Leicester City can take great heart from what they produced at Old Trafford on Friday night. They lost, they also conceded two relatively soft goals, but there was enough within their performance to believe that Claude Puel is capable of becoming more than just the manager who followed Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare.
The first impression is that they’ve bought quite well. Rachid Ghezzal has clearly been recruited to do his best impression of Riyad Mahrez and, to be fair, it looks more than passable. Ricardo Pereira appears an astute signing too and, even just on the evidence of one game, looks to be a far more rounded and dynamic player than Danny Simpson. But most intriguing of all is James Maddison. Those who noticed him at Coventry and Norwich will know of his technique and understand completely why Leicester were willing to part with so much money, but – gifted though he has always obviously been – there’s never any knowing how a player will adjust to Premier League life or if he’ll be inhibited by his transfer fee.
But within Friday night lay great assurance: Maddison carried himself extremely well. It will likely be some time before the full range of his influence is apparent, but he acts like he belongs at this level. He struts and swaggers around the pitch and, while body language is really just pseudo-science, it does give an indication into a player’s self-belief. If that’s to believed, Maddison is bubbling with conviction. Good for Leicester, perhaps in the long run also good for England.
In other encouraging news for the national team, Demarai Gray’s contribution was intriguing. One could easily make the argument that, until this point, Gray has been one of the great under-developed talents in the league and, while his selection owed something to Marc Albrighton not being fully-fit, he took his chance well. He perhaps wasn’t as decisive as he’s capable of being, too often recycling the ball rather than really using it, but those slashing runs in-field carry a great threat and they also marry nicely with Ben Chilwell’s overlappings runs on the outside. It’s an interesting combination, one which has been used for England’s U21 side before, and there’s certainly some chemistry there.
xG map for Manchester United – Leicester City.
united devil magic, how i missed you pic.twitter.com/FBQw4Ht0qB
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) August 10, 2018
Most of all though, Leicester looked well coached. They’re certainly rusty and not quite properly conditioned, as with every other side at this time of year, but the way they kept possession (54%) and used it to apply meaningful pressure (they out-shot Manchester United 13-8 and really could have won that game) suggested that they’re ready to migrate away from their recover-and-counter style and develop a less restricting identity. The constructed opportunities this evening, they didn’t just take what they were given – and, ultimately, not many teams pen United back in their own half for long periods at Old Trafford. Leicester did. Jose Mourinho came away with the win, but his side were made to look quite ordinary and, at times, really vulnerable too.
It was encouraging. It was still ultimately a loss and zero points, but the fabric of the defeat suggested that Leicester will be interesting – and, more importantly, likely to mature as the season develops. Vardy we know is a very good player, so too Harry Maguire, Adrien Silva and Kasper Schmeichel. But these flecks of developing talent (Maddison, Ndidi, Gray, Chilwell) are potentially fascinating and, on this evidence, this is a dangerous side in the making.