Leicester City fell 4-1 to Crystal Palace at the King Power in Saturday’s late match. Jonny Evans first City goal cancelled Michy Batshuayi’s opener, but a Wilfred Zaha brace on either side of a Luka Milivojevic penalty doomed the Foxes to their fourth straight home defeat.
#LCFC have lost four consecutive home Premier League games for the first time since January 2000.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) February 23, 2019
How much impact has Youri Tielemans had on Claude Puel’s thinking? The Foxes lined up in a 4-1-4-1 for the second time this year, and the second time in a row. Kasper Schmeichel got the nod in goal behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire, and Christian Fuchs. Wilfred Ndidi played the holding midfield role behind a a midfield of Rachid Ghezzal, James Maddison, Tielemans, and Harvey Barnes. Jamie Vardy returned to the starting XI as the lone striker.
The first half-chance of the match fell to the hosts on 8’. A long ball down the left fell to Barnes, who turned his defender inside-out and set himself up on his right foot. His cross found Vardy’s run but was just centimeters too high for the former Stockbridge Steels man, who couldn’t keep his header from going just over.
The Foxes kept up the pressure in the early going, with a Maddison goalbound shot headed clear by Mamadou Sakho. The ensuing corner came to nothing, but yet another attack down the left found Madders in space inside the area, but his shot was directly at a grateful Vicente Guaita.
The next twenty minutes or so featured the run of play that leaves your humble match reporter at a bit of a loss. There was a great deal of passing, some of it quite neat, but very little in the way of goalmouth action. Madders was getting most of the chances for the Foxes but none that you’d have really expected to result in a goal.
On 40’, the Foxes went behind in the most Leicester-of-2019 way possible. After absolutely dominating proceedings, the hosts conceded a free kick just inside their own half. It was worked to James McArthur well outside the area. His speculative shot was going to be easily saved, but it deflected off Michy Batshuayi, who didn’t know much about it, and past the stranded Schmeichel into the back of the net. It was Palace’s first “shot” on target and an absolutely ludicrous way to go behind.
Three out of four wasn’t enough as it turned out.
That was essentially it for the first half. The Foxes out-shot Palace 14-3 and had 68% of the ball, but they headed into the break down 1-0. Absolutely typical of how things have gone for Leicester lately, but Leicester were by no means out of this match.
Claude Puel reacted to the half-time deficit by sending on Demarai Gray for Ghezzal, who had struggled to influence the match. The Foxes started the second period on the front foot, with the first chance of the half coming a (checks notes) Evans cross spotting a run from (checks notes again) Fuchs, but the left-back’s header was glanced wide.
The Foxes’ full backs were becoming more influential as the match reached the hour which can be a mixed blessing for Leicester. Both Fuchs and Ricardo were finding space out wide, but getting the ball to a blue shirt in the middle was a problem. The former Austrian captain did extremely well to get behind the defense and pull the back for Barnes, but the former West Brom loanee took too many touches and the chance passed.
It was Fuchs again who started the play that led to the Leicester equaliser. His long throw caused chaos in the Palace box, with the first header falling to Madders, who put it back into the mixer. The ball eventually fell to Barnes on the right side of the area. He cut the ball inside for Evans, who turned the ball into the net for his first Leicester goal.
One for the ages: Johnny Evans goals for Leicester are exactly as rare as Leicester City Premier League titles.
Unfortunately, the Foxes were on level terms for only a few minutes. Palace worked the ball down the right side of the Leicester defense. McArthur lined up a cross that went over the head of the offside Batshuayi and found the unmarked Wilfred Zaha crashing the far post. The former Manchester United man had little to do, but he did it well, and the Eagles’ lead was restored with their second goal from their second shot on target.
Down a goal with a quarter hour to play, Puel sent Kelechi Iheanacho on for Tielemans. It was, however, the visitors who would score the next, decisive goal. Shambolic defending in the penalty area resulted in Batshuayi getting a snap shot on target that was well saved by Schmeichel, but Evans fouled former Fox Jeffrey Schlupp for an obvious penalty. Luka Milivojevic sent the Leicester keeper the wrong way and gave the Eagles a truly puzzling 3-1 lead.
The gaffer made his last throw of the dice, sending Shinji Okazaki on for Barnes. Even with four minutes of time added on, but the late charge never really materialized. There was a little bit of huffing and puffing, but instead it was Palace who would get the injury time goal. Maddison gave the ball away to Jordan Ayew near the halfway line. The loanee from Cardiff City fed the ball to Zaha charging down the right. Schmeichel got a hand on the shot, but he couldn’t keep it out of the net.
Strange match, this one. The Foxes absolutely dominated the first half and found themselves down 1-0 at the whistle. They patiently fought their way back into the game and got a deserved equaliser only to concede almost immediately. It still looked like we would salvage something from the match before Evans conceded the penalty.
The last three matches have been especially frustrating as there are signs of progress in spite of the frustrating results. Against Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Palace, we’ve outshot our opponents 64-29. They haven’t been poor shots, either, as we’ve put 20 on target. In spite of this, we’ve lost all three by a combined score of 8-2. This team is playing better than the results indicate.
But, as it turns out, the results are what you’re judged on and they’ve been dire. The Europa League, which seemed within our grasp last month, is now 8 points away. Coincidentally, and ominously, that’s how far we are from the relegation zone as well. That may well be enough to tip the scales in favor of the “Puel Out” crowd.
Who stood out today? Madders was brilliant keeping things ticking even if his final ball was lacking (and it most certainly was). Barnes had his most-assured performance yet and is starting to show the form that brought much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Birmingham area when he was recalled from loan. I’d also like to give a shout-out to Christian Fuchs, a consummate professional who was ready to answer the call when Chilwell was ruled out due to injury.
The defeat keeps 12th on the table with 32 points from 27 matches. We host Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday evening before travelling to London to face Watford next Sunday. As to who will be at the helm for the Foxes by that time, your guess is as good as mine.