A much-changed Leicester City saw off West Ham United 2-1 in London on Saturday evening. Goals from Kelechi Iheanacho and Demarai Gray on either side of Pablo Fornals’ equaliser saw the Foxes get back to their winning ways against the relegation-haunted Hammers.
Manager Brendan Rodgers made nine changes to the squad that failed to bother Liverpool less than 48 hours ago. Only goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and defender Jonny Evans retained their places. Joining Evans in the back four were Christian Fuchs, Wes Morgan, and James Justin. It took two defensive midfielders to replace Wilfred Ndidi: Hamza Choudhury and Nampalys Mendy. Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton manned the wings, and Ayoze Perez slotted in behind lone striker Keleichi Iheanacho. Jamie Vardy was left out of the squad to be with his wife Rebekah as she gave birth to their third child, a daughter.
Over the moon to let you know our beautiful little girl has arrived Becky and baby are both doing well and we are all totally in love with the newest member of our team.— Jamie Vardy (@vardy7) December 28, 2019
Right from the opening whistle, Justin proved a handful for the Hammers’ defense. A deep run saw him drop the ball off for Gray, who crossed for Albrighton. The former Villa man struck it well, but it was into the arms of Lukasz Fabianski. Albrighton turned provider shortly aftewards, slipping a fine reverse ball to Iheanacho, but the Nigeria striker couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and the chance was lost.
On 10’, a ball over the top found Iheanacho. He got a toe to it and then was absolutely cleared out by Fabianski. Referee David Coote made the easiest call he’d have all day and pointed to the spot. Gray took the responsibility, which was admirable, but there was nothing else positive to say about his penalty as it was easily saved and cleared by the hosts.
The Foxes were bossing possession and looking dangerous, but there were a few worrying moments. Morgan was caught in possession in the middle of the pitch, but Choudhury did well to get back and win a tidy tackle in his own area. Arthur Masuaku was allowed to line up a shot from the edge of the area moments later, forcing a decent save from from Schmeichel.
It was a slow and sloppy affair as half-time approached, and Leicester took the lead in a fashion befitting the intensity of the match. A poor West Ham clearance found Justin on the edge of the area. His looping cross was poor and looked to be going out of play, but Ayoze gambled and just managed to head it back in front of goal. Iheanacho was waiting at the near post and reacted quickly to knock the ball into the back of the net.
Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived as West Ham found another gear (in this case, “second”). Felipe Anderson did well to evade several challenges and play a one-two to get space on the right to cross the ball. He pulled it back for Pablo Fornals, who struck it low and hard past Schmeichel for his first Premier League goal. The half ended with the two sides level, which was probably just about right given the run of play.
It took only ten minutes for Leicester to retake the lead. What happened in those first ten minutes? Honestly, if they were interesting or even especially well-played, I would have said so. Just think of the second half as starting ten minutes late. You didn’t miss anything.
Anyway, the Foxes broke from deep in their own area and found Ayoze in the middle in acres of space. Iheanacho was waylaid by Diop in the center circle, so the Spaniard had only one option. He spotted Gray’s run on the right with a perfectly weighted ball and the England Under-21 international made no mistake, calmly slotting past the stranded Fabiasnki.
Leicester were now well on top, breaking at pace every time the Hammers turned the ball over. Gray did well to spot a Justin run, but the fullback’s cross was well blocked. Gray was again the provider, finding Iheanacho in space. The former Manchester City man’s shot was skewed well wide, but the flag was up anyway and it wouldn’t have counted.
Rodgers made his first change on 65’, sending James Maddison into the fray for Ayoze. It was still all Leicester as the Hammers struggled to string anything together. Rodgers made another change, bringing Ndidi in for Mendy. The atmosphere in the London Stadium was...ok, have you ever seen those international matches played in any empty stadium? It was like that, only with the occasional restless murmur and the odd crunch of a prawn sandwich.
Going in to the final ten minutes, Harvey Barnes was introduced for Gray. It was still Leicester who were looking the more likely to score. Choudhury laid the ball in path of Barnes, who cut it back for the England Under-21 man. Hamza seemed as surprised as anyone to find himself in a position to score. His shot was on target, but easily held by Fabianski.
Four minutes were added, but the Hammers looked well beaten despite trailing by a single goal. The hosts mustered a single Robert Snodgrass effort in injury time was the sum of the danger for the Foxes as they continued to look more like adding to their tally than conceding right up to the final whistle.
It wasn’t pretty, but with nine changes to the lineup you wouldn’t expect it to be. The Foxes’, fielding a squad of substitutes and coming off of two heavy defeats, put in a very professional performance. Yes, West Ham aren’t in the best of form right now, but getting three points on the road, regardless of the starting XI, is always welcome.
LEICESTER CITY ARE SAFE— Jason Bourne (@JasonBourne1986) December 28, 2019
Leicester City have reached 40+ points to secure Premier League safety for another year
9 changes. Up there as one of the best wins this season for me. Some creditable performances from those not involved much.
Important victory mentally
The front four all put in strong shifts today. Iheanacho and Gray got goals, and both were assisted by Ayoze. Albrighton didn’t get in on the scoring, but he was a force on the left. The biggest cheers go to Rodgers. Just as he got it all wrong against Liverpool, he did a fine job setting up a lineup of players who hadn’t seen much time on the pitch. The 4-2-3-1, or perhaps 4-4-1-1 depending on who you believe, was the right choice given the available players.
The win gives the Foxes 42 points from 20 matches, so safety is assured! We remain second on the table, ten points behind Liverpool but, more importantly, 12 points ahead of fifth-placed Spurs. The Champions League beckons! Leicester close out their festive program on New Year’s day with a visit to Newcastle. After that, it’s a 3rd round FA Cup tie hosting Wigan Athletic next Saturday, then the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Aston Villa on Wednesday the 8th.