Leicester City ran out comfortable 4-1 winners against West Ham at the King Power on Wednesday evening. First half goals by Harvey Barnes and Ricardo Pereira set the Foxes on their way. West Ham got one back through a Mark Noble penalty, but a late Ayoze Perez brace sealed a well-deserved win for the hosts. However, injuries to Nampalys Mendy and Jamie Vardy will temper the celebrations ahead of another busy week for the Foxes.
The gaffer welcomed Wilfred Ndidi back into the squad, but he didn’t make the starting XI. Kasper Schmeichel retained his spot in goal behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Ben Chilwell. The midfield three of Youri Tielemans, Nampalys Mendy, and James Maddison slotted in behind a front line of Ayoze Perez, Jamie Vardy, and Harvey Barnes.
The match opened at a breakneck pace and Leicester were looking very much up for it. Both Chilwell and Ricardo were instantly causing problems for the Hammers, who looked short of both confidence and pace. Ricardo, Tielemans, and Ayoze all had efforts of varying quality in the first ten minutes of the match before West Ham were able to get a grip on it.
The visitors started to show some life, pumping the ball into the area in search of imposing striker Sebastien Haller but more often finding the likes of Robert Snodgrass. The Scottish winger did well to get a shot off, but it was well deflected behind. After a few nervy moments where the ball pinged around the Leicester area, the Foxes resumed their dominance and pinned the Hammers back in their half.
The Foxes got their deserved breakthrough on 24’ through a well-worked passing move. A ball from the edge of the area was squared to Barnes, who knocked it to Ricardo on the right. He very nearly dribbled the ball into the net before squaring it back to Barnes and the winger smashed home from close range. There was a hint of offside in his position, but VAR, ever the harshest of eyes, saw nothing amiss.
Leicester’s dominance continued, but the busiest man on the pitch was the home side’s physio. Just after the half hour mark, Mendy was forced to come off and Wilfred Ndidi made an unlikely early return from knee surgery just weeks before. Less than ten minutes later, Vardy made a huge clearance in his own penalty area and felt his
left hamstring go. He tried to carry on because he’s Jamie Vardy, but he was unable to because that’s how hamstrings work.
UPDATE: Rodgers says it’s his glute and not as bad as we first thought.
Kelechi Iheancho was introduced and nearly scored with his first touch, but the West Ham defense just beat him to Ricardo’s cross. The Foxes were still pouring forward as Barnes did his best Jamie Vardy impression, knocking the ball past Pablo Zabaleta, making up 9 yards in the process, but just losing out to Aaron Cresswell when it looked like he might be through on goal.
The second was always coming and it arrived through some great work from Harvey Barnes down the left. He beat the entire Hammers’ defense and pulled it back into space where Ricardo was left all alone to run onto it and blast it into the back of the net with authority. The half ended with the Foxes well on top and well worth the 2-0 lead.
West Ham manager David Moyes (a phrase that makes me feel sympathy for everyone in Stratford) made two changes at the half, introducing Michail Antonio and Pablo Fornals for Arthur Masuaku and Snodgrass. The change almost paid immediate dividends as the burly Antonio flicked on a long ball and then gathered the return pass on the right side of the Leicester area, but his shot was high, wide, and not especially handsome.
The Hammers did manage to claw one back moments later through somewhat farcical means. Haller and Ndidi challenged for a ball at the edge of the area. There was nothing on and no real need for the Nigerian to make the challenge, but make it he did. Haller shoved his left arm into Ndidi and then collapsed like a sack of spuds. It was just inside the area so referee David Coote blew for a penalty. VAR confirmed it, and Mark Noble sent Schmeichel the wrong way to cut the lead in half.
After that, things started to get seriously scrappy. Both sides were diving into tackles and daring the referee to make another big decision, and both were holding their arms out for fouls at any contact whatsoever. The Hammers won a succession of corners while the hosts looked dangerous every time they came forward.
The two-goal lead probably ought to have been restored just before 70’ through a lovely flowing move. The Foxes worked the ball down the left, then brought it back to Tielemans, who laid a perfect ball in front of Ricardo. The Portugal man ran on to it and cut it back for Ayoze, whose first-time effort was on target but well-saved by Randolph.
The next great opportunity fell to Madders. He played a one-two thirty yards out and then curled in a goal-bound effort that Randolph just touched over the bar. The Hammers stopper was called into action yet again when Maddison got free on the right and whipped in a low cross that was just cut out out by the keeper’s outstretched foot with Iheanacho lurking directly behind him.
Just before the clock hit the 80’ mark, Iheanacho absolutely skinned Angelo Ogbonna on the right. With options in the middle and on the left, the former Manchester City man decided to go it alone. Ogbonna tried to make a late challenge and got it all wrong. There wasn’t really a lot in it, but it was vastly more of a penalty than the one conceded by Ndidi, so there’s that. Ayoze took responsibility for the spot kick and blasted it into the back of the net with confidence.
I mean, you’re not wrong, and that’s true even if Vardy weren’t likely to miss a few weeks.
Rodgers took this as an indication that it was time to shore up the defense, sending Wes Morgan on for the brilliant Barnes. This gave the Foxes three center-halves, two fullbacks, and then a bunch of players just running around making life miserable for West Ham. Maybe it was a 5-4-1 with Iheanacho up top? Sure, let’s call it that.
It was nearly four for the Foxes moments later. How many times have we seen Ayoze play a one-two with Ricardo on the wing? The answer is “enough times that West Ham really ought to have been wise to it.” Europe’s best right back took the ball deep into the Hammers’ territory and pulled it back for Chilly but the England left back’s effort was well saved.
As the clock approached 90’, the Foxes completed the rout with a very Ayoze goal. Once again, Ricardo carved up the left side of the visitors’ defense. He pulled it back for Iheahancho, who tapped it back to Ayoze. The former Newcastle man just passed it inside the far post. There was not much pace on it, but Randolph had no chance at all.
Leicester continued to look the more likely side through the four minutes of injury time, but the job was done and both sides knew it. Coote blew the whistle and both remaining West Ham fans filed out of the stadium as the Foxes celebrated a return to their winning ways.
Sometimes the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story of a match. In this case, the score was a fair reflection of the run of play. Leicester were very, very good for all but about 15 minutes of the second half and were good value for the result. The energy, the movement off the ball, the quick passing, and the finishing were back to what we’d come to expect before the festive period. Yes, I’m aware that this was West Ham at home, but you can’t take any team for granted in this league.
So many fine performances to mention today! Chilwell and Tielemans looked much more up for it than they have in recent weeks. Ayoze got a brace because he just doesn’t seem to score only one goal at a time. Nacho led the line well in Vardy’s absence, and Barnes was an absolute menace yet again. But, for me? Ricardo was head and shoulders above everyone else. He had the absolute run of the pitch today and West Ham had no answer for him.
The win keeps Leicester 3rd on the table, 8 points ahead of 4th-placed Chelsea and, more importantly, 14 points ahead of Manchester United in the race for the Champions league. We now have 48 points from 24 matches, so the Red Devils need to make up a point a match to catch us. We’re also 14 points ahead of Wolves for the final Europa League spot because that’s just how the league is this year.
We’re off to Brentford this Saturday morning to take on the Bees in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Expect a good deal of squad rotation because next Tuesday we travel to Villa Park for the second leg of the League Cup semi-final. League play resumes on 1 February when we host Chelsea at the King Power.