Leicester City fell 2-1 to Watford at Vicarage Road in Sunday’s early match. The hosts took an early lead through a questionable Troy Deeney goal. The Foxes leveled through Jamie Vardy midway through the second half, but an injury-time goal from Andre Gray sealed the three points for the Hornets.
Talk about kicking yourself in the bollocks.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) March 3, 2019
Well James, that’s exactly what I am about to do.
Manager Brendan Rodgers filled out his first Leicester City team sheet and it featured his signature 3-4-2-1 formation. Kasper Schmeichel kept his place in goal behind a back three of Jonny Evans, Wes Morgan, and Harry Maguire. The midfield four consisted of Ricardo Pereira, Wilfred Ndidi, Youri Tielemans, and Ben Chilwell. In attack, Havey Barnes and James Maddisson slotted in behind lone striker Jamie Vardy.
It was a new manager and a new formation, but it was much the same old Leicester in the early going. Unfortunately, it was “old Leicester” of 2018, not 2015/16 in this case. Watford got out of the blocks first and should have taken the lead inside five minutes. A free kick deep inside the Leicester half was delivered by Jose Holebas bounced directly to the feet of Adrian Mariappa, but Schmeichel was able to save his goal-bound effort and Morgan blocked the follow-up attempt.
The Foxes wouldn’t be so fortunate at the next time of asking. The Hornets won another free kick deep in the City half on the 5’ mark. Gerard Deulofeu swung it in towards the near post and found the head of Troy Deeney who got to it just ahead of his marker and glanced it into the net. Deeney was probably just a bit offside, but it was tight and until we get VAR up and running, you just have to hope that the mistakes even out.
Next up, it was referee Jon Moss’ turn in the spot-light. Just into the second ten minutes a loose touch by Mariappa was pounced on by Vardy. He was a good 35-40 yards out, but he was clean through on goal when the Watford defender upended him. On another day, Mariappa could well have seen red, but the referee determined that it was just a booking. It would have been harsh, but cue the chorus: “You’ve seen them given.”
The Foxes could well have leveled the score on 20’ when Ricardo fired a deep cross to Chilwell on the opposite flank. The England wing back fired in a ball that was either a misplaced shot or a pass with entirely too much mustard on it. Either way, it struck Barnes at too much pace for him to do anything but turn the ball wide of the net.
City could well have had a penalty on the half hour mark. A corner was worked out to Maguire at the top of the penalty area. His header back into the mixer caromed off the outstretched arm of Mariappa, whose back was turned but it is, I think, difficult to call “arm stretched out to the side” a “natural position”. Once again, VAR would likely have changed the call to the Foxes’ favor, but there is no VAR; there is only Jon Moss.
The rest of the half played out in a way that could be described as “uncomfortably familiar.” Leciester had all of the possession, and Watford were happy to let us have it so long as the ball was never moved to a threatening position. As it happened, the ball was never moved to a threatening position and so there was a lot of passing and not much else. The half ended with the Foxes having no shots on target and the Hornets leading 1-0.
The second half nearly started in the same fashion as first with only a fine save from Schmeichel preventing the hosts from doubling their advantage. Deulofeu worked the ball well on the Leicester right and teed up Abdoulaye Doucoure from distance. His drive was bound for the far corner, but Leicester’s Danish stopper rescued his side with a brilliant diving save.
The first substitution under Brendan Rodgers occurred just after the hour mark, with Demarai Gray coming on for largely-anonymous Barnes. Silva responded for the hosts by withdrawing the largely-petulant Deulofeu for Andre Gray. At that point the match had settled in to a lull, with Watford laying deep and daring the Foxes to unlock the defense, and the Foxes struggling mightily to do so.
There were, however, signs and portents that the game might spring to life. A City counterattack resulted in Ndidi of all people bringing the ball down the right flank. His lofted ball was almost certainly an attempted cross, but it dipped agonizingly over the keeper and on to the crossbar. Would Watford heed the warning bells?
They would not. The very next foray into the Watford half saw Tielemans deliver one of those balls to Vardy. The Belgium man’s through ball split the defense and you probably know the rest. The presence of an onrushing goalkeeper and covering defender made no difference at all to the former Fleetwood Town man, who leveled the score and, for a shining moment, it was the 2015/16 Leicester of old.
As the clock struck 80’, Rodgers made a double substitution, sending on Nampalys Mendy and Kelechi Iheanacho for Tielemans and Vardy, who apparently picked up a knock and headed straight down the tunnel. Iheanacho had the opportunity to make an immediate impact, but got it wrong by both mis-controlling Gray’s glorious pass out of defense, and then completely missing Maddison with a pass once he got the ball under control.
The closing stages were all Leicester, with the wingbacks finding spaces behind the tiring Watford defense, but failing to get the final ball just right. The best chance came after an unfortunate Maddison corner was retrieved and worked back to the former Norwich City man. His delivery this time was outstanding, but Morgan’s glancing header was just wide of the target.
And then disaster.
Schmeichel’s clearance gave the ball directly back to Watford. Two one-touch passes later and Andre Gray is one-on-one with the keeper and he calmly slotted the ball in the back of the net. Not for the first time, a Watford goal at the death sent the Foxes home in agony.
This was not a great game. You might think that, given that the first Watford goal was slightly offside and that the referee missed a pretty strong shout for a penalty, Leicester were well on top of this one. If that’s the case, I’m sorry for giving you that impression. The hosts had the majority of the chances. Watford took only six shots, but five of them were on target and Schmeichel had to make some quality saves. The Foxes had fourteen attempts, but only two of them were on frame; Vardy’s goal and a tame Ndidi effort near the start of the second half.
It was a new manager, a new formation, but many of the same frustrations. Until the last quarter of the game, the Foxes looked utterly toothless. There’s a distressing tendency from the attacking players to shoot every time they have the ball near the penalty area, regardless of whether or not a teammate is in a better position or a defender going to block the shot. If there’s anything good to take from this match, it’s that last 15 minutes. I know we lost in the most ludicrous fashion, but there were some lovely moves that, if we keep making them, will result in goals and wins before long.
Few of the Foxes looked great or poor (except perhaps for Schmeichel, who was both). Tielemans looks well worth whatever price Monaco decide upon. Vardy appears to be rounding back into his most terrifying form. Both wingbacks had fine moments and look set to thrive in this new system, and Ndidi’s form is returning now that he’s not trying to score goals. Or, at least, he’s not trying quite so often from quite so great a range.
After another top individual performance like that, I can see Youri Tielemans going to a bigger club on a permanent basis, like Celtic Reserves #lcfc— Ollie Curzon (@NoisyVuvuzela) March 3, 2019
Today’s defeat leaves us on 35 points through 29 matches, good enough for 11th in the table. We’re now 8 points behind Watford and Wolves for the last Europa League slot with 9 to play. We host Fulham next Saturday and then travel to Turf Moor to face Burnely on the 16th.