Managing the new allowance of five substitutes will be a key factor in the Premier League this autumn and Thomas Frank’s decision to utilise all of his replacements encouraged Brentford to rally from 2-0 down to earn a point courtesy of Josh Dasilva’s late equaliser.
While Leicester, seemingly cruising to victory with goals from Timothy Castagne and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall just reward for their excellent first hour, dropped off in the East Midlands heat but made only one change, Brentford were the better side from when Ivan Toney scored with half an hour to go and it was no surprise when Dasilva, granted the freedom to advance forwards and cut inside, swerved home a fine goal four minutes from time.
Dasilva, 23, has been missing for much of the past 18 months since he last scored, with a thigh problem following a career-threatening hip injury, so Frank described how “emotional” he felt in the changing room after the game. “It was almost too much for him,” the Brentford manager said. “But he deserves that moment.”
As Brentford, fresh from replenishing a squad that finished 13th in their first season in the Premier League, left their fans celebrating their self-deprecating status as just a “bus stop in Hounslow”, Leicester supporters may have traipsed home wondering just what is happening to a club that seemed set for higher things after two fifth-placed finishes and an FA Cup final triumph.
With Kasper Schmeichel gone and aspiring clubs circling with big-money bids for star players James Maddison, Wesley Fofana and Youri Tielemans, it is hard to avoid the feeling Leicester are a club whose fortunes lie in the balance. Yet their first-choice line-up is so full of quality it is understandable Brendan Rodgers did not want to disrupt it.
“At 2-0 up and playing really really well, you’re not thinking so much about the need to change,” the Leicester manager said. “If you’re chasing the game, it’s on you to try and change it.”
They may not have made any signings but Rodgers did a fine job of fielding a new-look shape after losing Harvey Barnes and Ricardo Pereira to injury last week. Maddison was allowed the most licence of the three attacking midfielders, playing in front of Wilfried Ndidi, in a wing-back system, and the home side’s most creative player was involved in most of their best moments.
Maddison, for whom Leicester have reportedly turned down a £50m bid from Newcastle, timed a run superbly to dive and head Tielemans’ lofted pass just wide before he made the opening goal.
Brentford themselves changed to a wing-back system from 4-3-3 but this did not prevent Jamie Vardy running the ball at Pontus Jansson down the inside-left channel to win a corner in the 33rd minute.
From Maddison’s inswinging delivery, Castagne, who scored in the 2-1 home win over these opponents last season, found a chink in Brentford’s split of zonal and man-to-man marking to glance his header beyond David Raya.
Tielemans shot against a post before Leicester converted their territorial dominance into a two-goal lead 25 seconds into the second half. A spree of sweet one- and two-touch passing culminated in Ben Mee, on his Brentford debut, donning his Toblerone boots to miscue the ball straight to Vardy who prompted Dewsbury-Hall to shoot home from the edge of the D.
But as Brentford started substituting their players, Leicester naturally dropped off. From conceding possession at a throw-in, Rico Henry played a lovely pass into the feet of Toney and last season’s 12-goal leading scorer took a superb first touch before firing home with his left foot.
Fofana headed Tielemans’ free-kick against the inside of the far post, with Raya scrambling across his line to parry gratefully away, while Brentford started taking more risks and leaving more gaps in their bid for an equaliser.
When Bryan Mbeumo jinked inside and crossed from the right, Toney ghosted in behind and should have done much better than head into the side-netting. But Brentford kept believing and Frank finished the happier manager.
“It’s a massive point,” Frank said. “Coming back from 2-0 down to 2-2 is a massive moment. They’re also allowed to make five subs. Let’s tell the story of how the brilliant Thomas Frank making five changes won the game but really other factors helped.”