Leicester City fell to Wolverhampton by a score of 4-3 at Molinxeux in early action on Saturday. Wolves took a 2-0 lead early in the first half through goals by Diogo Jota and Ryan Bennett. The Foxes leveled the score with two quickfire goals at the start of the second half through Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes (ok, officially a Conor Coady own goal). Wolves retook the lead through another Jota goal, only for that to be cancelled by a Wes Morgan header. Deep into injury time, Jota struck yet again to give Wolves the three points.
On the day their attack finally fires, what had been the fifth-best defence in the Premier League goes awol.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) January 19, 2019
Manager Cladue Puel, l’homme faire de petits ajustements fastidieux*, switched up the attack yet again in naming his starting XI. Kasper Schmeichel kept his place in goal behind Danny Simpson, Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Nampalys Mendy and Wilfred Ndidi got the nod in central midfield. Ricardo Pereira, Harvey Barnes, and Demarai Gray comprised the attacking midfield three behind lone striker Jamie Vardy.
*Editor’s note: I will give Jake $10,000 if this name sticks
The match did not get off to the best of starts.
Barnes sold Mendy short with a soft back pass, forcing the former Nice man to make a rash tackle and pick up and early yellow. From the ensuing free kick, the ball fell to Ruben Neves in full flight. His long-range effort was goal-bound but brilliantly saved by Schmeichel. The corner was cleared, but the ball was given away by Gray in the midfield. Wolves worked it out left and pumped a cross into the center of the area. Simpson stayed with his man, but Diogo Jota did well to wrap his leg around the defender and give the hosts the lead on only 4’.
The Foxes were nearly back in it right from the restart. Rui Patricio dawdled on the ball and, predictably, Vardy was on it in a flash. The keeper atoned for his mistake, kept his calm, and kept a couple of low efforts out.
The Foxes were looking expansive in attack but fragile at the back so it seemed only a matter of time before the ball was in the back of the net at one end or the other. Unfortunately, it wound up in the back of ours as Wolves put on a clinic in attacking zonal marking from a corner. The ball came in from the left directly into Maguire’s area which would normally mean an easy clearance. However, Wolves had flooded Maguire’s “zone”, leaving him two men to defend. This allowed Ryan Bennett to win the head and plant it past Schmeichel to give the hosts a 2-0 lead on only 18’.
The Foxes responded with the kind of flurry usually reserved for the last ten minutes of the match. Rui Patricio made yet another uncharacteristic mistake, clearing a ball as far as Chilwell, who worked the ball to Gray inside the area, but the former Birmingham man’s shot was well saved when, in truth, he should have been able to beat keeper.
There were several more attacks like this, with the Foxes moving the ball briskly and Gray getting a look on goal, but it was Wolves who looked more likely to add to their tally. Every time they won the ball in midfield, they were able to create a good chance, forcing several saves from Schmeichel and putting on the sort of counter-attacking show we used to see from the men in blue.
Things got scrappy as half-time approached with wild tackles flying in from both sides. Three yellows were produced in the final three minutes of the half, with both Wolves’ goalscorers seeing yellow on either side of a gloriously reckless Ricardo tackle that might be described more as “orange” than “yellow”. That was it for the first half as the Foxes left themselves quite a hill to climb in the second 45’. To be fair, the Foxes could have had a couple of goals. To be brutally honest, Wolves could have had four.
The first half started fast; the second was at the speed of light. The first Wolves attack was cleared by Barnes, to Vardy, who was able to turn his man and cross the half-way line in full flight. His through ball for Gray was inch-perfect and the winger did the rest, beating two defenders, riding a challenge in the box, and beating Rui Patricio with a low drive to the far post less than two minutes into the half.
Unfortunately, Maguire picked up a knock during this move and had to be replaced by Jonny Evans. Evans’ appearance on the bench as a surprise as he picked up a broken toe at Newport, but playing with a broken toe is a very Jonny-Evans thing to do.
The Foxes leveled the affair just six minutes into the second period . Sensing a gap in the defense, Chilwell drove into the Wolverhampton penalty area. There was no gap, but he drew the defense to him and defenders knocked the ball directly to the onrushing Barnes, who struck the ball first time with his right foot. It took a wicked deflection on the way and Rui Patricio had no hope of denying the academy product his first Premier League goal.
It took Wolves only 10 minutes to restore their lead. A Simpson cross was cleared to Neves deep in his own area. The Portugal man had ages to pick out a long ball over the top to his countryman Diogo Jota. He was played onside by Evans and Morgan had no hope of making up the ground. Schmeichel got a leg to the shot, but could do no more than turn it into the roof of the net.
Puel made his first unforced chance on 72’, sending James Maddison into the fray for Barnes. This marked a regrettably familiar run of play where the Foxes would work the ball out wide and try to cross the ball into the box. I’m certain that this has worked and resulted in a goal at some point over the last 12 months, but I’m struggling to remember when. When we did manage to work the ball into the box on the floor, Madders somehow put his first timer six yards wide from six yards out.
The manager made his last throw of the dice on 80’, withdrawing Danny Simpson for Kelechi Iheanacho. The Foxes immediately won a couple of free kicks deep in the Wolves’ area. The first was a training ground move that went disastrously wrong and was only broken up the efforts of last man Jamie Vardy.
The second one worked out a little better. Madders’ lofted ball from the right found Wes Morgan among three defenders. He really shouldn’t have been able to get to the ball, but sheer will saw him get there first and guide it past the strictly-decorative Rui Patricio.
This has got a last minute winner written all over it! Which team I dunno!! #lcfc— Linsey Hart (@Linseyhart10) January 19, 2019
Spoiler alert: It would be the wrong one.
Would this be the long-sought revenge for the 24 October, 2003 match where Wolves came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Leicester 4-3? No, no it would not. Deep into injury time, Jota finished from a beautiful square ball from Raul and it was yet another 4-3 defeat to Wolves which is, objectively speaking, just about the worst thing in the world.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at the score line, but Leicester and Wolverhampton had the fifth and sixth best defensive records in the league coming in to this match. Both defenses looked as though they could be sundered at will and that’s not too far from what happened. You would have thought that, with four at the back and two defensive midfielders, we would have looked solid at the back. Simpson had a mare, Maguire got hurt, and the midfield were all over the place.
This is just speculation on my part, but I wonder if the Foxes’ positive attacking attitude was in part due to Puel trying to demonstrate that his teams could play attractive, attacking football. It worked to the degree that we got three goals, but the defense were a shambles and we’re going to be hearing the dull roar of the “Puel Out” crowd for another week now.
Perhaps it’s just the result, but it’s not easy to identify many standout performances in spite of scoring three goals. This was Gray’s best performance in some time, and Vardy absolutely worked himself into the ground and was a part of everything good the Foxes did. Ricardo did his bit as well and would have had a nice assist had Madder’s put the ball on target.
The defeat leaves us on 31 points through 23 matches. The table position is unchanged as ours was the first match of the weekend, but we could be anywhere from 9th to 11th when the other results come in. Our next match is another trip to Merseyside, this time facing Liverpool at Anfield next Saturday. After that, it’s Manchester United at home and Spurs at wherever they’re playing these days.
It doesn’t look good, does it?