This week was one of the bonus weeks where we treated with two Premier League matches in a matter of just a few days. For the Foxes, as we have all grown accustomed to, it was a bit of a grab bag. Last Saturday provided us with moments of sheer brilliance, as Leicester City dominated Manchester City in the KP Stadium with a 4-2 victory. The follow up was not quite so brilliant, as the Foxes continued to struggle on the road via a 1-0 to AFC Bournemouth.
Plenty for us to digest and mull over here from this week.
The Long, Lonely Road
We will get to last Saturday in a second, but first, let’s talk about Tuesday's match in Vitality Stadium against AFC Bournemouth. Simply stated, this was another performance that we have come to expect on the road this season. We have spent time hypothesizing what could be the case for the road struggles - changes to midfield, more fixtures in the schedule, being the champion and getting everyone's best shot, etc. The theories could go on and on (perhaps someone forgetting their lucky socks they wore all of last season is the real culprit at hand - who knows).
The data though shows us everything. While the Foxes have scored less goals at home this season (15 this season vs. 16 at this point in the 2015/2016 campaign), this will come as no surprise, the real issue comes up on the road. Thus far, the Foxes have allowed 19 goals away from home this season. How did they fair last season? Leicester City allowed only 18 goals the entire 2015/2016. Houston, we have a bit of a problem.
Quite frankly, if we had a reduce the matter down to something, this boils down the lack of a consistent defense. We saw a dominant midfield like last season that made life very difficult in the middle of the park, forcing them to play out wide more often. This season, opponents have found more space in the middle of the pitch this season, allowing our back line to get exposed more often from time to time. Also, let's not forget our continuing struggles in set piece defense.
If there is good news in this, the Foxes are still finding similar results at home, as last season they were 5W-2D-1L through 8 home matches vs. 4W-3D-1L this season. Furthermore, January is just around the corner, there could be more faces brought into the side to help the matter. Time will tell, but one area the Foxes need to continue asking how they can improve is their away form.
One Word: Brilliance
There is no other word for last Saturday. The Foxes were ready. They looked rested. They looked dangerous. They looked brilliant.
Yes, Manchester City did comeback to score two goals late, but that is the only real complaint that I believe we can muster for the match. The Foxes executed their game plan to perfection – let the Citizens possess and attack as much as they want, just so long as the Foxes stayed set defensively. Once Manchester City lost possession, do what they do best – counter.
And counter they did. I give you, Exhibit A:
This may be one of those plays that just becomes engrained in my head for time to come. The pass to Riyad Mahrez, then Mahrez to Jamie Vardy. Vardy’s finish. It was perfect Leicester City football. The kind that we expected to see consistently last season, yet has often eluded us this year.
I could keep going about Vardy’s two other goals or Andy King’s strike from outside the box, but as well know, this is a team game. There are eleven players on the pitch. This was the Foxes best team performance on the pitch this season. Sure, we have seen the squad carve through opponents in the group stage on the Champions League, but those sides were not to the caliber of Manchester City (albeit a Sergio Agüero less side, but still). The backline refused the let the Citizens have a much space, the midfield was resolute in making things congested, but ready to hit the counter with precise passing, and the attack was razor sharp. It was brilliant.
How much will this match impact the rest of the season? That is hard to say. While it did not lead to a wave of momentum on Tuesday against Bournemouth, it does feel important none the less. A moment that the Foxes desperately needed. One where they not just scored, but scored often. One where the star players contributed, but the rest of the side was just as instrumental too. Hard to say where this will ultimately take us, but make no mistake, this was an important moment.
While this was certainly a brilliant team performance, we cannot overlook the night that Jamie Vardy had. He was sensational. His finishing was fantastic on Saturday, making life very difficult for the likes of Claudio Bravo. His first goal made me wonder if it was December 2015, with a powerful strike into the opposite side of the goal. His second goal was equally sublime, with the great pass by Mahrez and Vardy getting around Bravo to put the goal away. It was everything that we have come to know out of #9.
In the end, it was Vardy's first ever hat trick while in a Leicester City uniform (which after his electric scoring of last season seems almost unbelievable that it did not happen until now). Perhaps it was the break that he was provided midweek by not having to travel for the Champions League match or perhaps it was the night. Regardless, this is the Jamie Vardy we all know. This is the Jamie Vardy the side needs. That is the Vardy Party we all want see keep going.
On Monday, Cristiano Ronaldo picked up his fourth Ballon d'Or award, edging out five time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi. If we look at the top ten of those nominated, spots 7 and 8 hold particular interest to us: Rihyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy respectively.
Quite an accomplishment for the two Foxes. At the beginning of last seasons 2015/2016 campaign - those names could have been mentioned, and outside Leicester City supporters, you likely would have been met with a question of who that was. Not now. They are in the conversation of ten best players from last season, which is certainly well deserved.
Up Next: The Foxes remain on the road and visit bet365 Stadium to face Stoke City on Saturday.