CaughtOffside were invited to witness Sven Goran Eriksson’s side face Jose Mournho’s mighty Real Madrid in a prestigious friendly.
On a rare, beautiful day this July, 32,188 people turned out at the sold out King Power Stadium to see Leicester City take on Real Madrid in the npower Challenge Cup. This is one of a few changes that new Thai owners of Leicester City have brought about. Others include; developing the Fanstore, the training ground, bringing in numerous new players and relaying the pitch. The ability to set up a match against Real Madrid signals their intent to take Leicester forward, back to the heights of the Premiership, and possibly further.
The new pitch looked in fantastic condition as the game got underway. As you would have expected, Real had the lion’s share of possession, knocking the ball about well in the final third. The first chance came after roughly 10 minutes. A give-and-go between Karim Benzema and Sami Khedira enabled the French Striker to get in behind the Leicester defence but his shot across goal could not find the corner of the net. The Spanish side were getting a lot of joy down the left hand side with Fabio Coentrao playing as part of the attack, with Marcelo at left back.
Leicester’s first attempt came courtesy of Neil Danns in the 13th minute. Marcelo did not manage to clear Paul Gallagher’s cross adequately, his header bouncing at the edge of the area was met by the former Crystal Palace man, but his volley from 20 yards was always bending away from the goal.
Real Madrid had a number of chances following this, including Coentrao forcing a great reaction save from Kasper Schemichel. Marcelo also sliced an opportunity wide after a surging run forward by Khedira, then just 3 minutes later, Sergio Ramos narrowly missed the target with a low strike from 25 yards that went just past to post to Schmeichel’s left.
Real’s front three of Benzema, Coentrao and new signing Jose Callejon were interchanging positions, popping up in different areas and troubling the Leicester defence. After Benzema spurned another opportunity Real finally took a deserved lead, and it was a product of a long ball rather than the small passes they had been playing.
Marcelo’s ball from the left back position went over the top of Matt Mills allowing Benzema through on goal in the 40th minute. He sidestepped around the onrushing Schmeichel but now had a defender in front of the goal to. He unselfishly laid the ball across the goal to Callejon to take the final defender out of the equation, and the ex-Espanyol player duly placed the ball in the net. Callejon had been largely ineffectual for the majority of the first half so will be pleased he still managed a goal.
The second half saw the introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was met by more than a few jeers from the crowd. With it came his customary step overs and flicks and in the 55th minute his ball into the box dropped for fellow substitute Mesut Oezil, but his volley was wild and went shooting over the bar. The Portuguese star’s following failed attempts were met with adulation in the crowd.
Madrid then doubled their lead in the 61st minute with a fantastic counter attack from a Leicester corner. Benzema carried the ball forward from the half way line, moving from the right wing in towards the centre. He played a ball to Coentrao who was in space on the edge of the box, his delightful backheel found Marcelo. The Brazilian eventually got his shot away but only managed to hit the post. However, Benzema was on hand to power the ball into the open goal from a tight angle, giving Real a 2-0 lead. Real showed how lethal they are on the counter, attacking in numbers, a trait that was often applied to Chelsea under Jose Mourinho.
Wholesale changes after this goal meant the game lost a bit of its momentum and as it edged towards the last 15 minutes, Real were holding on to the ball and knocking it about well but the game needed a goal from the home side to liven it back up.
City came close in the 81st minute after loan-signing Michael Johnson won a free kick out on the right. The ball into the box was met by the head of Steve Howard, who just could not find the target, heading narrowly wide of the post to the agony of the home fans.
The introduction of Lloyd Dyer had a positive impact with the Real defence struggling to deal with his raw pace. He was winning throw-ins and corners in abundance for his side. After Schmeichel produced another fantastic save from Real youngster Nacho Fernandez, Leicester finally got a goal that they deserved for their ongoing determination. A throw from another new signing Lee Peltier was knocked on by the brutish Sol Bamba. Dyer managed to control the volley as the looping ball dropped to him in the centre of the box, hitting it low into the corner with World Cup winner Iker Casillas rooted to the spot.
I was fortunate enough to watch the end of the game in the company of the BBC’s Football League Show presenter, and Leicester City fan, Manish Bhasin. I asked him what he made of Leicester City’s promotion chances this year to which he replied, “We’re up there to be shot at. Sven has brought in experienced Championship players and not kids from the Premiership which will be vital. These are good individuals but I want them to gel as a team. I hope Sven can prove me wrong and bring success after spending the money.”
It will be an interesting season for the Foxes with promotion on everyone’s lips. The pressure is on Sven, having spent vast sums to revive the squad, to achieve this year. He will hope they can continue to grow from some promising pre-season performances and mount an early attack to bring Premiership football back to Leicester City.
Read more from Tom at his excellent blog Purple Patch