Manchester City made an unlikely comeback at Leicester to take their ninth consecutive Premier League win in a thrilling manner and stay six points ahead of the top of the table.
It looked like the defending champions took the points in just 25 minutes as they led an exhausted Foxes side 4-0, with one penalty each from Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling on top of goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan.
Leicester had other ideas, however, as three goals within 10 minutes in the second half from James Maddison, Ademola Lookman and Kelechi Iheanacho gave them hope.
An Aymeric Laporte header restored order and gave the hosts much-needed respite before Sterling’s second later secured the points, but what started as a stroll in the park will be remembered as a much tougher test for the league leaders.
Foxes hit by early onslaught
With runner-up Liverpool out of action after a Covid outbreak forced their game against Leeds to be postponed, this was an opportunity for Pep Guardiola’s side to create a significant gap with their closest rivals and they were fast moving.
The Foxes were already lucky enough to weather the heavy pressure at the start when they gave De Bruyne time to get Fernandinho’s hoisted pass into the box and he made no mistake with an accurate finish.
Mahrez made it 2-0 from the penalty spot shortly afterwards when Youri Tielemans toppled Laporte from a corner and added a third to Gundogan after Kasper Schmeichel only got Joao Cancelo’s cross in the way.
Sterling added the fourth goal after just 25 minutes and took the penalty himself after Tielemans knocked him down and given the reckless mood of the hosts it seemed like just a matter of how many more goals would follow.
Instead, it was Leicester who put on the sparkling attacking game after the break and saw a remarkable comeback for a while.
The Foxes’ first goal was due to a slip by Oleksandr Zinchenko that allowed Maddison to shoot clearly, exchange passes with Iheanacho and land at home.
Iheanacho set up his second goal as well, this time pushing Lookman clear to shoot past Ederson before stepping onto the scorers’ list to continue his side’s comeback.
Ederson did well to tip Maddison’s shot against the crossbar, but the rebound fell kindly for Iheanacho, who made no mistake from close range.
That stunned everyone at Etihad, including the traveling Leicester fans who jokingly sang about the 5-4 win when their first goal was scored.
The Manchester City wobble didn’t last long, however, as Laporte rose to nod Mahrez’s corner kick five minutes later and Sterling was in the right place to knock down Ruben Dias before the end of a remarkable game.
It was a surprise that Manchester City lost control
Manchester City have torn defenses in the last few weeks – they had scored 24 goals in their winning streak prior to the start of this game, including a 7-0 win over Leeds – so their latest display of scintillating attacking play came as no surprise.
What was unexpected was the reaction that followed when a Leicester team missed out on many of their regulars due to injury and how easily they found their way through their hosts.
Guardiola’s side have the best defensive record in the country, but in the second half they were hunting for shadows for a while, conceding as many goals in 10 minutes as in the last eight league games.
Leicester could have had more too – their manager Brendan Rodgers jumped in the air when Marc Albrighton headed wide with a 5-3 header from close range thinking it was possible.
The Foxes have had a difficult season so far, with a lack of consistency and persistent defensive problems even before this recent wave of injuries, but they at least gave their fans something to sing on a fun afternoon.
Home fans probably didn’t like the second half of the season drama a little less, but that was a mid-season reminder that they can’t always expect everything to go according to plan.