Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

Our third consecutive defeat has come at the hands of Craig Shakespeare. He has completely turned things around for Leicester City. His side were high on morale following their win against Sevilla as the only British team left in the Champions League. Simply put, this game had his name written all over it (in Elizabethan font, of course). Prior to playing us, Bournemouth had failed to win a single match in 2017, which included a 3-0 defeat to Millwall (can’t get much worse than that). On their 10th attempt, the Cherries pipped us to win 3-2. Our next opponents were Leicester, who had failed to win away in the PL all season. As it so happens, we were defeated yet again. Our downfall is like something you would find in a Shakespearean tragedy.

The events that preluded the appointment of the Foxes’ new manager are quite something. Former player Kevin Phillips revealed that Shakespeare played a bigger part in Leicester’s title win than many know. When Nigel Pearson was sacked, he was kept on to work with Claudio Ranieri. The former manager used to make frequent trips to Italy to visit his sick mother which left Craig and the coaching staff to deal with the pre-match preparations. Under Ranieri, at times, the organisation wasn’t good. If it wasn’t for this assistant manager, the season could have ended badly. How Shakespeare didn’t receive any credit is beyond me.

That said, there are many that believe that Ranieri was stabbed in the back by the cunning Foxes. The incumbent manager’s command of the dressing room is as good as Shakespeare’s command of the English language with Christian Fuchs siding with the manager: “Shakespeare has the trust of the players”. Obviously, Leicester’s resurgence has come about because they didn’t get on well with Claudio and are now performing at a sufficient level. You can imagine the players in the dressing room asking: “Wherefore art thou, Claudio?”. In modern football, once you lose the dressing room, that is that.

Manager loyalty clearly means an awful lot to Leicester City. How else could a mediocre PL team like them win the league? They were devoted to the cause and the man who made it all happen. This is the perfect Shakespearean tragedy! Firstly, the fatal flaw of Ranieri was his diminishing sense of camaraderie (genuinely caring about the players) that ultimately lead to his exit. Secondly, he didn’t give credit to the staff who made the impossible happen last season. He didn’t swallow his hubris, ergo making his exit all the more tragic. Lastly, there were many external pressures on him from people behind the scenes who didn’t receive the respect they deserved, which mean’t they didn’t fully support the manager. No doubt Ranieri’s last words to Shakespeare before leaving were: “Et tu, Brute?”.

One of the few positives to take from this game is that Bilic decided to put a team out that was purely based on merit. Mark Noble has been given a rest, which I think is good for him and us. He is 29 with a lot of burden weighed upon his shoulders as captain. I hope he does what former captain Kevin Nolan did and avoid reading newspapers and social media when it’s not going well for you. We all know how much pressure football players are under to perform. The fact that he put Masuaku on when Cresswell wasn’t playing well spoke volumes. I sincerely hope that he has come to an epiphany and will continue to give players chances. Speaking of players being given chances, Byram did well to cover for Snodgrass defensively. Hope the youngster keeps his place in the starting XI.

Once more, early goals have cost us the match. As a matter of fact, we have conceded five goals within the opening 15 minutes of our last six matches. Just to put that into further perspective, how long does it normally take for the first Premier League goal to come on Soccer Saturday? Anywhere between 15-20 minutes on average. Right, now imagine that those first goals came in matches including us. Now imagine that we are the team that concedes those first goals virtually every single week. Having listened to the match, the words “Unbelievable, Jeff!” now have no meaning to me.

Many will point fingers at Ayew and Carroll for not scoring and getting us the draw, but I believe that we should do more defensively. Kasper Schmeichel was in inspired form making extraordinary saves. But if we keep conceding this many goals, then there is honestly no way we are going to win matches, let alone draw. This lack of defending is something that we saw earlier on in the season. Conceding two goals in the short space of 146 seconds is just ridiculous! Until we have a proper defensive shake-up, we will continue to concede at the same rate. Defending shouldn’t solely be the job of the defence. It is a team effort.

Following on from that, we are an attacking team. Yes, we failed to score from numerous chances at the end, but we do rely on our attacking players more than our defence. This is best characterised with Randolph saving Slimani’s strike late on. We were so fixated on getting the equaliser that most fans didn’t even take notice of this event. I understand defending and goalkeeping isn’t particularly glamorous, but it says a lot about us that we are ruing the chances we should have converted as opposed to the chances given to the other team. Then again, there is something delightful about Lanzini scoring from a free-kick without Payet in the squad. It is as if he has evolved. Indeed, he has now registered his best-ever goal haul in a Premier League season (7).

The international break couldn’t have come at a better time. Reid, Obiang and Antonio have all been injured this match. This was Antonio’s third call-up, so he shouldn’t be too downhearted, as he is more than capable of being called up again. A photo of Reid emerged leaving the ground on crutches. Obiang had to be stretchered off the pitch, which is never a good sign. To put things into perspective, the injuries that have been picked up are undoubtedly worse than the result. Our best defender, midfielder and attacker are out. Antonio has scored 9 PL goals this season which might put him above Lanzini in the pecking order. Our next match against Hull should be interesting. Both teams are in the top four for goals conceded. Let’s hope we see players return sooner than later.