Leicester City saw off Wigan Athletic 2-0 at the King Power in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday evening. The Foxes got both goals in the first half through a Tom Pearce own-goal and a Harvey Barnes strike. Both starting Leicester center-halfs, Wes Morgan and debutante Filip Benkovic, were forced off early through injury, marring what was otherwise a very comfortable victory.
I don’t remember watching Leicester City with so much faith in them.— Ian Stringer (@StringerSport) January 4, 2020
Cruised through this #FAcup clash in second gear.
Losing Morgan and Benković through injury the only blot on their copy book.
What this guy said...
It came as no surprise that Brendan Rodgers made a hatful of changes to his starting XI. Danny Ward got the nod between the sticks behind a back four of James Justin, Wes Morgan, Filip Benkovic, and Ben Chilwell. Nampalys Mendy was the holding midfielder, with Dennis Praet and Hamza Choudhury partnering in the center of the park. Wingers Marc Albrighton and Demarai Gray slotted in on the right and left respectively behind striker Harvey Barnes.
The early going was full of energy but featured very little in the way of quality, particularly where passing was regarded. Albrighton in particular struggled to find the range when given time on the right. Neither side had their timing down, so the opening exchanges featured more misplaced passes, offside runs, and poor challenges than goalmouth action.
It was appropriate, then, that Leicester took the lead though a shocking own goal. Albrighton made a brilliant run across the center of the defense and squared the ball for the onrushing Barnes. The cross was overhit and found Wigan fullback Tom Pearce, who got it all wrong and rifled the ball past keeper David Marshall at the near post.
The lead was nearly doubled by some neat interplay on the edge of the Latics’ box. Barnes tapped the ball to Choudhury, whose return ball was dummied to Gray. The former Birmingham man slid it back to Barnes, who’d continued his run, but somehow Marshall followed the pinball action and was in perfect position to block the close-range effort.
Wigan had an opportunity shortly afterwards when Josh Windass received a ball over the top. Wes Morgan did well to stay with him and prevent an accurate cross, but the City captain pulled something making the run and had to come off for Çaglar Söyüncü on just 25 minutes while Albrighton took the armband.
Barnes won a free kick just outside the D on the half hour mark. The ensuing routine encapsulated the quality of the match beautifully. Chilwell and Gray stood over it with Albrighton standing next to the ball. Chilly ran past the ball, Albrighton backheeled it a couple of feet to allow Gray to onto it. The touch allowed the Wigan wall to rush forward, so Gray’s shot was blasted directly into a mass of opponents and one of the better chances of the half was lost.
Wigan nearly had an equalizer out of nothing, but Ward was equal to the effort. A poor touch from the Latics gave Leicester an opportunity to break. Chilwell, who had been making menacing runs all afternoon, carried the ball down the center of the pitch and then laid it into the path of Barnes in the Wigan area. He cut back on to his right foot and fired one towards the back corner. Cheyenne Dunkley got a boot to it, but his touch only served to loop the ball over the diving Marshall and into the back of the net.
The Foxes went into the tunnel up 2-0 at the half and it was just about deserved. There wasn’t much in the way of quality in the first half, but what little there was came from the home side.
The second half started with a little more possession by Wigan but nothing that troubled Ward. A set piece on the right wing by the Latics confirmed the suspicion that Benkovic would be very difficult to beat in the air, but the imposing Croatian also showed good skills distributing the ball and even getting forward on occasion.
Leicester started to take over on the 55’ mark. A fine cross from Albrighton found Praet in the area, but the Belgian failed to get his headed effort on target. Shortly afterwards, a similar ball found the former Villa winger in a similar position, but his shot lacked both power and pace and was easily gathered by Marshall.
Just after the hour mark, Benkovic went down holding his knee. He was able to leave the pitch under his own power, but Rodgers withdrew him just for safety’s sake, sending Christian Fuchs on as a center-half to see out the match.
Apropos of nothing...
The intensity was dropping by the minute and a lapse in concentration at the back allowed the visitors to get the ball in the back of the net on 72’. Some neat passing found Pearce on the left, allowing the fullback to whip the ball across the face of the goal. Jamal Lowe reacted first and swept the ball past Ward. The Foxes were rescued by VAR, as it turned out both Pearce and Lowe were just offside.
This near-miss was the signal to Rodgers to haul of Mendy and send Wilfred Ndidi on to try to up the intensity. The move almost bore immediate fruits as Ndidi made a marauding run into the Wigan area. Lowe shoved him over with both hands, but neither the referee nor VAR was convinced it was enough to be a penalty. Demarai Gray had the next chance, firing a rocket with his left foot that Marshall did well to turn around the post. From the corner, Ndidi had a free header inside the six yard box, but somehow contrived to send it over.
The last notable action of the match came courtesy of Barnes, who took the ball at pace from his own half all the way into the Wigan area. His near post shot was well saved by Marshall, but it was another glimpse of what Barnes can provide in terms of pace and desire. But, if we’re talking about “pace” and “desire”, there’s clearly not much else happening in the match. Both sides were content to let injury time drain away and avoid further injury.
The word of the day is “comfortable”. Even with the changes to the side, Leicester were largely in control and seldom bothered defensively. It says a great deal about the depth of this squad that, since the Boxing Day debacle, City have won all three matches by a combined score of 7-0 with six different goal scorers plus an own goal. The Foxes are through to the fourth round without a great deal of drama.
But, not without a great deal of cost. Both starting center halfs went off injured. Depending on the severity of Morgan’s and Benkovic’s knocks, this could force Leicester to bring in another defender this month. It’s unfortunate, because, along with Barnes and Chilwell, Benkovic was one of the standout performers on the afternoon.
The victory sees the Foxes into the pot for the next round, the draw for which will take place on Monday evening. Our next match will be on Wednesday as we host Villa in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final. We return to league action in one week, hosting Southampton on Saturday morning, and then it’s off to Lancashire to face Burnley the following Sunday.