Leicester City fell to 10-man Southampton 2-1 Saturday afternoon at the King Power stadium. A first-half penalty from James Ward-Prowse and a goal at the end of the half by Shane Long on either side of Yann Valery’s sending off left the Foxes a big hill to climb. A second-half goal by Wilfred Ndidi inspired hope of a comeback, but City were unable to breech, or even trouble, the disciplined Saints defense.
Claude Puel did the Claude Puel thing by ringing in the changes yet again. Kasper Schmeichel retained his place in goal behind our first-choice back four of Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Three defensive midfielders, Nampalys Mendy, Hamza Choudhury, and Wilfred Ndidi slotted in behind and attacking three of Marc Albrighton, Jamie Vardy, and James Maddison. The biggest news on the team sheet was the name of Harvey Barnes on the bench following his return from his loan spell at West Bromwich Albion.
As is our custom in matches against teams at the bottom end of the table, Leicester started the match with most of the possession, but Southampton had the best of the chances. The warning bells weren’t merely ringing, but clanging at full peal when Nathan Redmond led a break and laid the ball into the path of Stuart Armstrong. City were able to put the ball behind for a corner, but the danger signs were obvious to all.
Well, perhaps not to all. From the subsequent goal kick, Schmeichel’s short ball was poor and put the defense under pressure immediately. The Saints quickly got the ball to Shane Long just inside the area, where he was clumsily challenged by Mendy. Michael Oliver took a moment but he made the correct call and blew for a penalty. Schmeichel guessed the correct direction, but he had no chance to save James Ward-Prowse’s well-taken penalty.
The Saints nearly doubled their lead on 27’. After having the best of the play for the first quarter of the match, the visitors were gifted a corner when Chilwell lost track of what he was doing and let the ball roll out for a corner when under no pressure at all. Ward-Prowse’s deliviry found the unmarked Jack Stephens at the near post. His header was on target, but Schmeichel made a fine save to keep the deficit at one.
City finally got on a shot a target on 35’. A scrum on the left side where Yann Valery’s high tackle provoked Chilwell to put his arm around Valery, who responded by throwing a punch. Referee Michael Oliver deemed this action worthy of a yellow for each of them, which was, for the record, a terrible bit of officiating. From the ensuing free kick, City worked the ball around the area and Wes Morgan managed to poke the ball towards the net, but it was cleared off the line by Jan Bednarek. The Foxes won the corner and found Harry Maguire alone ten yards out, but his header was directly at keeper Alex McCarthy.
Some small bit of justice was done on 44’ when Valery fouled Albrighton a couple of times on the edge of the area, finally pulling him down by his shirt. Michael Oliver had been lenient up to that point, but this time had no choice but to produce a second yellow and send Valery off for what could easily have been his third or fourth card.
The Foxes were once again the architects of their own destruction just minutes later. A long ball over the top found Shane Long isolated one-on-one with Mendy. The former Nice man got a touch on it, but it was very much the Wrong Sort of Touch, putting directly in Long’s path on the way to the goal. The veteran striker hit it from a tight angle and the Danish stopper got a hand to it, but if anything, he helped the ball into the net, giving the 10-man Saints a 2-0 lead at the half.
Unsurprisingly, Puel expressed his displeasure at the first half performance by sending on Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes for Albrighton and Mendy. The move very nearly played immediate dividends, albeit in the most indirect fashion. A Maguire shot from well outside the area deflected off of Barnes and forced a fine save by McCarthy to keep it out of the net.
City were back in it on 57’. A slick move on the right found Ricardo, who got to the touchline and knocked it back in front of the goalmouth. Nididi, making an Andy King-esque late run in to the box, got his golden knee to the ball and guided it into the back of the net. No style points for that one, but the last time I checked, they still go up on the scoreboard.
The Foxes set up camp in the Saints half for the next fifteen minutes, knocking the ball from side to side at a better pace than they showed the first half, but not nearly quick enough to beat the disciplined Southampton line. The best chance came when Jannik Westergaard got dragged out left by Maddison. The former Norwich man easily beat his man and crossed high to Vardy, who glanced his header agonisingly wide.
As the game approached the last ten minutes, Puel made his final change, sending on Rachid Ghezzal for the impressive Choudhury. Southampton retreated further and further granting Leicester all of the possession in wide areas as they wanted. City were settling for long shots from Maddison and Ghezzal, Maddison and Ndidi, and then another one from Maddison.
Leicester won a corner deep in injury time and brought Schmeichel forward to try to salvage something from this match. It very nearly happened, too, as the corner found the head of Ndidi, who hit it well but guided it just wide of the goal. That would be the last chance of the match, leaving the Saints with a thoroughly-deserved 2-1 victory.
Yeah, that wasn’t good. The statistics will show that the Foxes had 72% of the possession and 24 shots to Southampton’s 8, but this was anything but a dominant performance by City. This was a deserved win for the Saints and an exceedingly poor performance by Leicester. It’s probably worth noting, as well, that we crashed out of the FA Cup last Sunday in part because we rested our top players so they would be fresh for this match.
Expect to see a bit more of this in the near future.
It’s easy to point the finger at Mendy for being at fault for both Saints’ goals, and there’s certainly some merit to that point of view. On the other hand, I struggle to understand why a central midfielder was left one-on-one with Shane Long twice in the penalty area. We were caught out exactly twice in that match and both times the ball ended up in the back of the net.
At the other end, though, we weren’t exactly doing much to trouble the opposition defense. The book on Leicester is to back the penalty area and allow the fullbacks space on the wings because they’ll just lump it into the area and hope Vardy grows an inch or two in time to get on the end of it. The only time a player in a wide position attacked the area, we scored. Maybe try that one again some time?
#saintsfc have 3 defenders that are 6ft 5 + so why did we spend the whole 2nd half passing it out wide for them to cross it to 1 maybe 2 players who were never going to win any headers in a million years. #lcfc— Chris Bailey (@CBailey31) January 12, 2019
In the first half, Choudhury stood out as the only player in blue who was performing at full speed. Did anyone else have a good match? Ndidi got a goal, and Madders moved the ball well until he decided that he had to shoot from distance every time he saw the ball. I’m reasonably sure that Vardy would have had a fine game had he seen the ball, but he didn’t, so there you have it.
The defeat leaves us on 31 points through 22 matches, good enough for 8th on the table. We have the early match next Saturday as we visit Wolves at Molineux. Our next cup match is (checks notes) ah, well, we’re done with those, aren’t we?