Leicester City cemented their 8th place position in the table with a well-deserved thrashing of Southampton at the Friends Provident St. Mary’s on a rainy Wednesday evening. Manager Claude Puel made three changes to the lineup that defeated Newcastle on Saturday, starting Andy King, Shinji Okazaki, and Christian Fuchs in place of Vicente Iborra, Marc Albrighton, and Demarai Gray.
On paper, the formation looked familiar, but in practice, City lined up in a 4-3-3 with Wilfred Ndidi on the right side of the midfield trio, King in the middle, and Ben Chilwell on the left. The change of tactics seemed to have caught Southampton unawares as they struggled all night to cope with the Foxes’ unfamiliar shape.
The Foxes broke through on 11' when the resplendently blonde Riyad Mahrez picked up the ball near the centre of the park. Five Southampton defenders failed to close him down, force him on to his right foot, or do much of anything, so the Algerian drifted across the outside of the area and planted a low shot to the left of Fraser Forster and into the back of the net.
On 23', Leicester finally had the opportunity to run at the Saints' defense. Okazaki picked up the ball in midfield, and, after a little pinball on the edge of the box, the ball fell again to the Japan international. His low drive beat the keeper but was well cleared off the line by former City target Mario Lemina.
It was more one-way traffic on 27' when Virgil upended Andy King thirty yards out on the left side of the D. There was always only going to be one man to take the shot, but the Blonde Magician fired it straight into the wall.
Southampton had their best moment of the half immediately afterwards when the lively Lemina broke through the midfield and found Charlie Austin on the left side of the box. His shot was powerful, but right at Schmeichel. City cleared the ensuing corner and broke quickly, with Mahrez setting up Vardy for a close-range shot that was saved and put out for a corner.
City tried a training ground bit on the ensuing corner with a long ball to the onrushing Christian Fuchs on the edge of the area. Fuchs' shot was stopped, but Okazaki was the first to react to the rebound and slotted home from inside the 6 yard box.
As the half drew near an end, City won another free kick mid-way into the Southampton half. Mahrez floated it to Harry Maguire who may have just handled the ball, or at least the Saints defense thought so as they switched off. Virgil failed to track Maguire, who turned towards the touchline and crossed low with his right foot. The ball evaded the onrushing Okazaki and the entire home defense, leaving Andy King alone at the far post to tap in the easiest goal of his illustrious career.
Andy King makes it 3-0 with a tap-in from a #LCFC free-kick.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) December 13, 2017
So that's all three of Puel's changes that have either scored or set-up goals.
How’s that for some tactical nous?
The Saints mounted another late attack right at the death. Ryan Bertrand cushioned a beautiful ball back for Virgil, who ballooned the ball comfortably over the crossbar. The half ended with the Foxes three goals to the good and, a little surprisingly, looking every bit like they deserved it.
Southampton started the second half brightly, but the Foxes began to apply the preasure on 52' minutes. Forster dove well to his left to save a dipping Mahrez free kick, and then had to make an instinctive save with his foot when Harry Maguire, of all people, got behind the Saints' defense.
On 60', Danny Simpson gave away a free kick just outside the D. Ryan Bertrand's shot got up and down over the wall, but was right at the Leicester stopper who palmed over. The Saints broke through on the ensuing corner, as Maya Yoshida met the cross at the far post and headed back across the goal.
Southampton should have pulled another one back on 65' when the Saints broke down the left through Bertrand. His low cross found an unmarked Austin inside the six yard box, but Schmeichel was equal it and knocked it away. The south coast side were immediately punished when Leicester scored from what was essentially the same sequence of play. Jamie Vardy received the ball out wide and knocked a perfect ball for Okazaki to run on to, restoring the Foxes' 3 goal lead.
The job apparently done, Puel brought on Marc Albrighton and Demarai Gray for Mahrez and Vardy on 78', and finally Leo Ulloa for Ben Chilwell on 82'. The game lost some of its impetus, but Gray did everything he could to get Okazaki his hat trick, chasing a long ball down the right and crossing just out of reach of the former Mainz striker.
The victory leaves City in 8th place, four points ahead of Watford in 9th and four behind 7th-placed Arsenal. While there will be disappointment at not keeping a clean sheet, there’s very little else with which to find fault. City didn’t just win 4-1, they looked very good value for that scoreline away to a difficult Southampton side. The win surely brought a smile or two to Puel’s face. He left the south coast with the reputation for playing dull, defensive football. Putting that reputation to rest against his former club must have been doubly sweet.
Leicester City return to the King Power to face a resurgent Crystal Palace in Saturday’s early match and then it’s undefeated Manchester City midweek in the League Cup. On current form, would you put past us to pull of an upset?