Leicester City fell to Newcastle one goal to nil in a rare Friday evening match at the King Power. It was a sloppy affair that favored the visitors who took the lead through a first-half Ayoze Perez header. In spite of a preponderance of possession, the Foxes struggled to break down the visitors’ back five and seldom looked likely to get an equalizer, let alone a winner.
Mark was far from the only one to make this observation.
Manager Brendan Rodgers welcomed Harry Maguire back from suspension in an otherwise-unchanged starting XI. Kasper Schmeichel retained his place in goal behind a back line of Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Nididi was the holding midfielder, while Demarai Gray, Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes played a more forward midfield role. Jamie Vardy was once again the lone recognized striker.
Newcastle started more brightly in a surprisingly open beginning to the match. The Magpies won a corner in the first minute and Jamaal Lacelles was the first man to the ball, but his header was a tame one and easily gathered. At the other end, Barnes put in a dangerous cross for Vardy, who was able to turn it towards goal but not in the sort of way that would trouble the keeper.
Both sides had additional chances in the opening ten minutes, but as time went on, it was the visitors who were bossing the chances. Salomon Rondon, in particular, was causing all sorts of problems in the Leicester box with his size and strength. As it turned out, he was also able cause problems with his free kicks. Fully 30 yards out, he hit it about as sweetly as he could have hoped and beat Schmeichel but was denied by the crossbar.
The next big chance came in the unlikely form of Ben Chilwell, who was (and is) still looking for his maiden goal of the season. A quick one-two with Maddison gave the England full back a look at goal. He blasted it with his less-favored right foot, but Martin Dubravka was able to get down and prevent the Foxes from going on top.
The visitors were able to take an arguably-deserved lead on the half hour mark. Ricardo was forced to defend two men on the right wing and, after toeing the ball away from Almiron, it fell to Ritchie. He whipped in an inch-perfect cross that Ayoze Perez met on the fly and glanced into the far corner past the despairing Schmeichel. It wasn’t the most complicated goal, but it was executed extremely well.
The last quarter hour gave Leicester fans an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. The Foxes had all of the possession but looked ponderous on the ball and nervous at the back. When the visitors regained possession, they were able to storm through the defense but, fortunately, were let down by some cringe-worthy finishing. By the time the half-time whistle blew, Leicester were holding on and happy to see the half come to an end.
The second period did not start particularly brightly for either side. With the Leicester attack apparently still in the boot room, Newcastle were afforded numerous opportunities to get forward. The Foxes’ defense was almost comically out of sorts, with players slipping and falling all over the pitch. Not to be outdone, the Geordies found a way fall down, swing and miss at crosses, or, when there was no other option, blast over from close range.
After sputtering and misfiring for a good fifteen minutes, the Leicester strike force finally started to put a few passes together. Maddison and Vardy exchanged passes on the edge of the area, allowing Madders to get in an inviting cross that was just an inch too high for Vardy to plant into the back of the net.
Rodgers had seen enough to know it wasn’t worked and made a double-substitution on 70’. Kelechi Iheanacho and Nampaly Mendy came on for Gray and Ndidi. It was, however, Newcastle who had the next great chance to score. Perez twisted Chilwell inside out and found himself alone in front of the goal, only three yards out and with only the keeper to beat. He chose instead not to beat the keeper and Schmeichel was able to gather surprisingly comfortably.
Continuing the theme of reciprocation, Tielemans laid an absolutely peach of a ball in Vardy’s path. He tried to lift it over the keeper and, in fairness, he did so, but he also contrived to fire over when simply stroking it into the net seemed more likely. At this point, Rodgers made his final throw of the dice, withdrawing Barnes for Marc Albrighton.
Alas, there was to be no comeback. Leicester continued to have **checks notes** all of the possession but none of the chances. Even with five minutes of minutes of extra time, our past opportunity was a terrible cross from the right that evaded absolutely everyone but, for reasons known only to himself, one of the Newcastle defenders decided to pull Tielemans down by his arm. When the full-time whistle blew, the Foxes looked as if they would have struggled to score even had their been a half-hour added on.
Funny old game when you can have 72% of the possession and have absolutely been outplayed and deservedly beaten. Leicester were second best in every aspect this evening except perhaps “passing the ball sideways, backwards, or to an opponent.” The less said about this match, the better.
Were there any standout performances? Schmeichel did his job well and was absolutely not at fault for the goal. Everyone ran hard, but everyone was dancing to a different beat and it was misplaced pass after misplaced pass, with the odd stumbling-over-one’s-own-feet in between.
The most worrying performance, oddly enough, was that of the manager. Newcastle’s Rafa Benitez played five at the back and it absolutely stymied the Leicester attack as the passing lanes simply were not present. Leicester looked no more likely after the break, so if Rodgers made any adjustments, they were either utterly ineffective or too subtle for my eyes.
The defeat leaves us on 47 points from 37 matches. That’s good enough for 7th on the table, but we aren’t likely to be there for long as both Wolves and Watford have two games in hand on us. Our next match is in eight days as we travel to London to face West Ham and then...then it gets difficult and then it’s the summer.