Six minutes after being sprung from the bench, Harvey Barnes lashed in a terrific winning goal here to leave two managers very happy. Chris Wilder was not one of them, bemoaning an uncharacteristically slack start to the game by his team. But Brendan Rodgers was pleased with the way his side earned their first win of the season, while the watching Gareth Southgate can only have been excited by several English talents: Barnes, Hamza Choudhury and, in particular, James Maddison.
The first Englishman to attract attention here, mind you, was Jamie Vardy. The striker was booed on his return to the city of his birth on account of his childhood allegiance to United’s local rivals. Sheffield Wednesday have, of course, grown to regret their decision to let Vardy go – he was a teenage hopeful on their books – and some Blades fans may have rued abusing him here. Because when Maddison released him with a delicious pass in the 38th minute, Vardy thrashed the ball into the net with a vengeance.
The ruthless finish perhaps gave Southgate cause to lament Vardy’s retirement from international duty but any disappointment was more than offset by Maddison’s display, not least the way he made the opening goal. Given freedom to roam infield from an advanced position on the left, he collected the ball after Ayoze Pérez forced a mistake from Chris Basham and opened up the home defence with a superb pass with the outside of his boot. He found Vardy in the position where Basham would have been, and the striker did the rest with glee.
“There are not too many players who can play the pass [Maddison] made for that goal,” said Rodgers. “We pressed really well and won it back and his touch and through ball were sensational. I’m sure Gareth will be having a good look at him.”
Up to that point both sides had been quite untidy in possession and a breakthrough did not look imminent. “I’ve never seen us give the ball away so cheaply as we did in the first half,” said Wilder, while Rodgers reckoned “our passing was too slow”. Despite that, Leicester had looked marginally the more dangerous, with the inventive Maddison involved in most of what they did well.
Youri Tielemans dragged a weak shot wide from the edge of the area in the eighth minute after being teed up by him. Then Maddison glanced a header wide from 10 yards after a fine delivery from the right by Tielemans. The Belgian conjured another lovely cross in the 17th minute but Vardy bungled a header from close range. Oh, how the home fans laughed. But not for long.
Leicester would have increased their lead early in the second half if not for a vital clearance by John Egan.
One of Wilder’s many qualities is that he is not slow to make alterations. In the 54th minute he made a double substitution, replacing his two strikers with Oliver McBurnie and Billy Sharp. There was a roar of approval from a crowd who knew what to expect. Maybe Leicester knew, too. But they failed to cope and, within eight minutes, McBurnie brought Wilder’s men level, jumping between Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans to meet George Baldock’s cross and head into the bottom corner.
But the home crowd cursed the next twist. In the 70th minute one of Leicester’s centre-backs, Soyuncu, joined in an attack and inadvertently headed the ball backwards from a cross by Christian Fuchs. It dropped perfectly for Barnes, who, having just replaced Dennis Praet, walloped it into the net from 15 yards. “He could not have hit it more cleanly,” said Rodgers.