Tuesday 27 June 2017

Bravo homework pays rich dividends for clever Foxes

Leicester City 4 Man City 2

Stones: Error led to goal. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Stones: Error led to goal. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

John Percy

Pep Guardiola's unwavering faith in his philosophy is under further scrutiny after Jamie Vardy revealed that Leicester targeted Manchester City's "ball player" Claudio Bravo.

Vardy brutally exposed Guardiola's game plan with a hat-trick, ending a run of 16 club games without a goal, and admitted the third strike was a result of time spent studying the Chilean goalkeeper on DVDs.

After a John Stones back-pass was anticipated by Vardy, the England forward rounded Bravo to complete a memorable evening for the champions and increase the pressure on Guardiola over his strategy.

City have managed just five clean sheets in Guardiola's 25 matches in charge and Joe Hart's ruthless exclusion from the Catalan's Etihad revolution appears more baffling with each passing week.

Guardiola seems oblivious to the problems in front of him but Vardy's assessment of City's tactics highlights how Premier League rivals are doing their homework.

"We'd been watching videos and they like to use the keeper. Their keeper is a ball player so once you've got them in the corner you have to press the keeper slightly. For the hat-trick, luckily the ball came across and he wasn't ready for it," said the England striker.

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy celebrates with Marc Albrighton whilst holding the match ball at the end of the match after scoring a hat-trick. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy celebrates with Marc Albrighton whilst holding the match ball at the end of the match after scoring a hat-trick. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

"They've obviously got their set way of playing and how their manager wants them to play. On Saturday it worked out in our favour but they're going to get results playing that way against other teams. It was definitely beneficial for us and to get the win against a team like that is unbelievable."

Leicester's counter-attacking style was encouraged by the unfathomable formation of their opponents.

It was as if Guardiola had not prepared properly, bizarrely claiming later that "I am not a coach for tackles".

"It's typical here in England when they (talk) a lot about the tackles. I'm not a coach for the tackles. So I don't train the tackles. What I want is to try to play good, score goals, arrive more," revealed Guardiola.

Manchester City's Bacary Sagna in action with Leicester City's Islam Slimani. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester City's Bacary Sagna in action with Leicester City's Islam Slimani. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

"What's tackles? Yeah, you have to win the duels, that's true, but normally when you play good you win a lot of tackles. But after four minutes, 2-0, in the mind of the players they say, 'Wow, what happened?', it's not easy for them.

"Yeah, it's another aspect of football, but we're not going to win or lose (because of) the tackles."

Stones' mistake 12 minutes from time epitomised a shambolic display from City and the England defender's determination to play out from the back borders on obsession. The traditional approach of English centre-halves used to be booting the ball into Row Z, when under pressure, yet that concept clearly appals Stones.

But Vardy defended the £47.5m signing and insisted he did not deserve to be attacked over his style of play.

"They are a passing team and their centre-halves are the ones that start if off after the keeper has given it to them. You can't criticise him at all for that, he wants to get on the ball and wants to make things happen," he said.

"That's a good thing for him, I've been training with him with England and you can see the ability he's got. Why change that?"

Vardy terrorised City all evening - this was a return to the pest-like qualities that became so prominent in their title win last season.

It was his first hat-trick since February 2012, when a treble against Ebbsfleet while playing in non-League for Fleetwood Town included an effort from the halfway line.

These goals were all scored in the penalty area and were brilliantly taken, shattering the theory that he could be a one-season wonder.

It also made Michael Owen's assertion that he is not "a natural finisher" look even more ridiculous.

"I don't listen to that. He can say what he wants. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I'm not going to read anything to it and that's up to them what they say," said Vardy.

"I'll just get on with it, work hard on the training field and hopefully take it into the matches. But I wasn't worried about not scoring.

"It's just with what happened last year, a lot of expectations go up.

"Although we've not been getting the results and a few of the performances have been below par, deep down we knew we were still the team we were last year. On that performance we've definitely got that back."

Leicester will also discover their opponents in the Champions League knock-out stages today and this could be a turning point after a difficult title defence.

Guardiola, meanwhile, is facing a potentially pivotal week as his team prepare for the visit of Arsenal, and the inquest into this defeat will be extensive.

His team were two goals behind after just five minutes, with a clinical Vardy finish and a spectacular strike from Wales international Andy King.

Vardy collected another goal in the 20th minute after a wonderfully cushioned pass from the outstanding Riyad Mahrez and completed his hat-trick late on after help from Stones.

City did respond through Aleksandar Kolarov and substitute Nolito yet the scoreline was not an accurate reflection of the game.

Leicester captain Wes Morgan said: "We have studied them this week and we have decided to sit back and nick the ball when it comes into our danger area and be effective on the counter-attack and it worked for us.

"Man City are a good team, I know they are having a sticky spell at the moment but there are a lot of good teams fighting for the title and I am sure come the end they will still be up there." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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