Leicester City began life post-Harry Maguire with a resolute 0-0 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League.
The Foxes dominated the opening exchanges but struggled to really create any cohesion in the final third, registering just the single shot on target.
Wolves, meanwhile, defended doggedly and nearly grabbed a winner, only for Leander Dendoncker to be the first recipient of the new handball law change, with his goal disallowed for striking the arm of teammate, Willy Boly.
It was an intense Premier League encounter in the East Midlands with neither side able to find the back of the net, but what did we learn?
1. Silky successor Soyuncu
With Maguire completing his much-anticipated move to Manchester United earlier this month, many would have been interested to see how Brendan Rodgers reinvested the £80m accrued from the sale of the England international. However, the Northern Irishman opted to stick rather than twist with his defensive ranks and that decision appears vindicated after the performance of a certain Caglar Soyuncu this afternoon.
Two of Maguire’s best traits are his ball-playing ability at the back and his ball-carrying prowess, both characteristics demonstrated in abundance by Soyuncu at the King Power Stadium, with no player on the pitch making more passes (50) than the Turkey international in the first-half, while only Ben Chilwell registered more overall. If fans needed reassurance that the Foxes can cope without Maguire, then Soyuncu acted quickly to dispel any uncertainty presiding over the Leicester City terraces.
Signed for around £20m last summer, the 23-year-old failed to really leave a lasting impression during his debut season, but early signs suggest the former Freiburg man can yet realise his potential and be a huge hit in Leicester.
2. Wolves suffer from new handball law
As we saw the first goal overturned by VAR on Saturday, we have now experienced the first goal disallowed as per the introduction of the new handball rule, with Andre Marriner chalking off Dendoncker’s second-half opener after the ball accidentally struck the arm of Willy Boly.
Any goal scored or created with the use of the hand or arm will be disallowed this #PL season – even if it is accidental – under the Laws of the Game
— Premier League (@premierleague) August 11, 2019
With the match heavily poised and little separating the sides, Wolves thought they had broken the deadlock after Joao Moutinho’s corner from the right was emphatically tucked home by Dendoncker but, upon consultation with VAR, the goal was ruled out.
As the ball was whipped in by the Portuguese, Dendoncker’s initial header deflected off the arm of Boly before dropping favourably back into his path but, with the new rule stipulating that any handball will be given if the ball strikes an arm which is over shoulder height or in an unnatural position, Marriner had little choice but to enforce the law.
3. Ponderous Perez struggles on debut
Signed for £30m in the summer, optimism around Ayoze Perez’s debut was rife prior to the match this afternoon, but the Spaniard failed to really stamp his authority on proceedings and demonstrate the kind of verve that elevated his reputation on Tyneside.
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Deployed by Rodgers out on the right-hand side of an attacking midfield trident consisting of James Maddison on the left and Youri Tielemans in the No. 10 role, Perez was the least effective of the three, failing to truly test Jonny and link up with Jamie Vardy.
Of course, this was the opening game for the Leicester newcomer, but with no shots on target, not a single key pass made and just one dribble completed, this was an exceptionally underwhelming performance from the 26-year-old, who was duly taken off before the final whistle.
4. No changes yet for Espirito Santo
Before the season kicked off, Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo hinted at possible changes to his style and system, having forged a reputation in 2018/19 for his obsessive regularity, but that didn’t prove the case this afternoon as he stuck with his tried-and-tested.
He said: “We have to go and look for better solutions, trying to anticipate. I will not give you clues but football is gonna change.
“What I am trying to build and improve, I know, I suspect, going to change.”
And despite fielding every player that started against Armenian outfit Pyunik on Thursday in his XI this afternoon, the tactician refused to shuffle the pack and stayed true to his usual line-up.
The result yielded a clean sheet and an opening point, despite playing European football across the continent just three days ago, and while Wolves at times looked sluggish, this was a well-fought result away from home.
5. European football to take its toll on Wolves?
Make no mistake, Wolves came out of this game with a well-earned point, and perhaps should have taken all three given the few clear-cut chances they created, not to mention that last season, Dendoncker’s goal would have stood, but they lacked their usual cutting edge and panache at times this game, notably in the opening 45 minutes.
With just 30 per cent possession, less than 200 accurate passes – to Leicester’s 546 – and only two shots on target, this was a Wolves display that lacked their characteristically refined passing range, final-third vigour and byline penetration.
On reflection, Espirito Santo will be delighted with an away point to a side that could very well be knocking on the ‘top six’ door this season, and while this game could have proved a real smash-and-grab performance from the club, had fortune favoured them, there was a discernible lack of edge.
The second half was a much-improved display, with fresh impetus carrying Wolves forward in more tangible strides, but Espirito Santo will be hoping European football doesn’t prove a poisoned chalice this season.