Leicester City topped Watford by a score of 2-0 on Saturday at the King Power. First half goals from Jamie Vardy and James Maddison were enough to ensure the three points for the Foxes. The visitors ended the match with 10 men after Etienne Capoue was sent off for a two-footed challenge just before injury time.
With no suspensions and only injuries to Harry Maguire, Rachid Ghezzal, and Daniel Amartey to cope with, manager Claude Puel’s starting XI looked unusually close to his first choice side. Kasper Schmeichel, seeking his 100th clean sheet in a Leicester shirt, returned in goal. Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Jonny Evans, and Ben Chilwell comprised the back line. Wilfred Ndidi came back into the side, partnering with Nampalys Mendy in defensive midfield. Marc Albrighton, James Maddison, and Demarai Gray played in attacking midfield behind lone striker Jamie Vardy.
The match started with an open feel and the suggestion that there would be goals on the menu. Both sides charged up the pitch with pace and purpose, pinging the ball around nicely without really troubling their opponents’ goals. As the 10’ mark approached, the play settled into a pattern that will be familiar to Leicester fan, with Watford dominating possession and the Foxes defending deep and looking to hit the visitors on the break.
It was appropriate then that City took an early lead in classic 2015/16 style. Schmeichel gathered a corner and started the attack with a throw to the left side. Chilwell carried the ball into attack and he laid a perfect through ball into the path of the onrushing Vardy. With the defenders beaten, Watford keeper Ben Foster rashly charged out but was always going to lose out to the former Fleetwood Town man. Referee Graham Scott pointed to the spot and Vardy dispatched the penalty with aplomb, giving the Foxes the early lead.
City once again made the Hornets pay with a vintage counter worthy of the repeated watching. The visitors’ attack broke down and the ball was quickly worked to Vardy near the halfway line. He touched it wide to Albrighton in space on the right. The former Villa man hit a long cross first time, finding Maddison cutting in from the opposite side. His first touch was sublime, controlling the ball with his chest, then tapping the ball up to beat three defenders before a fortunate flick off Adrian Mariappa fell perfectly for Madders who smashed the ball past the stranded Foster. The ball never touched the pitch from the time Albrighton hit it until it was in the back of the net.
Shortly afterwards, a poorly-worked Leicester corner routine gave Watford a chance to break. A long ball down the middle was prodded in the path of the incredibly-named Isaac Success, who held off Mendy but missed the target when one-on-one with the keeper. This was the tenor of the rest of the half; the Hornets dominated the remainder, earning multiple corners and free kicks deep in the Foxes’ half, but they couldn’t find the final ball and the half ended a very satisfactory 2-0 to the good.
It was the visitors who came out flying to start the second half. An absolutely fizzing low cross by Gerard Deulofeu was met by a sliding Ricardo two yards out. His clearance was goalbound, but fortunately it was directly at Schmeichel.
Against the run of play, City very nearly made it three. Ricardo and Gray played a one-two on the edge of the Watford area. The return ball gave Gray a fine look at the goal, but his shot thundered off the cross bar and the chance went begging.
City probably should have had another penalty on the hour mark. A long cross into the box found the head of Chiwell. The England full back headed the ball back for Mendy, but Abdoulaye Doucouré climbed all over the former Nice man but, puzzlingly, the referee said no.
One-way traffic resumed with several more Watford attacks as City struggled to get a kick, convincing Puel to make two quickfire changes on 70’. Çağlar Söyüncü came on for Gray and Kelechi Iheancho replaced Vardy shortly afterwards. The substitutes signaled a change of tactics, with the Foxes going to three at the back with Chilwell and Ricardo shifting to wing back.
It wasn’t long, however, before the visitors worked up a head of steam and put us back under the cosh. Success knocked a cross back for an unmarked André Gray, but he fluffed his lines and the ball was cleared. Shortly afterwards, Success charged into the box and tried to get a shot off, but Pereira stuck to his task and blocked the effort.
Puel sent Vicente Iborra on for Evans to shore up the...midfield defense? I don’t know. You don’t often see central defenders substituted for midfielders when trying to close out a game, do you? Anyway, the one-way traffic largely continued until the 88th minute. The impressive Etienne Capoue went into a 50-50 with Iheanacho with both studs up. Graham Scott took a moment to think it over and then displayed a straight red card, ending Watford’s increasingly slim hopes of a comeback.
Funny match, this one. As Fosse Posse’s Michael Franca noted, it was an almost perfect inversion of the way Leicester matches have gone this year: “Started strong and got ahead but then came under a bunch of pressure and an onslaught of chances in the second half, but managed to hold on for a result. And the opponents got a red card too.”
The Hornets seemed to be laying siege to Schmeichel’s goal, but when I look at the statistics from the match, I see that they had exactly zero shots on target. The Great Dane got his 100th clean sheet for Leicester without having to make a save.
That’s not to say that Schmeichel wasn’t busy; he did will on crosses and his distribution started several breaks for a Leicester attack that wasn’t looking dangerous otherwise. Both full backs played well, with Ricardo in particular having his best match in defense since coming to the King Power. Mendy was his usual calm self in the centre of the park, winning balls without much fuss and seldom giving them away. Vardy deserves a mention as well. He was regularly winning long balls against two or three defenders to give City an outlet and get attacks started. It was refreshing to see Leicester playing the long ball and trying to hit opponents on the break.
Before people start getting all 'Ooo look Claude, a counter-attack', #LCFC have been leading the way for goals from fast breaks all season.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) December 1, 2018
Until recently, they had actually scored twice as many as the next closest side.
But as you were. Carry on, everyone.
Not now James, we’re busy celebrating.
The win moves Leicester all the way up to 7th on the table on 21 points. The next match will be yet another emotional one in what has been an emotional season. City travel to London to take on Claudio Ranieri and his Fulham side on Wednesday evening. We return to the King Power on Saturday to take on the hated (by me, at least) Tottenham Hotspur.