Leicester City moved 10 points clear at the top of the Barclay's Premier League table with a 2-0 win over relegation threatened Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
Coming up against a team fighting the drop is never an easy task, and generally this tends to be the point of the season where Sunderland miraculously escapes the relegation zone for yet another season. Off the back of four straight draws, a win against the Foxes would provide some much needed momentum for their 6-pointer against fellow struggles Norwich next week. Fortunately the visitor's had other plans, grabbing the 3 points through a Jamie Vardy brace and various missed opportunities from their opponents.
The Foxes piled on the pressure from the kickoff, pinning a nervous Sunderland defense deep for the opening 20 minutes. The Black Cats early game plan appeared to be thumping long balls up to a rather isolated Jermaine Defoe and hoping he could make something out of them. Aside from a few turns and a second half shot that came closer to hitting the corner flag than the goal, Defoe had little to no impact on the game, spending the majority of it getting out-muscled by Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.
As the 25-minute mark hit Sunderland began to find its rhythm, maintaining some pressure in and around the Leicester box with some crisp passing that had the Foxes chasing shadows for a short spell. Aside from a Younès Kaboul header that flew over the bar and a long-range effort or two from Fabio Borini, the Black Cats were unable to make anything out of it. The chances ran dry until the end of the half, with a Sunderland break that forced an excellent save from Kasper Schmeichel off a deflected Borini shot.
The second half began with a couple more long-range efforts from Borini, who was making a real nuisance of himself in the attacking third, coming a whisker away from scoring on a strike from 18 yards out. The Foxes provided a positive response with some solid interplay between N'Golo Kanté and Shinji Okazaki, who's shot flew over the bar. The momentum continued through Danny Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy, with Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone racing out of his goal to save at the midfielder's feet. Within the next 10 minutes the Foxes finally broke the deadlock through a superb long ball from Drinkwater through to Vardy, who caught the Sunderland defense flat an unaware, slotting a classic finish past Mannone.
From here it appeared as though Sunderland lost all confidence, perfectly demonstrated by Borini controlling a brilliant Patrick van Aanholt cross into his face, rather than the opposing goal. The Foxes pressed on, appearing comfortable in defense, with Sunderland struggling to get in behind. The Black Cat's best chance for an equalizer came in the 82nd through Jack Rodwell, who managed to get in behind the Leicester back four, but somehow managed to shoot over the open goal. That miss seemed to be the nail in the coffin for the home side as Sam Allardyce began throwing men foreword, allowing the Foxes to quickly break on the counter. It was all just a matter of time before the visitor's doubled their lead, with Vardy catching van Aanholt flat footed, easily passing him and rounding Mannone to score his 21st goal of the season.
The win secured the Foxes a place in the UEFA Champions League next season and puts them 8 points away from securing the Premier League title. Leicester fans will be hoping for some help from Manchester United today to further open the gap between themselves and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the title. Next week brings a much more challenging game at home to West Ham United, that if won should bring the momentum to push on and win the title.
- Morgan and Huth put on a dominant display against Jermaine Defoe, spending the majority of the game controlling the air and claiming any crosses or long balls that entered the defensive third.
- The Sunderland defense seemed to have Riyad Mahrez's number for most of the first half, keeping him isolated and sending 2-3 men to close him down whenever he touched the ball in the midfield or attacking thirds. As the second half went on, he began to find his form, showing off some nice skills and intricate passing, providing some decent chances for Drinkwater and Vardy before being subbed off.
- Demarai Gray looked excellent coming off the bench for Mahrez, in the 81st minute. He provided some nice play down the wing, helping the Foxes maintain possession through some skilled passing and smooth touches. He provided the ball that got Vardy his second goal of the match and overall put in a solid shift. I'd love to see him get some more time to really make an impact on a game.
- At points the defense was a bit shaky, especially when it came to some overlapping runs from Sunderland. Thankfully, nothing came of it but the Foxes will need to be more careful of those against a much stronger offensive side in West Ham next weekend.