Leicester City ran out 2-1 winners over Sheffield United on a hot Saturday afternoon at Bramall Lane. Jamie Vardy opened his 2019/20 account with a vintage strike in the first half. Blades drew level through an Oliver McBurnie header early in the second half, but the Foxes took all three points thanks to a Harvey Barnes thunderbolt from a Çağlar Söyüncü header.
For those of you wanting to see Leicester line up with a single defensive midfielder, today would be your day. A hamstring injury to Wilfred Ndidi forced manager Brendan Rodgers into one change to the side that drew Chelsea last Sunday at Stamford Bridge. Captain Kasper Schmeichel started between the sticks behind a back line of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Christian Fuchs. The midfield three consisted of Youri Tieleamans, Hamza Choudhury, and Dennis Praet, making his full debut for the Foxes. Up front, James Maddison and Ayoze Perez lined up on either side of Jamie Vardy.
Mad love for the graphics department/Def Leppard fans who made this.
The first quarter hour of the match flew by at a brisk pace without much in the way of notable incidents. The Foxes dragged a couple of shots wide of the target without really threatening to score, while the Blades were struggling to find the final ball, or even the penultimate one. On the plus side, it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon at Bramall Lane and there are worse ways to watch what at this point was mediocre football.
The hosts were slowly growing into the game, stringing the odd pass together and looking dangerous on the wings. The United high press was troubling the Leicester back line as the centre-halfs weren’t able to find outlet balls. Schmeichel was being kept busy not by saving shots but by clearing back passes and giving the ball back to Blades.
The game was crying out for a moment of inspiration and that’s just what it got on 38’. Sheffield turned the ball over in midfield that fell to Madders. As soon as the loose pass was played, Vardy was sprinting towards goal and Maddison found him with an inch-perfect diagonal ball that sent the Sheffield native through on goal. In fact, the ball was so perfect that Vardy had time to look up, pick his spot, and slam it inside the near post past the utterly-stranded Dean Henderson.
I wish I could say that the goal sparked the game to life, but it was instead a lone moment of quality in an otherwise poor half. The Leicester defense were seldom troubled but, in fairness, the same could be said of the United back four. The whistle blew after one minute of extra time with the scoreline Leicester City 1, Sheffield United 0.
Neither manager made any changes to personnel at the break, so the half started in much the same way as the first one ended. The hosts continued to press the Foxes, frustrating Leicester’s attempts to build from the back. When the press was broken, the Leicester attack were afforded plenty of space but weren’t quite able to find the final ball to double the lead.
It took only eight minutes for Blades manager Chris Wilder to decide to change things up, making a double switch, sending on Oliver McBurnie and Billy Sharp for Callum Robinson and David McGoldrick. The move only took a few minutes to pay off as McBurnie rose highest to meet a cross from George Baldock, sending Schmeichel the wrong way, and tucking the ball in just inside the far post. Leicester had looked vulnerable in the air all afternoon and it was no surprise the equaliser came via that route.
Rodgers threw Harvey Barnes into the fray for Praet and there was finally a hint of urgency to the Leicester attack. Vardy won Leicester the first of a series of corners with his trademark graft chasing long balls. After a couple of misfires, the last corner was cleared as far as Fuchs. His ball into the mixer was headed back by Söyüncü. Barnes met the ball on the half-volley and rocketed the ball past the stranded Henderson from the edge of the area.
HARVEY BARNES JUST SCORED THIS GOAL FOR LEICESTER CITY. BANGER! BOOM. pic.twitter.com/hPKa6OJkry— World Cup (@FlFAWC2018) August 24, 2019
Blades were far from done and it took a brilliant save from Schmeichel to keep Leicester in front. Another high ball from the right wing caused chaos in the Leicester box. A head back into the box found Lundstram in front of the goal. His snap shot looked like it was going to hit the back of the net, but the Denmark international’s reactions were up to the task and the lead was preserved.
Just before the 80’ mark, both managers changed things up. Ravel Morrison came on for the hosts and Wes Morgan made his first appearance of the year in place of Ayoze, giving Leicester three centre-halfs in an attempt to deal with Sheffield’s aerial threat. Seeing a team shut up shop with ten minutes to play isn’t especially comforting, but with the success Blades were having in the air, it’s hard argue with the move.
On 88’, Rodgers made his last move, sending Nampalys Mendy on for the curiously-quiet Tielemans. Unfortunately, his first action was to give away a free kick just outside the D with a touch so slight you might (correctly) conclude there was no contact whatsoever. The effort was poor and struck the wall and the subsequent corner was eventually cleared. The Foxes managed to kill the last few minutes and held on to get their first three points of the season.
I think we can file this one under “job done.” It wasn’t pretty, it was far from convincing, but an away win with two of your starters out through injury is always a welcome result. The Foxes were far from their best and managed only two shots on goal, but they both found the back of the net. It turns out that taking shots inside the penalty area can work out pretty well.
In spite of what the team sheet said, this looked more like a 4-4-2 with a narrow diamond in the midfield Madders up top, Choudhury behind, and Tielemans and Praet in the middle. Neither Belgium midfielder looked comfortable or effective in this shape, but at least both Maddison and Choudhury looked at home in their roles. Three games in, one suspects that this will be an ongoing problem for Leicester. The formation doesn’t feel balanced and isn’t getting the best players in their best positions and, while we got away with it against United, it doesn’t feel as though we’re any closer to resolving this issue.
Sorry if this all sounds a bit negative, but this wasn’t the most convincing of wins. My friend RJ told me last week that, early in the season, you like at performance over points. Me? I’ll take the points any day and I’m thrilled to put three on the board, but this team has too much creative talent to only be getting two shots on target and this will come back to bite us if we don’t get it sorted.
This is going to be a bit misleading due to the way the Premier League schedules matches, but the win brings Leicester up to third on the table with 5 points from 3 matches. Maybe I should just relax about the performances a little, huh? We travel to Newcastle on Wednesday to face the Magpies at St. James’ Park in the Carabao Cup and then it’s back home next Saturday to host Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth on to close out the month of August.
For the record, the account is “I Rate Heskey”, not “Irate Heskey”.