The Foxes came away with just one point after an unfortunate early dismissal put them on the back foot against Chelsea. Though the performance may have been deserving of more, a draw away at a “Big Six” club - especially when down to 10 men for an extended period of time - is certainly a positive result.
The success continued for Leicester City when they took down Fleetwood Town in the FA Cup third round by a score of 2-0. Between the two games the Foxes had several standout performers:
Matty James: Matty James! He’s back! He’s really back! The long-time-injury-sufferer has finally returned to regular playing time, and against Chelsea he put in his best performance since coming back. I had previously identified a rise in his stock in the last edition of the stock watch, but that was solely because of his mere presence on the pitch. As I said then, any production on his part was more than we had received when he was out with injuries.
This time, however, he earned it with his play. Our own Jack Lee even dubbed him the performer of note for the performance. He showed an Iborra-esque level of calmness on the ball, always seeming to pick the right pass and never losing possession. James also chipped in defensively with five clearances - the most of any Fox. Suddenly, Claude Puel is looking at a selection dilemma in midfield.
And speaking of Claude Puel...
Claude Puel: The manager has exceeded expectations to this point in his tenure with the club. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of playing the ball on the ground, and not playing the dreadful hoof and hope style that plagued us at our worst moments last season. The result has been a surprisingly flavorful brand of play. For contrast, the biggest criticism of his time at Southampton was that the team was boring and didn’t score very often.
Before the Chelsea match, Puel assured the media that he was not going to Chelsea just to park the bus and allow them to dictate the pace of play. He said that Leicester would come out and attack Chelsea and they did just that. The team was stellar and created countless clear chances. With a more clinical edge the team could have had several goals in the first half alone. Regardless, the game plan was a successful one. Puel also showed the ability to adapt after Ben Chilwell’s 68th minute red card.
He then chose to rotate the side for the FA Cup and showed himself to be a prudent man-manager. He made Riyad Mahrez - whose future at the club is in question - the captain, and gave out-of-form striker Kelechi Iheanacho a game.
Speaking of Kelechi Iheanacho...
Kelechi Iheanacho: The Nigerian new-man needed this one. Pressure was building and the rumors were swirling during this dreaded January transfer window. His response was emphatic, bagging himself two goals with another disallowed. He even made history as his second goal was the first in England to be approved by video assistant referee (VAR). His start was actually a slow one, but once he grabbed his first goal the difference in his play was palpable. His confidence soared and his play went along with it. The first-touch required on his first goal was clearly majestic enough to jumpstart his whole system. From there, he continued to display the killer poaching ability that made him such a success at Manchester City.
Congratulations to the team for a great performance and a very well deserved win tonight. Very pleased to get back on the goals. #GodIsTheKindest!! #FearlessFox #VAR pic.twitter.com/wKimVPxL6C— Kelechi Iheanacho (@67Kelechi) January 17, 2018
Adrien Silva: Much like Matty James, I had thought of his stock as rising in the last edition of this piece as a result of his mere presence after an extended absence. Also like James, he’s earned his way onto it this week with a standout performance. Leicester’s most complicated signing dominated Fleetwood Town and showed his superior class. He was involved in most of what the Foxes accomplished on the day, and proved to be worth the wait.
Ben Chilwell: He’s young and both of his yellows were questionable for different reasons. This is true. Still, an added degree of caution is always required when you’re on a yellow, and Chilwell (hopefully) learned that the hard way. The mistake cost City a chance at capturing the elusive win at Stamford Bridge, and continued this mini-trend of early dismissals for the Foxes. For a player whose performances had been earning him more game time, this was a step backwards.
Yohan Benalouane: A string of injuries in defense afforded Benalouane a rare opportunity to start in the FA Cup. He responded with a mostly nondescript performance peppered with glimpses of his worst qualities. Thankfully, though, he didn’t cost the team anything. His ugly lunge in the 35th minute resulted in a yellow, but it could have been worse. He also sent a ball to the moon after the crowd urged him to shoot from distance. As a man capable of both the extraordinary and the extra “oh no, deary”, he was much closer to the latter this time.
Meanwhile, Benaloune tries a volley from about 40 yards out.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) January 16, 2018
Lands somewhere in SK1. Glorious stuff.