Leicester’s summer has been bookended by celebrations at Wembley. The FA Cup winners had another trophy to savour in another example of why this is the greatest period in their history. On the day Jack Grealish made his Manchester City debut, he suffered disappointment at the national stadium for the second time in four weeks. Penalties were the deciding factor in the Euro 2020 final. This time a single spot kick sufficed.
The match-winning substitute was a player Manchester City sold, not the one they have just bought. Kelechi Iheanacho ended the resistance of the excellent Zack Steffen by dispatching a penalty past him. Fifty years after Leicester won their first Community Shield, their second belatedly arrived.
It amounted to a moment to forget for Nathan Ake, who was deputising for the missing Aymeric Laporte and John Stones in a weakened team. He was caught in possession by Iheanacho and then fouled him; Paul Tierney allowed Patson Daka, the Leicester newcomer, to shoot and awarded the spot kick after Steffen parried his effort.
Much of the attention had been on another summer recruit. Grealish came on for the final 25 minutes in a bow for English football’s first £100 million man. He was used on the left of the front three. There were a couple of typical dribbles and perceptive passes as he linked up well with new team-mates, despite having little time to train with them. Indeed, Manchester City looked more cohesive with Grealish on but they were scarcely at their most fluent. Leicester benefited from having more regulars and were deserving winners.
City’s list of absentees also included Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Kyle Walker and Ederson and Pep Guardiola’s selection brought two surprises as the teenagers Cole Palmer and Sam Edozie started; it was a debut for the latter, a winger who had been prolific in pre-season. Palmer had a roving brief from midfield and looked assured in possession while Edozie showed his speed but slashed a shot wide.
Only Ruben Dias and Ilkay Gundogan had also begun the Champions League final and the German came close to breaking the deadlock. Gundogan curled a free kick that Kasper Schmeichel tipped over the bar. It was the first of a series of shots from last season’s top scorer and the closest he came.
Long before Iheanacho struck, another who has represented both of these clubs could have fashioned an opener. Riyad Mahrez escaped behind Leicester’s defence on a counter-attack but, as Wilfred Ndidi threatened to close him down, their 2016 title winner shot early and wildly.
Otherwise, Leicester’s reshaped rearguard did well. Ferran Torres led the line for the champions as they began life after Sergio Aguero but he was kept quiet. Daniel Amartey prospered as a makeshift centre-back in the absence of Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana, whose broken leg means he will miss much of the campaign. The left-back Ryan Bertrand was alone among their summer signings in starting with the costlier Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare held in reserve, though each emerged for the last 20 minutes.
Steffen blocked at Daka’s feet even before the penalty. From start to finish, this illustrated Leicester’s attacking resources. They won the FA Cup without Harvey Barnes but can wonder if his injury cost them a top-four finish. His return to competitive action was auspicious. He was up against an elite opponent, in Joao Cancelo, but Barnes was irrepressible. He was a catalyst as Steffen had to make three first-half saves, the last of them outstanding.
The American had parried Barnes’ low drive before, after another burst from the winger, keeping out Jamie Vardy’s snap-shot. That was directed straight at him, but Steffen reacted brilliantly to hook Vardy’s half-volley on to the post after Barnes found the veteran. James Maddison posed a threat, too, and Grealish, whose last taste of Wembley came in the Euro 2020 final, had to settle for another silver medal.