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Watford 2 Leicester City 1 (19/11/2016) 20/11/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- Football serves many purposes to its audience.  Key amongst these is escapism, something to cling to, to hide in when your life is turning to crap.  Developments elsewhere in the world since our defeat at Anfield, developments breathtakingly crass and depressing and terrifying, left a lot of us needing precisely this.  Seriously, this on top of Brexit?  The world’s gone absolutely crazy…

So the return of football was necessary and we were bang up for it.  We flew unhindered down the M1, swung round the ring road in record time.  The pedestrian crossing switched to green as we approached; we crossed without breaking stride.  This was finally going to be a good day.  Today we were going to win.  Only the fact that ig didn’t have a pen with him to lend to Daughter 2 for ticking the starting elevens off in her programme betrayed that something in the world had changed.

2- There had been a few questions festering over the latest interminable international break.  Would any of the walking wounded be available… Gomes, Prödl, Okaka, Success, Cathcart… would Iggy keep his pace, would Watson get a start? Most of all, how would the team respond to the dicking on Merseyside?  The answers to most of these questions came with the now ceremonial checking of Twitter feeds over  a two minute period either side of two o’clock;  the answer to the final question came an hour later.  We flew at Leicester from the kick-off in what’s becoming a trademark explosive start… Hull City had withstood similar a fortnight ago but City, crucially, couldn’t and didn’t.  Roberto Pereyra’s performance was immediately the sort of thing we’d hoped and dreamed of; he picked up a loose pass, swivelled down the left and stole enough space to sling in a cross.  Troy Deeney’s header was no less fine a thing… no vague flick-on this, cushioned into the path of Capoue who did his attacking-the-box thing and flung a bouncing volley past Zieler.  There was time for a more eye-catching trick from Pereyra, receiving a pass on the left flank with his back to his marker he backheeled a nutmeg with a single touch and left him standing (Daughter 2 was to describe this to her bemused mother in some detail later in the day).  Shortly afterwards he again picked up the ball on the left, seemed to make himself space to shoot by swaying in a threateningly deceptive manner, and curled a shot across Zieler’s grasp and in.  Magnificent throughout, for the first quarter hour Pereyra was at a level that almost seemed unfair on the visitors, a quite unreasonable and uncontainable advantage.

3- Quite how the game would have panned out but for the penalty we’ll never know.  One possibility of course is that we’d have capitalised further on this extraordinary start, or that Leicester would have come back at us and, on failing to break through, overcommitted leaving us holes to exploit. Another sufficiently plausible maybe is that at 2-0 up our concentration wouldn’t have been quite as sharp as it needed to be later in the game and as such, the goal coming when it did didn’t give us time to relax or get complacent – later on, a goal borne of pressure rather than a silly and unnecessary foul so quickly might have yielded another.

As it was, Mahrez struck the spot kick down the centre and seized the baton from Pereyra, if only briefly… the visitors had a period of good possession and pressure, but not possession and pressure that resulted in a shot on target for the rest of the half.  Instead it was the Hornets who can claim to have come closest, Kaboul thumping a header narrowly wide and Deeney playing a ball across to Amrabat that he should have taken with his left but seemed to stab at with his right.  The Moroccan continued to make mischief on the flank, however, and twice drew fouls that demanded further sanction but received none, the referee struggling with what was an increasingly feisty encounter towards the end of the half.

4- City had started with what Leicester Paul described as their “Champions League week” team, a “slight groin injury” to Slimani the most significant absentee both in terms of our now fabled vulnerability from crosses and also the way the game played out; City could have used a target man when their preferred counter-attacking approach quickly became a non-starter.  For all that, there were only two changes to the starting eleven that we faced here in March – Zieler for Schmeichel, Amartey for Kanté – and whilst those changes made our visitors weaker there’s no doubt that we’ve progressed even over that narrow window.  Deprived of any space to attack, City not unreasonably decided that their best chance of a result would come from committing people – running at them and drawing challenges, winning free kicks.  Given the pace and quick feet of Vardy, Musa, Gray and the industry of Okazaki that seemed quite sensible but our defending was heroic, particularly in the final quarter of the game.

