Leicester City made it harder than they needed to but ran out deserved 3-1 winners over Huddersfield Town Saturday evening at the King Power. Goals from Kelechi Iheanacho, James Maddison, and Jamie Vardy overturned an early 1-0 deficit to the Terriers. The win was Leicester’s third in six matches, but the first truly emphatic victory of the season.
How emphatic? City had 62% of the possession, out-shot the visitors 18-9, putting 8 on target to their 2. After a couple of nervy victories against Wolves and Southampton, it was nice to finally feel like the result matched the performance.
We all expected manager Claude Puel to make some changes after conceding 4 goals at Bournemouth last week, but I doubt anyone had this particular starting XI in mind: Kasper Schmeichel retained his place in goal behind a back four of Daniel Amartey, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Nampalys Mendy and Wilfred Ndidi got the nod again in defensive midfield behind an attacking trio of Rachid Ghezzal on the right, Maddison in the centre, and...Iheanacho on the left wing. Vardy once again spearheaded the attack as the lone striker.
BREAKING: Jonny Evans, Daniel Amartey and Kelechi Iheanacho are into the Leicester City side in three changes from last week's defeat at Bournemouth. Today's Foxes side: pic.twitter.com/3B4t5V00BA— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) September 22, 2018
At least, that’s what the team sheet said, but the team sheet was a dirty liar. In practice, Leicester were playing a two striker system with Maddison behind them. The former Norwich man and Chilwell took joint responsibility for the left wing in a 4-4-2 without either of them really occupying the position. It was...different.
It could hardly have started worse for the home side. Huddersfield won a throw deep in the Leicester half. Laurent Depoitre beat Maguire to the initial ball and Mattias Jorgensen reacted first to the flick-on, slotting home from inside the 6 yard box on just 5 minutes. Once again, lapses in concentration left the Foxes facing a deficit before they even got into the match.
Worryingly, it was the visitors who dictated play for the next quarter-hour, winning all the 50/50 challenges and defending in numbers. As the 20 minute mark approached, the Terriers won a dangerous free kick and then a corner, which was well cleared by Maguire. Suddenly, it was 2015 all over again as Leicester broke at pace. A perfect through ball found Vardy, who laid it off for Iheanacho. The Nigeria international still had a lot to do, but he finished well from the edge of the box and leveled the score with a low strike that left Jonas Lossl no chance.
The goal marked a nice period of pressure from Leicester as the two City strikers tried to set each other up for half chances and then an incredibly well-worked free kick routine gave Vardy a free look at goal from 14 yards out but his first time effort went wide when he really should have scored. Leicester kept up the pressure , with Vardy trying his luck with a powerful shot from outside the area, but it was right at the keeper.
Things got a little scrappy as the half came to a close with some wild challenges, poor passing, and chances at a premium. Ghezzal made a wild, scything lunge that didn’t make much contact but the referee decided was worth a yellow just on style alone. City had almost all of the possession, but never really came close to taking a lead before the whistle. Leicester City 1 - 1 Huddersfield Town.
Puel sent on Demarai Gray in place of Ghezzal to start the second half, who had a frustrating time of it in the first 45’. City certainly got the best of the opening exchanges, winning a free kick on the right side of the penalty box that Madders put wide with a cheeky shot under the wall. What the game lacked in quality, it made up for in full-blooded challenges, with both Vardy and Gray making an impact pressing the ball and keeping the Terriers pinned in their own area.
The pressure nearly resulted in a goal when the midfield press led to a loose pass that Chilwell intercepted in stride and laid in the path of Vardy, who got past the defense but couldn’t beat Lossl from a tight angle. Shortly after that, another Chilwell cross found Iheanacho’s late run into the area, but the former Manchester City man put his first time shot just wide.
City were committing men forward in numbers and nearly paid the price when Huddersfield broke on the counter and found Depoitre alone with only Schmeichel to beat. Maguire recovered just enough to put the Belgian off as he attempted to round the stranded keeper and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.
The visitors were punished almost immediately when they conceded a free kick near the edge of the area. City eschewed the fancy training ground moves and just let Maddison take it. He did his Beckham run-up routine and curled it towards the corner. Lossl got a hand to it, but could do no more than turn it onto the underside of the bar and into the net.
The Foxes very nearly put it out of reach through a scintillating move involving the the two strikers working the ball out wide to an unmarked Gray. The former Birmingham man cut inside and fired a wicked shot that Lossl did well to parry and somehow keep away from the unrushing Vardy.
On 73’, the Foxes finally put the Terriers to the sword. It was Iheancho who made the goal, sliding a perfect ball in the path of Vardy’s run. The England man outpaced the defense, finding himself one-on-one with Lossl yet again. His chipped finish was immaculate, and game that had started so poorly was now a romp in the park for the hosts.
That was Iheanacho’s final contribution as Puel sent on Marc Albrighton to give the side a more recognizable shape and see off the match. The Nigeria man more than repaid the gaffer’s decision to start him, getting a goal and an assist; a just reward for his influence on the match.
City fell asleep at the back on the 80’ mark, allowing a floated free kick to find the head of Depoitre directly in front of the goal, but his header was tame and directly at the grateful Schmeichel. Things got scrappy from there on out as Huddersfield’s frustration started to translate into late challenges, especially as the Foxes started to turn on the style. How comfortable were Leicester at this point? Daniel Amartey had a decent effort that, if you squinted, could have troubled the keeper.
It could have been four as Shinji Okazaki, on for Maddison, forced Lossl into a smart save at the death and then Vardy put a glanced header just wide from the net. That was the last touch of the match and City, who put themselves in an early hole, ran out easy winners. Leicester City 3 - 1 Huddersfield Town.
All’s well that ends well, right? It was another frustrating start, with Leicester conceding a soft early goal in the first 5’, but this time, City kept to the task and got the result they deserved. Hats off to the gaffer for finding a creative way to get Vardy, Iheanacho, and Maddison on the pitch at the same time. Puel clearly doesn’t favor a two-striker system, but he found a way and, seeing as those three were the goal scorers, you’d have to say it paid off.
Other than Ghezzal, who seemed a little off his game today, there weren’t any poor performances of note. The defensive midfield axis struggled a little with Huddersfield’s physicality, but won more battles than they lost. Evans was comfortable at the back without really standing out, Maguire looked very much at the top of his game, and even the often-maligned Amartey had a solid performance.
I thought we were the only ones who did that, Cate.
The victory puts the Foxes in 8th place in the table on 9 points from 6 matches. Leicester next face Wolves at Molineaux on Tuesday in the 3rd round of the Carabao Cup, then travel to the northeast to face Newcastle on Saturday in Premier League action.