15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 19th August; King Power Stadium (Leicester, England)
There was plenty of reasons for Craig Shakespeare to be happy with, despite suffering a late blow in their opening fixture. The Foxes looked like the team which finished rather than began their previous Premiership campaign and will be confident they can rekindle the spirit of two years ago. With Manchester United and Chelsea set to follow this game against Brighton, Shakespeare will be determined to take a win from their home game and start their season in earnest after last week’s narrow miss.
Brighton will most likely feel that this game signals the true start to the season for them. Last weeks fixture against City would have been pre-empted by feelings of pomp and circumstance, a mixture of hype and apprehension as they put their first foot on new soil.
With their introduction now over, the time to bask in the glory of playing Premiership football needs to subside into actually playing Premiership football and playing it well. With the time for words over, Chris Hughton’s men will need to show they can compete with a team who finished last season in the comfort of mid-table and that they deserve to be in this league.
LAST TIME OUT
Arsenal 4 – 3 LEICESTER CITY (Premiership)
With ten minutes remaining and the Foxes 3-2 ahead, it was looking like a positive start to the new season for Shakespeare’s team. In a bid to stem the flow of red-shirted attacks, Kelechi Iheanacho was summoned from the bench to replace Matty James. Three minutes later, Arsenal had scored twice and were set to clinch victory. Football is a cruel game.
While this sequence of events can in no way be attributed to the Foxes new £25m signing, it highlights how close they came to ending a run of failed attempts at beating the Gunners. It also puts a spotlight on Shakespeare’s decision to tweak his side’s formation from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2, essentially adding an extra body to his side’s attack as Arsenal were upping the ante on the Foxes back-line.
Of the players being heavily linked with moves away from their club this transfer window, Riyad Mahrez was the only high-profile name to feature in his current teams starting line-up. While he largely had a first-half to forget, he showed glimpses of sparkle after the break, although considering Jamie Vardy was the only Leicester player to really shine, perhaps nothing too deeply can be read from Mahrez’s performance
BRIGHTON 0 – 2 Manchester City (Premiership)
Chris Hughton’s men aimed to frustrate their venerated opponents and came close to succeeding following a solid team performance. Underlined by work-rate and discipline, Brighton largely provided a display of defensive qualities which was largely lacking in an opening weekend that saw seven Premiership teams concede three or more goals.
With City dominating possession throughout the match, they were unable to make a breakthrough until the 70th minute due mainly to Brighton’s application which saw them make 42 clearances from City attacks.
Brighton’s vice-captain, Lewis Dunk, was the stand-out performer for the Seagulls against City despite his own-goal which ultimately sealed their defeat. Making eight clearances, three interceptions and blocking two shots on goal, Dunk was a rock at the back around which much of Brighton’s rearguard action was formed.
The other Seagull worthy of a mention was Solly March. Forced to operate deeper than his usual role on the right wing, March performed admirably in his defensive duties making six clearances and winning both of his tackles and both of his take-ons.
Leicester City Lineup
Danny Drinkwater (thigh) remains unavailable for selection while speculation continues to shroud his future at the club. Robert Huth (ankle) will also miss out, as will Vicente Iborra (groin) and Nampalys Mendy (ankle) meaning the Foxes could start with the same side that played well against the Gunners, although, Kelechi Iheanacho will have hopes that there’s at least one small adjustment to the starting eleven.
Izzy Brown (hamstring) joins Sam Baldock (calf) and Beram Kayal (leg) on the physio’s table which could give Jamie Murphy his first start in the Premiership, although Anthony Knockaert will also be hoping to force his way into the reckoning. The clubs record signing, Jose Izquierdo, will again be unavailable as he completes his visa application following a successful appeal for a work permit earlier this week.
Key Battle: Jamie Vardy vs Lewis Dunk
One player who made an instant impression on the Premiership last weekend was Jamie Vardy. Despite scoring from both of his shots on target, it was his running at the Arsenal defence which most impressed for the Foxes. Of all the secrets and nuances of football management, Craig Shakespeare seems to understand the most important, the need to get you star striker playing at the peak of his game.
A hungry Vardy can help fire his side up the table and he will be looking to add to last weeks brace when he lines up against Brighton on Saturday.
After an impressive display against City last weekend, Dunk signed an improved five-year contract with Brighton this week. Chris Hughton’s comments that Dunk could play for England one day soon may need a pinch of salt added to them, however, he certainly is a player with great potential.
What was perhaps more impressive was the fact that he also provided a serious danger for City’s defence, with two shots on target and a third attempt blocked by a defender. It will be another tough examination for him again this weekend facing an in-form Premiership striker, but he will be buoyed by the weeks events and a tough opponent in his own right.
Bringing it home
As they struggled to perform on their travels around the country, the Foxes home form supplied the majority of their points last year. Leicester have often benefited with home advantage and with only two points dropped against bottom-half sides and a total of five defeats suffered on home territory last year, it remained a backbone for them as their team continually misfired at the beginning of their campaign.
Brighton, however, are one of the few teams to be on a level footing with the Foxes in terms of the games played in Leicester. After winning their last encounter 4-1 three years ago, the Seagulls will have happy memories of the Stadium. While both sides have since risen to the Premiership since that game, other factors around this fixture have also changed.
While the pitch may miss some intricately laid patterns this season, Leicester will hope the King Power Stadium can still provide the same source of inspiration it has in the recent past.
When counter-attack meets counter-attack
With the fitness levels of Premiership footballers now a critical component in a clubs training and development programme, the counter-attacking style of football has become increasingly effective. The ability of players to strike quickly from a transition in play has always been used to exploit moments of weakness in their opponents, moments when a shortage of defensive players, organisation or both can leave the door to goal slightly further ajar than normal.
With Both Leicester and Brighton relying on this technique more than any other style of football, it leaves the question of which team will try to control possession and effectively play into their rivals game-plan.
An early goal would force the losing side to press forward which suggests that both sides may look to make a big start to the game, but failing an early breakthrough on the scoreboard, bravery will be required in seeking control of the game.
Everyone loves an underdog story
Brighton came into the Premiership deservedly after a long and successful season in the Championship. While they will consider themselves unlucky not to have won the league after going into the final game at the top of the table, they will fully expect to spend this season at the opposite end of a new league table.
With this season just warming up, Brighton find themselves hotly tipped to struggle in their new surroundings due to a significant jump in quality between the two divisions. This status as an un-fancied side will no doubt be of little concern to those connected to the club, however, it could also be used as a tactic to motivate their players.
It also makes it possible for them to win over public good will because as Leicester proved 15 months ago, everyone loves to see an underdog do well in the Premiership.
PREDICTION: Leicester City 1 – 0 Brighton
Brighton did not look out of place when they were on the same pitch as Manchester City this weekend and the first 70 minutes of that game will no doubt provide much confidence amongst the club that they truly can have a successful season in the Premiership.
The Foxes look to have a desire back in their game which was missing from a large part of last season, coupled with experience of competing in the Premier League, I think this will see them to a narrow win against Albion.
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