Man City v Leicester: Can the Foxes do damage to threadbare City?

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Dan Burke

Article image: Man City v Leicester: Can the Foxes do damage to threadbare City?

It’s tempting to refer to Sunday’s enticing Premier League clash at the Etihad as A Tale of Two Cities.

But in Manchester City’s case, perhaps the title of another Charles Dickens novel is more apt – Hard Times.

Premier League

Manchester City
Leicester City

Because despite their vast riches, Pep Guardiola’s side are down to the bare bones heading into their second league fixture of the 2020/21 campaign.

On Friday, Gabriel Jesus became the latest City player to fall victim to either injury or Covid-19, leaving Guardiola with just 13 senior players to choose from for the visit of Leicester.

It’s a miniature crisis which may force the Catalan to go cap in hand to his employers and, like Oliver Twist, ask: “Please sir, can I have some more … strikers?”

But the meantime, Guardiola may have no choice but to lean on Liam Delap, for whom there are Great Expectations following his goalscoring senior debut in mid-week.

The 17-year-old son of Stoke City’s former human catapult Rory scored a wonderful goal in the Carabao Cup victory over Bournemouth and generally put himself about with the robust confidence of a man who’d been playing big boy football for a lot longer than 90 minutes.

Whether that form will immediately translate to the Premier League remains to be seen, but Guardiola will have seen enough on Thursday to know that Delap won’t drown if he has to be thrown in at the deep end in the coming weeks.

Not that a lack of options in the striking department will be Guardiola’s only concern when the in-form Foxes come to town on Sunday.

The 2019/20 season was a strange one for every club, but it was especially strange for Leicester.

This time last year, most Foxes fans would have bitten your hand off for top six finish but at one point around the middle of the season, they were playing so well many considered them Liverpool’s strongest challengers for the title.

Lockdown came and went and so did their form, and after slipping out of the top four on the final day, it was impossible not to view their fifth-placed finished as a huge missed opportunity.

And it’s impossible to deny that their late season collapse was damaging to the reputation of Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers, with Liverpool fans telling anyone who would listen that they’d seen it all before during the Northern Irishman’s ill-fated stint at Anfield.

Rightly or wrongly, Rodgers might be the Premier League’s biggest recent victim of the fickle nature of football fandom.

When he wins he’s a genius, when he loses he’s David Brent.

As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and in the words of Brent himself: “You just have to accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.”

After their fine start to the season, Rodgers has every reason to be quietly confident that his team could be the pigeon to Manchester City’s statue this weekend.

The early evidence suggests we might look back on the £25m signing of Timothy Castagne as one of the best bits of business done anywhere in Europe this summer, while the likes of Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison all looked lively in last week’s win over Burnley.

And what more can you say about Jamie Vardy? Jamie Vardy is Jamie Vardy, and that’s about the highest compliment you can pay a man who’s still terrorising defences up and down the land at the ripe old age of 33.

Vardy loves nothing more than coming up against teams who play a high line, and you can’t blame him if he’s relishing the prospect of facing John Stones this weekend. Chat shit, get banged.

But if Manchester City play as they did in their win at Wolves last Monday, it is they who are more likely to be dishing out the bangings.

Guardiola’s men were back to their pressing best at Molineux, with Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings behind the front-line, while Fernandinho and Rodri expertly marshalled the midfield like two hard-nosed police detectives tasked with cleaning the scum off the streets.

It won’t be easy to replicate that performance with so many players missing this weekend, but it won’t be impossible either.

And though Leicester were beaten twice in this fixture last season, they will feel that this could be their best chance of victory at the Etihad since winning there en route to the title in 2016.

It won’t be a decisive game by any means, but it should be a fascinating encounter.