Foxes give Pep an issue to tackle

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy rounding Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo before scoring his third goal of the match. The Foxes won the Premier League clash 4-2.
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy rounding Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo before scoring his third goal of the match. The Foxes won the Premier League clash 4-2.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Guardiola insists he'll not change style of play as Leicester show their worth as champions

LONDON • Jamie Vardy had an absolute party. The clappers clapped. And champions of England? For once, they knew what they were.

Leicester City's season as Premier League title-holders had been less convincing than, what, a John Stones backpass?

Until on Saturday when, under the lights and in the rain, a lot of doubts and disappointments washed away following their 4-2 win over Manchester City.

Leicester were magnificent, so efficient on the break, just like last year. But City were so pliant, so strangely set up and so oddly underprepared that even Pep Guardiola's acolytes must be asking questions.

"What are tackles?" Guardiola mused on being told his team failed to win a single tackle in the opening 35 minutes.

"I am not a coach for the tackles. I don't train for tackles. What I want is to try to play well and score goals.

JUST A SMALL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

What are tackles? I am not a coach for the tackles. I don't train for tackles. What I want is to try to play well and score goals.

PEP GUARDIOLA, Manchester City manager, insisting that tackles are just a small part of the game and he focuses on the big picture of playing well and winning.

"You have to win the duels, that is true. But normally when you play well you win tackles but, after four minutes, at 2-0, the mind of the players is, 'What is going on? What happened?'

"It is another aspect of football but in the end, we are not going to win or lose because of the tackles."

While he philosophises, the likes of Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger get on with the prosaic business of contesting the title.

City have won only four of their last 15 games and after £174 million (S$313 million) spent on players, they are only a point better off than under Manuel Pellegrini at this stage last season.

The visitors were 0-2 down after five minutes at the King Power Stadium and then conceded two more goals before striking back with a couple of their own late on via Aleksandar Kolarov and Nolito.

Their defending was weak throughout, as they failed to combat the speed, power and directness of Leicester, whose long passes and counter-attacking flummoxed the away side.

However, Guardiola absolved his players of any blame, even Stones, whose slack back-pass allowed Jamie Vardy to complete a hat-trick - the player's first since he scored three for Fleetwood Town in a Conference game in 2012 against Ebbsfleet. Andy King scored Leicester's second goal in the fifth minute.

"I'm not disappointed with my players," Guardiola insisted.

"They work hard to make things perfect. We knew (Leicester) would be focused after losing 0-5 (in the Champions League) and here they played really well, the long balls, the second balls.

"I want to play the football that I feel. I try to control games - here I cannot do that, I have to analyse why."

That, he stressed, did not mean he would contemplate radical change. "Of course I will be the same. Of course there are some special things in the Premier League but the pitch is the same and it's 11 v 11," the City manager added.

"I have to control the little differences between the other leagues but the idea I think is good."

Leicester began the game just two points outside the relegation zone - their domestic troubles are in stark contrast to their Champions League campaign which has seen them make the last 16.

"To get points is important but this is just a little step because now we have to think about the next match against Bournemouth and then Stoke," said manager Claudio Ranieri.

"We will be able to tell in two or three months whether it's a turning point. Now it's too early."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Foxes give Pep an issue to tackle'. Print Edition | Subscribe