Leicester City took a significant step in their sensational bid for the Premier League title with a ruthless 3-1 win at Manchester City.
The home team were favourites to replace Leicester at the summit at kick-off, ambitions that were soon dented when Robert Huth handed Leicester a second-minute lead at the Etihad Stadium.
Huth then led an impeccable defensive display as Manuel Pellegrini’s team had little to show for sustained periods of possession, while appearing badly vulnerable to their opponents’ razor-sharp work on the counter-attack.
Much of the pre-match talk from the Manchester City camp revolved around the desire to give Pellegrini a glorious send-off following confirmation that Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola will take his job from next season.
Their deeds on the pitch comprehensively failed to measure up, though, and Leicester exploited them mercilessly.
Riyad Mahrez danced through a shambling defence to brilliantly score his 14th Premier League goal of the season before Huth headed his second, with Sergio Aguero’s strike coming too late to deny Leicester a six-point advantage at the top.
Boss Claudio Ranieri told television reporters before the match that Manchester City “have to win; we have to play” and his side began with freedom and confidence to startle their hosts.
N’Golo Kante burst through a flimsy challenge from Yaya Toure and, when Leicester worked possession wide, Mahrez skipped around left-back Aleksandar Kolarov to win a free-kick.
From Mahrez’s delivery, Martin Demichelis allowed Huth to muscle in front of him and bundle the ball into the net.
Premier League top scorer Jamie Vardy raced through a still reeling home defence to call Joe Hart into action, the England goalkeeper also being forced to race out in the 11th minute to deny Danny Drinkwater on the break as Leicester settled into the clinical counter-attacking style that has become their trademark.
David Silva manoeuvred into space inside the Leicester box and shot wide, but there were further concerns for Pellegrini in the 20th minute when Vardy sped past Nicolas Otamendi and Shinji Okazaki just failed to convert his low cross.
Huth got his body in the way of Kolarov’s free-kick after Christian Fuchs fouled Pablo Zabaleta perilously close to the right-hand edge of the area.
The towering German defender then prevented Aguero from getting on the end of Raheem Sterling’s looping cross and the striker thudded a shot into Kasper Schmeichel, as Manchester City upped their pressure but failed to find a way through before half-time.
Inexcusably, the hosts resumed in the sloppy fashion they had started and Mahrez punished them with a dazzling second.
The excellent Kante drove the latest break and fed the winger to dance around Otamendi’s reckless lunge and ease past Demichelis to finish emphatically.
Pellegrini responded with a double change, a folorn Toure and Fabian Delph making way for Kelechi Iheanacho and Fernando – the latter almost pulling a goal back when Schmeichel superbly saved his header from Silva’s corner.
But a set-piece at the other end left Manchester City further in the mire, Huth heading a second after an hour despite strong suspicions of a foul on Demichelis.
Hart again denied the tireless Vardy, who blasted into the side-netting in the 81st minute, as the swagger in Leicester’s play piled embarrassment onto a dishevelled City.
They pulled one back when Aguero guided a cross from Premier League debutant substitute Bersant Celina past Schmeichel and the Argentina star almost capitalised on a poor backpass from Danny Simpson to further reduce the deficit.
But a late route back into the match would have been scarcely deserved for Pellegrini’s men, who could conclude the weekend in fourth place.
Key Opta Stats:
– Robert Huth has scored more goals in his last five Premier League appearances (3) as he had in his previous 86 in the competition (2).
– Riyad Mahrez (14 goals, 10 assists) became the first player to reach double figures in terms of both goals and assists in the Premier League this season.
– Manchester City have not beaten any side currently in the top six of Premier League table this season (W0 D3 L4).
– Manchester City have lost as many Premier League home games this season (3) as they had in 2014-15 and 2013-14 combined under Manuel Pellegrini (3).