We know from experience how context affects your interpretation.  We’ve just been stuffed 6-1 at Anfield;  unpleasant as that was, we know that we’re in a strong position and therefore the odd embarrassment can be taken on the chin.  It would have been harder to mentally recover from had we been in the bottom three.  Similarly, Leicester’s almighty achievement last season was borne in part of a bloody-minded belief in what they were doing.  They didn’t do much different in this one… but their play was tentative, deliberate.  For all Vardy’s spinning and twisting City only achieved one shot on target from open play; Kaboul, Prödl and Britos threw themselves in front of things, snuffed out space and suffocated the waves of attacks of increasing intensity. That flying blocks yielded a couple of ball-to-hand (or elbow) close-contact penalty appeals that were noisily, desperately, hopelessly optimistic spoke volumes.  Instead it was Nordin Amrabat’s relish in committing Fuchs – on a yellow and a last warning, as so many of Nordin’s markers seem to end up – that made the best chance of the half.  Burrowing past the Austrian on the right flank Amrabat laid back for Janmaat to drop a cross on Pereyra’s head.  Face with the choice of directing a header to his marker’s left and inside the post or to the bigger target back across goal he chose the latter, making Zieler’s acrobatic save a possibility.

5- This one was significant for a number of reasons.  Our first league victory over reigning champions since John Barnes’ ludicrous goal – from the same wing to the same corner as Pereyra’s – against Liverpool 30 years ago.  A tactical triumph for Mazzarri, whose early salvo and formation change that saw us play 5-4-1 when defending but had Amrabat and Pereyra supporting the tremendous Deeney – whose ongoing battle with Morgan was an entertaining sideshow – when in possession gave City nowhere to go.  Most of all for the cast iron balls of the whole team, particularly the back three, in withstanding the late pressure and in dismissing that Anfield game from concern.  We still have Success, Cathcart, Holebas to return for goodness’ sake, not to mention a fit-again Okaka who seems perfectly equipped to play the “pain in the arse sub off the bench” role when protecting a lead such as this.

It occurred to me this week that a marker of how far we’ve come is that we knocked Newcastle, Leeds and Forest out of the cup last season but only the Arsenal game rendered the run remarkable.  Ten or fifteen years ago that would have been unthinkable.  Now we sit in eighth, behind only seven sides whose resources, successes and infrastructure dwarf our own.  And it doesn’t feel like a false position.

Yoorns.

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Comments»

1. Martin B - 20/11/2016

Is Prodl’s assist for Pereyra’s goal his first for WFC?

2. JohnF - 21/11/2016

Interesting game and a good point about the effects of the penalty Matt. Having said that Britos does have a tendency to go charging in without a great deal of finesse. I thought the referee was poor and less than even handed with his bookings. One incident in the first half when there was an attempt to take off Amrabat’s head that was ignored said a good deal. However, a solid team performance with a number of notable players unavailable. That bodes well for the rest of the season with the possibility of being able to make changes as more suspensions are likely, for example Berahmi is on four bookings. Mind he did well to keep control under intense provocation. Perhaps three early goals on Sunday would make it a bit less nerve wracking.

3. P. Ed Antic - 22/11/2016

First victory over reigning champions in the league. The last victory over reigning champions being against Leeds United in 1992, Eric Cantona’s last game for them.

Matt Rowson - 22/11/2016

Correct. That’s why the report says “first league victory”

PEDantic - 22/11/2016

I am the real PEDantic – you imposter! Relinquish my user name at once.
By the way, we have the chance this year to finish above the reigning Champions for the first time ever, having missed out last time.

4. Peter C - 22/11/2016

I was at the Hull game, and was encouraged by the dynamic start, which could easily have led to an early goal. Good to hear that this approach was repeated against Leicester, this time with success. Visiting clubs can view Hertfordshire as a sleepy place, and may be expecting a sleepy start. I hope the manager continues with the tactic.
By the way, people who voted for Brexit are not crazy. I have travelled the world widely, and have also had dealing EU agencies, and am confident our country will be invigorated by our escape.

Matt Rowson - 22/11/2016

Good for you.


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