Leicester City ran out winners at Villa Park on Sunday, seeing off Aston Villa by a score of 4-1. Two goals on either side of half time by Vardy (2), Iheanacho, and Evans were too much for the Villans, who drew one back before the half through Jack Grealish. It was a proper derby, a contentious affair which saw 8 yellow cards and approximately 1,000 fouls.
Manager Brendan Rodgers celebrated putting pen to paper on a new £8 million per year contract by shaking up the starting XI in advance of a heavy fixture list over the next four weeks. Kasper Schmeichel goal behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and a returning Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi kept his place as the holding midfielder at the base of the diamond behind Dennis Praet, Youri Tielemans, James Maddison with both Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy up front.
Both sides started aggressively, carving out chances in the opening five minutes. Vardy got a decent shot on the half-volley. Out of nowhere, the skies opened up and sent waves of waves of heavy rain into Villa Park, but just as suddenly, it was over. It was going to be one of those days,
Leicester should have taken the lead on the ten minute mark. A free kick on the right found Söyüncü at the far post. The Turk knocked the ball back into the middle, falling to Evans in the six yard box. The Northern Ireland man poked the ball towards goal, but it was directly at the keeper. At the other end, the hosts came even closer to breaking the deadlock when a low cross found Anwar El-Ghazi, whose thunderous drive cannoned off the crossbar.
Villa suffered a double blow on 20’ as Tyrone Mings went down with a hamstring injury. The defender insisted on staying on the pitch, which turned out to have been a mistake. The Villans turned the ball over in the midfield and, with Mings backing off, Iheanacho had ages to pick out a ball to Vardy. Mings was unable to follow the run, allowing the Leicester hit man to round the keeper, overrun the ball, retrieve it, and tap it into the net.
Mings was taken off and replaced by Björn Engels, who was immediately called into action. Once again Vardy was given too much space to run into by the Villa defense, but this time the centre-half was able to get back and get a toe to the ball before the shot could be taken.
The Foxes had another gilt-edged opportunity on the half hour mark as Vardy was once again given too much space. He charged into the box and attempted a low cross for Iheanacho, but it was just passed back to the keeper Heaton by Engels who collected gratefully collected the back pass.
This report probably reads like things were all-Leicester, but that wasn’t exactly the case. El-Ghazi should have scored earlier, and every time down the pitch, they knocked the ball around in worrying fashion and looked like unlocking the defense, but they were over-elaborating everything. By passing up good chances in an attempt to get perfect chances, they were winding up with no chances at all.
No, the chances were coming at the other end. A rare foray down the Villa left saw Chilwell and Madders play a neat one two, with Maddison putting in a low cross to the near post that was neatly turned in by Iheahancho’s knee between two defenders.
The two goal margin was short lived as Villa drew one back right before the whistle. Grealish, the Premier League’s most-fouled player, threw himself into Ricardo and was rewarded with a foul on the edge of the area. Ndidi turned the free kick behind for a corner, which fell to Grealish. His shot looked to be going wide, but it took a deflection and just snuck in off the far post, cutting the margin to 2-1 at the half.
The second half started in much the same way as the first. Leicester had a chance the first time they touched the ball, but Iheanacho’s shot from range was wide. At the other end, El-Ghazi was able to get free and whip a ball across the face of the goal, but no one on either side was able to meet it.
The two-goal lead was restored before the 50’ mark from a remarkably well-worked corner routine. The ball was swung out to the centre of the penalty box by Maddisonl. Evans and Söyüncü ran in opposite directions, picking Evans’ defender of his man. The former West Bromwich Albion defender was able to meet the ball unmarked, but still had a lot to do to beat the keeper from 14 yards. Channeling his inner Robert Huth, he stuck it just inside the far post.
That’s a ridiculous header from Jonny Evans. To get that power and placement.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) December 8, 2019
Been watching Huth v Man City.#lcfc
Didn’t think I’d be the only one who had that reaction.
The first half had been chippy, but Villa were taking it up a notch. Matt Targett was fortunate to escape with a yellow for a sliding challenge on Ricardo that missed the ball but found the Portugal man’s shins with his studs. Then, John McGinn went in late on Madders, picking up the hosts’ 5th yellow card of the match.
Iheanacho’s race was run by the hour mark, with Harvey Barnes coming on for the Nigerian. This saw a change in shape, reverting back to the favoured 4-1-4-1. The hosts were looking vulnerable at the back as they committed men forward in attack. Ndidi sent a beautiful ball over the top to put Vardy in. The striker pulled it back for Maddison, but the England midfielder put it wide when you’d have bet on him scoring.
It’s worth noting at this point that referee Michael Oliver wasn’t having the best day and the majority of his mistakes seemed to involve Ricardo. In addition to letting Targett off the hook, he booked the former Porto man for a clean challenge, and on 70’, he failed to blow the whistle when Grealish shoved him to the ground inside the penalty area. Still, he stuck to the task, teeing up Barnes (who skied his shot over the bar) and dispossessed Trézéguet in the area like it was nothing.
The match was over on 75’ minutes when the Villans let Vardy get behind the defense once again. This time, his first touch was perfect and he calmly slotted the ball under Heaton to give the Foxes a 4-1 lead. This was the gaffer’s cue to send Marc Albrighton into the fray, withdrawing the quietly-efficient Praet.
Somehow, it wasn’t 5 moments later when the Foxes won a free kick on the left side. Madders’ sumptuous cross was met 4 yards out by Söyüncü. He could not have hit it more sweetly, but the ball struck Heaton in the face when everyone in the stadium was sure it had gone in.
The universe denying Slabchin a goal is cruel and does not seem fitting with the way things are going— michael (@MichaelEFranca) December 8, 2019
The job done, Rodgers sent James Justin on for Chilwell on 80’ as the intensity just started to drain out of the match. El-Ghazi had yet another chance and put it wide instead of off the bar this time. Grealish kicked out at Ndidi after a 50-50, but it escaped the notice of referee. He made sure the next time, shoving Ndidi to the ground from behind directly in front of the ref and getting a richly-deserved yellow for his efforts.
The Foxes had one more opportunity, with Albrighton doing great work down the wing and pulling it back for Barnes. He got the shot on target, but Heaton made a fine save and the chance was lost. That would be the last action of the match as the Foxes ran out deserved 4-1 winners.
The word today was “entertaining”. It was the first derby-ish match we’ve had in a while, and it certainly lived up to that billing. Both sides came forward with purpose, both sides moved at pace with and without the ball. One side finished, and the other was Aston Villa.
An open match is the sort of thing Jamie Vardy dreams about (presumably-I’m not sure I want to know the stuff of his dreams), so it’s no surprise he scored for the 8th match in a row. He now has 16 goals in 16 matches and 5 goal lead in the chase for the Golden Boot. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t keep a clean sheet today because both Evans and Söyüncü were in exceptional form, but credit to the Villans: they do create chances.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give huge amounts of credit to Kelechi Iheancho. A goal and an assist in his first league start in ages. A year ago, I incorrectly predicted that he would thrive in a high-possession, quick-passing attack. My mistake appears to have been one of timing, not ability, as he looks born to play Brendan Rodgers’ style of football. I’m happy for him, but I’m even happier to see how happy his teammates are for him.
The win keeps us second on the table, 8 points behind leaders Liverpool and a whopping 14 points ahead of 5th-placed Manchester United. We’ve amassed 38 points from 16 matches which means we’re only 2 points from safety. We host Norwich City next Saturday morning and then it’s off to Goodison Park to square off against Everton in the League Cup.