearly hit them, and even more mystifying was the decision to give Leicester a corner when Ederson took out Kelechi Iheanacho.
Iheanacho had beaten the Brazilian to Maddison’s delightful chipped pass and was floored by the goalkeeper’s attempt to punch the ball to safety, but referee Paul Tierney and the video assistant referee both felt Ederson had touched the ball.
The next time VAR got involved, it was to award the visitors a penalty – after Dennis Praet charged down Ilkay Gundogan’s effort with his arm.
But Schmeichel preserved parity when he saved with his legs after Aguero went for power and blasted his spot-kick down the middle, leaving the game in the balance.
The Foxes keeper denied Aguero again soon after, but he could do nothing to keep out Jesus’ strike which brought a jubilant reaction from the away fans, and the Manchester City players joined them in celebration at the final whistle.
It is almost an irrelevance that the Blues have cut Liverpool’s lead at the top to 19 points, but they can head for the Bernabeu for their Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid on a high after a difficult week.
City warm up for Real test
The strength of Manchester City’s team selection was an indication Guardiola was looking to build rhythm rather than rest his players for their crucial clash with Real.
The only absentee from his squad who could figure on Wednesday night was Raheem Sterling, who is hoping to recover from a hamstring injury in time to feature against the team he talked about joining this week.
This was a decent warm-up for that tie, and an altogether more demanding test than the midweek stroll over a meek West Ham side.
Aymeric Laporte was again used for around an hour as he builds his fitness, and showed his value to the side with quick balls forward as well as calm defending under pressure.
Mahrez, booed by his old fans before the game, was again impressive and his running with the ball showed how important he could be against the Spanish giants if Sterling is not fully fit.
Manchester City were by no means perfect – their sloppy passing in the first half in particular was worrying.
But the resolve they found to hold off a spirited Leicester side and find a winner will offer Guardiola much encouragement at the start of a huge week, that ends at Wembley next Sunday when they play Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup final.
Leicester still look Champions League material
Leicester have now lost home and away to the two teams above them in the table this season but they again showed why they occupy such a lofty position, and will feel they deserved more from this game.
The Foxes may have been forced into an attacking outlook by their lack of available defensive midfielders but boss Brendan Rodgers demonstrated his tactical versatility by switching to a three-man defence and his side looked comfortable, and dangerous, as they carried out his instructions.
Conceding so late will hurt but at one point Leicester’s fans started singing about how they are “going on a European tour” after being called out by the away fans, and it still looks like that excursion will be of the Champions League variety even after this defeat.
True, Leicester have now won only two of their seven league games in 2020 but their performance levels have not noticeably dropped and, just as importantly, they still hold a healthy lead over the teams outside the top four.
If Manchester City’s Uefa ban is upheld then fifth place will see the Foxes return to the top table of European football in 2020-21, but more displays like this from Rodgers’ side should see them safely in the Champions League places regardless.
Man of the match – Gabriel Jesus (Man City)
Schmeichel eclipses dad Peter with save – the stats
- Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s save from Sergio Aguero’s penalty was his fourth Premier League penalty save – one more than his father Peter made in his entire Premier League career.
- Manchester City have kept successive clean sheets in the Premier League for only the second time this season (also in October 2019).
- Manchester City have won six of their last seven league meetings with Leicester City (L1), as many as their previous 21 such clashes.
- Leicester City have lost three of their last five home league games (W1 D1); they had only lost one of their first 14 such matches under Brendan Rodgers.
- Rodgers has lost all three of his Premier League meetings with Manchester City as Leicester manager, as many such defeats as he suffered in eight games against the Citizens in charge of Swansea and Liverpool (W3 D2 L3).
- Gabriel Jesus has scored four goals in his five Premier League appearances against Leicester City; only versus Everton (seven) has he scored more in the competition.
- Manchester City have failed to score from each of their last four Premier League penalties, with each being missed by a different player (Aguero, Ilkay Gundogan, Jesus, Raheem Sterling).
- Manchester City attempted 18 shots in this match, the most Leicester have faced in a single league game at King Power Stadium since Manchester United had 19 in December 2017.
‘VAR interpretation needs sorting’ – what they said
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, speaking to BBC Sport: “We’re obviously very disappointed not to get something from the game. We had big opportunities. Of course you have to defend well, too. You’re going to get moved about at times, but I thought we did very well.”
On the two handball incidents: “Manchester City’s was a penalty. Kasper makes a fantastic save, but ours is clear too. Everyone bar Kevin’s arms are down. I believe this was one of the reasons VAR was introduced.
“VAR is fine, it’s the interpretation of it. That’s what needs sorting out.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, speaking to BBC Sport: “Leicester are a top side. It was a good performance. We didn’t give up and that’s an incredibly good sign for us.
“We have missed four penalties in a row, but maybe we will score a penalty when we need it to win something. The keepers are good too, but the next one we are going to score.”
On Champions League opponents Real Madrid: “The preparation after 12 days off was good. We have played two good games and it’s good to prepare for Real Madrid with these good opponents. We are playing the kings of the competition. We will see, we will try to enjoy it and do our game.”
Leicester travel to bottom side Norwich on Friday (20:00 GMT) in the Premier League.
Manchester City head for the Bernabeu on Wednesday to face Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League tie (20:00), then go to Wembley on Sunday to play Aston Villa in the final of the Carabao Cup (16:30).
Article courtesy of BBC Sport