By the time you read this, Benjamin Mendy may have tweeted to declare himself the new Sergio Agüero and, in fairness to the fun-loving French defender, he did produce a classy finish to fire Manchester City closer to another title. Leicester held off the champions-elect for nearly an hour but a win for the imperious visitors was confirmed when Gabriel Jesus made it 2-0.
Agüero was given a start in the week that City announced his imminent departure but the club’s record goalscorer had little joy during more than an hour on the pitch, yet City won comfortably nonetheless. “The players proved again how consistent they are,” said the Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola. “We need four more wins to win [the title] again.” That is surely the minimum target now in a season when the quadruple is a tantalising possibility.
With their workload intensifying as the season builds to a finale and a Champions League showdown against Borussia Dortmund to come on Tuesday, Guardiola rotated his team for the trip to a fine Leicester side. But the strength of his squad means he can do that without inviting accusations of complacency: his starting lineup cost more than half a billion pounds.
Agüero spearheaded City’s attack and was no doubt intent on giving the club even more goals to remember him by but his first involvement, in the fifth minute, was to do the opposite, as Fernandinho’s long-range shot was struck off because the Argentinian had blocked the goalkeeper’s view while offside.
Leicester were without Caglar Soyuncu, who remains in Turkey after testing positive for Covid-19 while on international duty. Brendan Rodgers elected not to deploy the same formation that helped his team win at the Etihad in September, choosing instead to stick with a two-pronged strikeforce of Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho, but the gameplan was similar, with Leicester not attempting to go toe-to-toe with the visitors. City dominated possession from the start. “Basically there was only one team playing,” said Kevin De Bruyne, who orchestrated that play masterfully.
Agüero got his first shooting chance in the 18th minute after poor control by Jesus and an incomplete clearance by Jonny Evans. The striker followed suit, swishing at his volley from the edge of the area to send the ball looping high over the bar. De Bruyne went much closer from just outside the area four minutes later, pinging a shot over the wall and beyond the reach of Kasper Schmeichel – and on to the crossbar.
Schmeichel had to improvise to make a smart save with his right foot just before half-time to deny Riyad Mahrez after a clever flick by Jesus. After De Bruyne and Jesus failed to find the target with two more half-chances, Leicester welcomed the half-time whistle.
City started the second half with the same authority they had shown throughout the first but Leicester continued to defy them. The hosts even launched a couple of counterattacks and in the 50th minute Ederson was finally forced into a save when Youri Tielemans let fly from 20 yards. Two minutes later Tielemans went on another raid after a tricky run by Iheanacho but Aymeric Laporte got back to block the Belgian’s shot. That pressure was fleeting. Soon the visitors took the lead.
After sharp interplay between De Bruyne and Mahrez, Schmeichel beat away a shot by the Algeria international. Rodri retrieved the ball on the right and flighted it towards the back post, where Tielemans did brilliantly to stop Jesus from connecting. But the ball broke to Mendy, who eluded Marc Albrighton by feinting on to his right foot, which he used to guide the ball beyond Schmeichel and into the far corner.
Sterling replaced Agüero and could have scored in the 72nd minute but instead sidestepped Ricardo Pereira and rolled the ball to Jesus to poke into the net from close range. Leicester tried to revolt but the closest they came was when James Maddison scuffed a shot into Ederson’s arms from 10 yards.