Youri Tielemans’ 83rd minute winner proved enough for Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester side to come through unscathed with a morale-boosting win in a tricky affair away against Stoke on Saturday evening.
Naturally it’s important not to read too much into pre-season, even if the prospect of assessing player performance is tempting for supporters and critics alike. But you often can’t help yourself, not least with the new Premier League campaign just a fortnight away.
Rodgers fielded a near-full strength side for their Stoke-on-Trent trip, up against an unpredictable Championship side who pride themselves on an overtly physical reputation and can upset far better teams on their day.
However, Leicester didn’t have time for any shocks here. Jack Butland was forced into an early double save, denying James Maddison and Marc Albrighton as the Foxes probed down the right-hand side with Ricardo Pereira causing all sorts of danger.
Stoke, armed with the likes of Joe Allen and Jordan Cousins at the base of their midfield, got settled and began frustrating their visitors in the best way they know how: a succession of cynical fouls, poorly-timed challenges which unsettled a few Leicester heads. This was pre-season, after all.
Wasteful finishing a recurring theme
The versatile James McClean was one of the hosts’ few bright sparks as Leicester passed out of the press well and were comfortably the better side even with Stoke’s counter-attacking threat. £30m summer signing Ayoze Perez had a tame effort saved by Butland before Kasper Schmeichel gifted Benik Afobe a promising chance at the opposite end.
With the goal gaping at his mercy, England under-21 midfielder Hamza Choudhury recovered the danger just in time with a goal-saving interception. The sloppy passing continued, as Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross gave Jamie Vardy a free shot on-goal too minutes later. His compatriot squandered the chance, sliding an effort into Butland’s grateful grasp.
On the half-hour mark, Jonny Evans conceded a penalty after a poor sliding challenge on Afobe. Catching the 26-year-old awkwardly as he latched onto Allen’s pass in the area, he was left worse for wear but ultimately went unrewarded for his troubles. Trudging off the pitch to receive medical treatment, he winced as Sam Vokes missed the resulting spot-kick.
Schmeichel made a good diving stop to his left, having guessed correctly before reacting quickly to thwart Vokes. However, the former Burnley man telegraphed his intentions too much and could only watch on as the Danish number one palmed it away to safety. Things were about to get a whole lot worse for Stoke though.
Shawcross sustains serious injury blow
Shawcross made an innocuous sliding challenge near the byline as Leicester threatened but his immediate reaction of agony when landing on the turf spoke volumes. Players nearby jogged over to assess the damage themselves but that panicked urgent wave to medical staff is never a good one.
On first viewing, it looked like he dislocated or broke his arm because it was in an awkward position and he’d been clutching it for a few seasons. After two TV replays in the press box, you could clearly see it was actually his leg and just how severe it was too. He landed awkwardly and ankles are not supposed to move the way his did mid-motion.
So just a week before the new campaign begins, The Potters will be without their club captain and key defender – for the foreseeable future. Shawcross was stretchered off after lengthy treatment and replaced by Liam Lindsay seconds before half-time. Suddenly, the mood was increasingly gloomy.
The second-half began in similar fashion. Allen created another promising chance and this time unchallenged, Afobe forced a save from Schmeichel but really should have done better with space and ample time to pick his spot. The quality of finishing in this game felt like something from a lax training session, as Leicester continued to threaten from set-pieces before Maddison took control.
His outside-of-the-boot pass was perfectly weighted for Vardy, who rounded Butland but failed to convert from a narrow angle near the touchline. Stoke squandered a goalmouth scramble as another promising opportunity went begging, before Leicester finally broke the deadlock on the hour mark.
Tielemans and Pereira combined down the right with an intricate pass-and-move sequence, before the latter crossed for Albrighton in the box. He controlled the ball before letting fly with a venomous volley which nestled into the top corner, leaving Butland stunned to open the scoring with aplomb.
Just minutes later, Lindsay made an important interception to thwart Maddison’s piercing through ball from reaching a snarling Vardy before the visitors had their own penalty appeal wrongly waved away. Pereira was hauled down by McClean but in the referee’s eyes, the fullback was looking for it – despite the Republic of Ireland international making no attempt to play the ball.
Allen was running the show for Stoke in midfield but their inability to convert chances was a recurring theme. Then right on cue, former Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell levelled the scoring with a deft chip on the edge of the area. Funnily enough, his equaliser came just seconds after their passing move almost broke down with him in possession. Typical.
He evaded Albrighton’s attentions and dinked an effort over Schmeichel, who was left stranded and quite confused – was it a cross-cum-shot? Did he mean that? Stoke didn’t care and the travelling Leicester fans were no longer singing in unison.
Foxes crank up the pressure
Albrighton was replaced for youth South African winger Khanya Leshabela with 15 minutes left, as Rodgers went in search of fresh impetus to win them the game. Butland was forced into another important save, this time clawing away Maddison’s well-struck freekick as it curled towards the bottom corner.
Ayoze Perez skewed a shot wide but Leicester were firmly in the ascendancy again. They eventually got the goal as Tielemans slammed home from close-range after Ben Chilwell’s low delivery was missed by Ayoze but no Stoke players were there to clear their lines.
Perez was key during that move despite not applying the final touch, while Chilwell’s persistence ultimately paid off. Having been constantly calling for the ball down his side throughout the second-half, he was eventually granted the time and space to create a chance and it proved their winner.
Leicester have one final pre-season fixture, against Serie A side Atalanta next week before their first league clash against Wolves on August 10. As for Stoke, the Championship campaign starts a week earlier and they host QPR next Saturday.