Back with a bang

After 16 games for the Foxes with­out a goal, Vardy’s sen­sa­tional hat-trick in­spires cham­pi­ons to sink Guardi­ola’s men

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Sam Wal­lace CHIEF FOOT­BALL WRITER at the King Power Sta­dium

When Pep Guardi­ola won his first Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle seven years ago, the high-point then of Jamie Vardy’s ca­reer was still a first-team place at Stocks­bridge Park Steels and when fi­nally their ca­reers in­ter­sected it was an ex­pe­ri­ence the Manch­ester City man­ager is un­likely to for­get.

A hat-trick for Vardy after 16 games with­out a goal, a vin­tage counter-at­tack­ing, hard-run­ning, high-press­ing hat-trick that ex­posed ev­ery weak­ness in a Manch­ester City team who were three goals down after 20 min­utes. The cham­pi­ons turned into Guardi­ola’s team’s worst night­mare and at their heart was that awk­ward English striker with the non-league ca­reer who hounds de­fend­ers whether they can pass the ball or not.

In the tun­nel be­fore the game, Vardy leant across to shake the hand of John Stones, and with 20 min­utes of the match left he scored a goal that turned a bad evening for his Eng­land team­mate into a disas­ter. Mis­judg­ing a ball back to Clau­dio Bravo, Stones in­ad­ver­tently played in Vardy who fin­ished mas­ter­fully from an an­gle that gave him lit­tle of the goal to aim at.

Ev­ery bad Manch­ester City per­for­mance is made worst by a Stones mis­take that re­turns the de­bate to the fun­da­men­tal­ism of Guardi­ola, un­shake­able as ever in the af­ter­math of his sec­ond straight league de­feat. There was his usual re­fusal to blame his play­ers and praise for two late goals that halved the mar­gin of de­feat but came much too late to have an ef­fect on the out­come.

Per­haps most re­mark­able about was his re­ac­tion to be­ing told that in a dis­mal open­ing 35 min­utes his team had not won a sin­gle tackle. “The sec­ond ball is a con­cept,” Guardi­ola re­sponded. “It’s typ­i­cal here in Eng­land when they use a lot of 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. What are tack­les?”

Guardi­ola does not, he says, mea­sure suc­cess by tack­les won but it was hard to ig­nore the fact that a few more tack­les against a side as di­rect as Le­ices­ter was pre­cisely what was re­quired.

“You have to win the du­els, that is true,” he said. “But nor­mally when you play well you win tack­les. After four min­utes, at 2-0 down, the mind of the play­ers is ‘What is go­ing on? What hap­pened?’ It is not easy for them. It is an­other as­pect of foot­ball but in the end we are not go­ing to win or lose be­cause of the tack­les.” His team have won just two out of their last seven games since the Cham­pi­ons League vic­tory over Barcelona and with­out the sus­pended Ser­gio Aguero and Fer­nand­inho there was a dis­tinct lack of de­fen­sive steel and at­tack­ing edge. Kelechi Iheana­cho was a poor re­place­ment for the Ar­gen­tine, re­placed after 58 min­utes by Yaya Toure who was an un­likely cen­tral striker for the last half an hour of the game.

Guardi­ola con­ceded that in de­feats to Chelsea and Le­ices­ter his team have sim­ply not been good enough ei­ther de­fen­sively or in at­tack al­though he was adamant that Stones should not be sin­gled out. That in­stinct not to blame is one of Guardi­ola’s best points and Stones will ben­e­fit from his faith but never more has the young English­man looked more in need of a com­mand­ing de­fen­sive part­ner like the in­jured Vin­cent Kom­pany.

“Ex­cept for the last goal, which hap­pens, he [Stones] put in a good per­for­mance,” Guardi­ola said. “Of course cen­tral de­fend­ers are [typ­i­cally thought of as] just de­fend­ing and put­ting the ball long or strong in the air. We are ask­ing him for a lit­tle bit more, not just de­fend­ing and it will help us make a good build-up.”

In the early Le­ices­ter blitz Guardi­ola sat glassy-eyed in the dug-out swig­ging from a wa­ter bot­tle and watch­ing the ran­sack­ing of a team that seems to un­der­stand his in­struc­tions but cur­rently can­not make them work.

With 10 changes from the team that lost 5-0 to Porto mid­week, Clau­dio Ranieri’s team looked trans­formed.

The Ital­ian said af­ter­wards that strong words had been said fol­low­ing that de­feat in the Cham­pi­ons League and with­out a win in five league games be­fore this vic­tory. “We spoke a lot about ev­ery­thing but this time the words all go in the right di­rec­tion,” he said. “The play­ers said the right things. Of course we had to be up­set by our per­for­mances be­cause they were not good enough.”

Ranieri’s team played their vis­i­tors the way they played so many last sea­son, and Guardi­ola’s side ap­proached the game as if they were un­aware of how one of the most as­ton­ish­ing league ti­tles of all-time was won in 2015-2016.

The man who con­verted the di­rect ap­proach into goalscor­ing chances was Riyad Mahrez. Is­lam Sli­mani cre­ated the first two goals and was a con­stant threat. The first came when Mahrez played the ball in to Sli­mani who slipped it through for Vardy to run on to and score within three min­utes.

Just past the four-minute mark, City’s de­fence was un­able to de­fend a Chris­tian Fuchs throw, headed on by Robert Huth and laid off by Sli­mani for Andy King to hit a fine shot. The third was made by Mahrez’s del­i­cate sin­gle touch on Fuchs’ long ball over the top, ca­joled into the path of Vardy, who put Bravo on the ground with a flick of the hips and ran on to score. On Mahrez, Ranieri said: “Only he can do this. He can do it with one touch. In­cred­i­ble? It is not in­cred­i­ble, it is skill.”

Given the ball by Stones with 20 min­utes left, Vardy hit a fine shot from an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult an­gle from the right side. The ball clipped the in­side of the far post and was scooped out by Bacary Sagna who, the tech­nol­ogy demon­strated, had not got there in time to stop it from cross­ing the line.

Only in the later stages did Le­ices­ter con­cede when Alek­san­dar Ko­larov scored a fine free-kick from the right side and then sub­sti­tute Nolito tucked away a cross from the left. But that was all much too late.

Lethal: Jamie Vardy scores three times as Le­ices­ter crush Manch­ester City

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