Jamie Vardy scored a hat-trick as Leicester City inflicted a remarkable defeat on Manchester City to go top of the Premier League. Despite going behind to a superb fourth-minute strike by former Foxes midfielder Riyad Mahrez, the visitors responded in stunning fashion.
Vardy levelled with a penalty before the break after he had been fouled by Kyle Walker, and he then sealed his second treble against Pep Guardiola’s side from the spot, after he had cleverly turned home Timothy Castagne’s cross to make it 2-1. James Maddison scored for the first time since 1 January when he curled home a stunning fourth for Leicester.
And although Nathan Ake pulled one back with his first goal since a £40m summer move from Bournemouth, a third Leicester penalty – this time converted by Youri Tielemans because Vardy had already gone off – completed a memorable afternoon for Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes, who have started a top-flight season with three successive wins for the first time. In contrast, Guardiola was suffering his worst home defeat as City boss, with his team now in the bottom half of the table. For most of the opening period, the possibility of Leicester returning to the top of the table appeared remote.
But with Vardy they always have a chance. Even at the age of 33, the striker remains frighteningly fast. Walker is no slouch but the England right-back was panicked into making a rash challenge when the Leicester forward got ahead of him inside the box. Vardy’s powerful spot-kick gave Ederson no chance of keeping it out. His second penalty was equally emphatic after another City defender, Eric Garcia, had got himself into the wrong position as he tried to challenge Vardy.
In between, Vardy tucked home a poacher’s effort Leicester’s most celebrated old boy, Gary Lineker, would have been proud of. The supplier was Castagne, who is turning into a very astute purchase, given how willing the Belgian is to push forward from his right-back role as manager Rodgers demands. Maddison’s return adds the dimension the Foxes lacked so badly as their 2019-20 season petered out into a relatively disappointing fifth-place finish. The only sour note for the visitors were injuries to midfielder Dennis Praet and defender Jonny Evans. The latter in particular may prompt some hard thinking among the Leicester hierarchy, given they had a £30m bid for Burnley centre-back James Tarkowski turned down on Friday.
It is now just a matter of time before Benfica defender Ruben Dias completes his move to the Eithad. And on this evidence, the Portugal international cannot come soon enough. The fee will be about £65m, with centre-back Nicolas Otamendi going the other way for about £13.7m in a separate deal. Guardiola has made the purchase of a right-sided central defender a priority before the transfer window closes on 5 October. He does not trust either Otamendi or England international John Stones in that role and he knows if the situation is not addressed, the chances of City overhauling Liverpool are almost non-existent.
Against Leicester, Eric Garcia, wearing a headguard to protect the 16 stitches he sustained during a training ground incident that kept him out of the season opener at Wolves, started in the position earmarked for 23-year-old Dias. In defence, it was an orthodox role in a four-man backline. But as soon as the hosts were in possession – which was fairly often – Garcia became the central component of a back three, which skipper Fernandinho was part of, allowing Walker and Benjamin Mendy to turn into wing-backs.
Garcia’s future is unclear. The 19-year-old Spaniard has a year left on his contract, has refused to sign another and wants to go back to Barcelona. Guardiola spoke earlier this month about the need to deserve a new contract. That requires his team to compete for trophies – and to do that they will need to perform a lot better than this. With Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero definitely missing next Saturday’s trip to Leeds United, City need to solve their problems in attack, given Raheem Sterling failed to make much of an impact as a false nine and 17-year-old Liam Delap cannot be expected to shoulder the burden given his lack of experience.
Guardiola will spend some time pondering the problem. However, given they have only played two games, he will do so with his team in 13th place, which is virtually unheard of in recent times.