Pep Guardiola had his hands on his head. So did the Manchester City supporters. They knew they were in serious trouble. Nathan Aké had collected a back pass but then hesitated for a fatal moment and how Kelechi Iheanacho, the former City striker, on as a substitute for Leicester, made him pay.
Aké, City’s last man, made a desperate lunge, lifting up his boot to impede Iheanacho and for a second Guardiola thought his team might have got away with it. The ball ran to another Leicester substitute, Patson Daka, and his shot was blocked by the goalkeeper, Zack Steffen.
Manchester City are the team to beat again, but how can they be stopped?
The referee, Paul Tierney, called back the play to point to the spot and, although Iheanacho’s kick was close to Steffen, it packed too much of a punch and it would be he and his Leicester teammates who lifted the Community Shield.
At full-time, Aké sank to his haunches in despair while there was no fairytale debut for Jack Grealish, City’s £100m new signing, who entered as a 65th-minute substitute. Guardiola had complained that he had only “half a team” and he would not have an 11th domestic title.
Not much will rival the Leicester celebrations that greeted Youri Tielemans’ FA Cup final winner against Chelsea last season but there was delight for Brendan Rodgers and his players here. Their season is up and running.
Guardiola will always say that he considers this to be a title, even if there has historically been a question mark in England over whether it truly counts as such – it certainly is not the Spanish Super Cup – and the manager’s selection issues were a result of the involvement of a host of his players at the latter stages of Euro 2020 and the Copa América.
It is probably worth listing who he was without – Kyle Walker, John Stones, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Ederson, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko, who has just become a father. Foden and De Bruyne are injured.
If City had to make do, then Leicester absolutely had to at the back, where Daniel Amartey was pressed into emergency service in central defence. Rodgers was without an entire back four through injury – James Justin, Jonny Evans, Wesley Fofana, Thomas Castagne – although it was a tonic to see Harvey Barnes back to fitness on the left wing and eager to showcase his speed and directness.
When we were last here for a Wembley showpiece, it was the Euro 2020 final – yes, only four weeks ago – and it is fair to say that this was rather more sedate; the stadium only half full, the stakes rather less do or die. The Leicester fans jeered their former favourite Riyad Mahrez, and that was about as heated as the first half got.
Leicester had the two big chances of it and both of them were created for Jamie Vardy – precisely the player that Rodgers would have chosen for the finish. And yet Vardy could not do so.
The first came midway through the period, Barnes taking a James Maddison pass, bursting inside the area and shooting and, when the ball came off Rúben Dias’s block, it sat up nicely for Vardy, who was centrally placed, 10 yards out. Under pressure from Benjamin Mendy, he unloaded only to direct it straight at Zack Steffen. Either side of the goalkeeper and it surely would have gone in.
The second was in stoppage time and it featured the same personnel after Ryan Bertrand, the new signing, had stepped up to win possession. Maddison worked the ball left, Barnes pulled it back and Vardy, off balance at the far post, shot back for the other corner. Steffen, who was heading the wrong way, did well to throw out a hand and tip it against the upright.
Guardiola had started with the 19-year-old Cole Palmer up front with Ferran Torres and the 18-year-old Sam Edozie on the left wing. City’s best effort of the first period came from an early Ilkay Gundogan free-kick, which extended Kasper Schmeichel, and they almost caught a break when Calgar Soyuncu sliced a Mendy cross over his own crossbar. Edozie also sliced when well placed up the inside left channel.
Leicester shaded it before the interval, with Maddison finding spaces and Barnes a menace. Barnes had watched Dias block an early shot while Youri Tielemans teed up Ayoze Perez only for the flicked finish to lack power.
Grealish had trained with City for the first time on Friday and it was something of a surprise to see him on the bench, given that Guardiola has afforded his other England Euro 2020 players an extra week off. They will not report until Monday. The City fans gave Grealish a rousing reception when he first left the dug out to warm up in the 49th minute and it was not long before they were chanting his name.
City pressed more onto the front foot when the second half started, there was a greater intensity to their game and they fashioned chances, with Gündogan lifting wastefully high after Mahrez had worked a short corner routine. Mahrez had wafted a free-kick high from a good position when Edozie released him on the break after City had cleared a 59th minute corner and Ricardo Pereira gave the ball back to them. With Pereira and Wilfred Ndidi in pursuit, Mahrez hammered high over the crossbar. The Leicester support enjoyed that.
Grealish’s introduction was box-office, although Rodgers’ quadruple substitution on 71 minutes, when he withdrew Tielemans, Perez, Maddison and Vardy, felt more in keeping with the tone of the occasion. There are bigger battles ahead. It allowed him to give two of his other new boys, Boubakary Soumaré and Daka, a taste of Wembley. Both of them showed flickers of promise. Iheanacho, though, made the difference.