Leicester City ran out deserved 2-0 winners Saturday afternoon at the King Power. An early goal by Wes Morgan and a late second from Jamie Vardy secured the three points against a Bournemouth side that never mounted much in the way of a challenge and couldn’t cope with the Leicester midfield.
Manager Brendan Rogers selected the strongest starting lineup available with Harry Maguire suspended for his 4th minute red card against Burnley. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Jonny Evans, and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi lined up as the holding midfielder in front of the back line. Demarai Gray, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, and Harvey Barnes made up the midfield numbers behind striker Jamie Vardy.
The opening exchanges quickly settled in to the pattern you would have expected: Leicester dominated possession, trying to carve the Cherries’ defense open with short passes while the visitors sat back and tried to hit the Foxes on the break. Neither team was notably successful executing their game plan in the first ten minutes and both goalkeepers were spectators at this point.
The first truly menacing attack came down the left from Leicester. Barnes and Maddison played a marvelous one-two in the penalty area, allowing Barnes to drive a ball across the face of the goal that Charlies Daniels put behind just ahead of the lurking Gray.
The ensuing corner was one of those training ground moves that almost never come off; Madders sent the ball deep to Chilwell on the edge of the area, the England fullback took one touch and drove a low ball into the mixer and Morgan deflected it with a back heel off the inside of the post for his second goal in as many matches.
The Cherries should have been on level terms almost immediately. Leicester nemesis Ryan Fraser got free on the left and sent a perfect ball into the six yard box. England striker Callum Wilson met the ball and it looked for all the world to be bound for the back of the net, but Schmeichel stood tall and somehow clawed the ball clear.
The next 20 minutes or so were all Leicester. Madders had a couple of decent shots between the Mother Of All Chances for Vardy. Ricardo carried the ball down the right. Maddison’s run took away both defenders leaving Vardy all alone on the penalty spot. Ricardo pulled the ball back for the former Stockbridge Steels man, but he pulled his first-time shot wide when he had ages to take another touch and blast it past the keeper.
The last ten minutes of the half mirrored the first, which is to say, there wasn’t much to say about it. Leicester looked comfortable for long periods of time, with Fraser looking like the man who was most likely to make us pay for our wastefulness in front of the goal.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first ended, but at a somewhat higher tempo. The Foxes were tearing the visitor’s back line apart with patient buildup play, but either the final ball was lacking, or the final ball was inch-perfect but no one was there to meet it.
With Leicester in complete control on the pitch but no additional goals at this point, I’d like to take a moment to describe the atmosphere at the King Power. Over an hour in to the match, the fans were fine voice, singing at the top of their lungs, cheering every tackle and clever pass. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the spring and I can think of no finer way to spend my time than watching a young Foxes squad start to come into their own.
An incredible moment as the King Power Stadium rises to its feet in the 61st minute to pay tribute to Khun Vichai. It would have been his 61st birthday this week...— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) March 30, 2019
What a noise, what a powerful and important moment for this club.
RIP Khun Vichai. pic.twitter.com/8CYxfUzoEf
On the 70 minute mark, Rodgers made his first move, withdrawing Barnes for Nampalys Mendy. This changed the formation to a 4-3-3 with Tielemans, Ndidi, and Mendy behind a front three of Gray, Vardy, and Madders. The change in personnel made almost no impact on the run of play as Leicester continued to dominate both possession and chances and looking extremely comfortable.
The source of most of this comfort came in the person of Ndidi. I haven’t mentioned his name, but he was the rock who gave the attacking players the freedom to get forward. It was a performance worthy of the sainted N’Golo Kante in that there always seemed to be two of him on the pitch. He certainly did the work of two midfielders, winning 11 tackles, making 5 interceptions, 5 clearances, and winning five balls in the air.
The Foxes finally made their dominance pay of with a second goal just after the eightieth minute. With Leicester knocking the ball around just outside the Cherries’ area for the umpteenth time, the ball fell to Tielemans on the right side of the area. He lofted a ball over the back line and found the six inches of space between the keeper and the defense. Vardy ran into that pocket and headed the ball into the back of the net and putting to rest any fears of a Bournemouth comeback.
Rodgers sent Ghezzal and Iheanacho into the fray for Gray and Vardy, both of whom received deserved ovations as they slowly left the pitch. The referee added three minutes of time, giving the Foxes what amounted to a victory lap as the fight had gone completely out of Bournemouth.
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? After grinding out a difficult win at Burnley two weeks ago, we saw an altogether different sort of performance today. “Oh sure,” you might say, “it’s easy to play when you have eleven men on the pitch,” and you’re not wrong. But we’ve seldom looked this fluid and menacing even at full strength. The job that Claude Puel started and Rodgers is finishing looks to be bearing fruit as we were able to break down the back defense of the visitor time and time again with quick passing moves and clever runs behind the defense.
One thing I cannot emphasize enough is that the players looked as though they were having fun today. That’s seldom been the case over the last two seasons, even when we were winning, but today? It was smiles all around as things looked as though they were starting to click. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the finest collection of young talent Leicester have ever fielded, and keeping them together is going to be a difficult feat. One hopes that days like today will encourage them to extend their stay in the east Midlands.
As you might expect, there were numerous standout performances. Schmeichel didn’t have much to do, but he did it remarkably well when called upon. Gray, the senior member of the five-man midfield at 22 years old, was back to his menacing best on the ball. Both Madisson and Tielemans kept things ticking in the midfield and did the job defensively when called up. And, of course, there was Ndidi, but we’ve already talked about him.
Sorry, but I just don’t see that one catching on.
The win brings the Foxes all the way up to 8th on the table with 44 points from 32 matches. We’re now level on points with Wolves for what could be the final spot in the Europa League. Our next match is next Saturday away to Huddersfield Town, who were relegated today. We then take on Newcastle at the King Power on the following Friday.