Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood: Two big lessons for Claude Puel
Premier League clubs loathe FA Cup replays. It’s one more fixture piled on an already cumbersome schedule. It is what it is however. Leicester City had left itself a job to do in its FA Cup third round replay against Fleetwood Town. They did it clinically.
When the Foxes and the Cod Army squared off in the reverse fixture at the Highbury that still exists, it produced one of the most boring encounters this season in any domestic competition. A replay was inevitable. Neither team seemed aware there was an attacking third in the goalless affair.
The replay at the King Power threatened an uneventful sequel. Leicester failed to register a shot on target for the first 40 minutes. The Foxes came close when stand-in skipper Riyad Mahrez clipped the post from a direct free-kick. For a moment City fans at the other end thought the want-away winger had made the breakthrough.
Then, two minutes before the break, Islam Slimani restored Algeria's good name, perfectly threading the ball through to Kelechi Iheanacho. The forgotten Nigerian took one delightful first touch before slotting home through Chris Neal's wickets.
Iheanacho returned the favour after the restart but Slimani couldn’t capitalise. Soon after video assisted replay broke its scoring duck in English football. First, though, it negated a strike.
Iheanacho profited from a cut-back by Demarai Gray for a simple tap-in. His celebration was cut short as the linesman ruled the ball had gone into touch before Gray’s cross. Referee Jonathan Moss conferred with the VAR official. The decision was upheld.
Minutes later, VAR featured again. This time, Iheanacho had the ball in the back of the net but was ruled offside by the officials. For the first time in the history of English football, VAR overturned a referee decision to award a goal. In the process it also likely became a new clubhouse nickname for the young Nigerian forward who was involved in both decisions.
To match the two goals here are two lessons learned from the encounter:
Iheanacho deserves more minutes
Leicester City's £25 million striker, Kelechi Iheanacho received a rare start for the Foxes. He made optimal use of the opportunity.
'VAR' showed no signs of rust after having kept the Foxes bench warm for most of autumn and winter. The 21-year-old was robust and sharp throughout. It was a perfect reminder that he possesses immense quality.
At Highbury, the Super Eagle had been an 80th-minute substitute for Slimani. The youngster couldn’t scratch anything from the paltry minutes given. For handing him a start against Jamie Vardy’s former club, Iheanacho rewarded Claude Puel with two sublime finishes. The Frenchman was front and centre to witness a display that screamed out for a partnership between the two 'fleet' footed goal hounds.
VAR is a plus to football
Claude Puel said before the Fleetwood game that he wasn’t a fan of the Video Assistant Referee, that there were still grey areas in its usage. Apparently he meant Gray as in Demarai. Still, as fate would have it, the first ever goal awarded after video review in English football favoured his club.
It took 67 seconds for officials to finalise the decision on Iheanacho’s second. It was the right call. Time lapse aside, VAR has had a positive impact on the game. Football cannot remain in the dark while the light of technology shines on other sports.
Video assisted review is a fantastic piece of technology that helps reduce human error by a significant percentage. Puel must have drunk that in.