Leicester City won comfortably by a score of 3-0 against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday evening in the East Midlands. All three goals came in the first half, with James Maddison getting his first Premier League brace on either side of a Jamie Vardy strike.
After opting for an attacking setup against AEK Athens midweek, manager Brendan Rodgers reverted to his preferred defense-first setup for this match. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back three of Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, and Christian Fuchs. Marc Albrighton and James Justin slotted in as wingbacks, flanking a central midfield partnership of Youri Tielemans and Wilfrid Ndidi. James Maddison and Ayoze Perez were the wide attacking midfielders behind striker Jamie Vardy.
It’s a pity no fans were in the stadium as the game started at a breathless pace. Both side had more than one terrific opportunity take the lead in the opening ten minutes. The Foxes won three corners, took all of them short, and looked dangerous on each of them. The best opportunity came on a Seagulls’ turnover in their own half that was worked wide an onrushing Albrighton whose shot hit the keeper rather than the back of the net.
But both times the visitors got forward, they didn’t merely carve open the Leicester defense, they tested Schmeichel and probably should have scored on each of them. The best chance saw Alireza Jahanbakhsh find Danny Welbeck alone behind the defense. He had ages to line up his shot, and it was a good one, but the Denmark stopper stuck out a foot and just managed to keep it out.
The play was surprisingly even for the next quarter hour. Both sets of attackers were well on top, so Rodgers changed the shape, opting for a back four with Justin on the right and Fuchs on the left. Almost immediately, City went agonizingly close to taking the lead. An incredible Tielemans crossfield ball found Justin’s run into the box. Keeper Matt Ryan was able to parry it, but Vardy was the first to react and seemed certain to score from a tight angle, but it he hit the post rather than the target.
Leicester did take the lead just moments later. Maddison found Justin all alone on the right, allowing the former Luton Town man to fire in a low cross. It was cleared only as far as Madders, whose first time effort probably should have been saved, but “probably” is right up there with “close” vis-a-vis anything but horseshoes and hand grenades. The ball wriggled through his hands and into the net, putting Leicester in front.
It was all Foxes at this point as Tielemans was again able to find Justin in space on the right. He pulled the ball back for Ayoze, but this time Ryan made amends, diving at full stretch to push the ball around the post.
City had the ball in the back of the net again with five minutes to play in the half. Once again, Justin’s run on the right carved open the Seagulls’ defense. He crossed it low for Vardy, finding the sweet spot between the keeper and the defense, and Vardy had the simplest of tap-ins for his tenth Premier League goal of the season. VAR official gave it a long look but determined that the former Fleetwood Town striker timed his run perfectly and the goal was given.
The strike that put Jamie Vardy into the top 20 of the Premier League's all-time goalscoring charts pic.twitter.com/HbSZgMNqdI— Leicester City (@LCFC) December 13, 2020
Not bad for a “One-season wonder.” Next up: Steven Gerrard
With injury time approaching, the Foxes extended the lead. A great run by Vardy drew the defense, allowing him to tap it back to Madders. The former Norwich City man performed a veritable dance card of step overs before leaning back and bending the ball into the far corner with his left foot. This one was sheer class, and no keeper on the planet gets close it. Leicester went into the tunnel carrying a 3-0 lead and bags of confidence.
There were no changes for either side at the half, which was a surprise for one of the two teams. The half started with the visitors seeing more of the ball, but they did so without threatening the goal. The pace of play was nowhere near what we saw at the start of the match, and that surely was precisely what Rodgers wanted.
The Foxes got their first opportunity of the half on 57’ when an Ndidi ball put Ayoze in. He pulled it back for Madders who seemed to have been aware of the fact that he was on a hat trick. He wriggled through the entire Brighton defense, bringing it inside and shaping to shoot. He did everything right up to that point, but the effort on goal dribbled harmlessly to Ryan.
Neal Maupay managed to get a bicycle kick on target at the other end, but Schmeichel was easily able to gather. Rodgers took that rare foray into the home half as a sign to change things up, sending Harvey Barnes into the fray for Ayoze.
The Foxes game close to a spectacular fourth when Harvey Barnes got on to the end of long ball and won a corner. The initial ball was cleared as far as Fuchs, who lined up a shot from distance and fired it goalward. Ryan made a fine save, although it wouldn’t have counted as Evans was adjudged to have been offside from the first ball.
There would be no hat trick for Madders as Rodgers took him off in favor of Dennis Praet and then swapped Ndidi for Nampalys Mendy a few minutes later. The match was now in in the last 10 minutes of regular time and, if it seems like the second half has been short on highlights, then you’ve been paying attention. It was fairly dull stuff, lacking in drama and perfectly comfortable for the Leicester defense.
The last ten minutes just sort of floated away like the smoke of a fire that had already been put out as the Foxes won a series of corners and the Seagulls’ body language said that they were resigned to the defeat. The referee blew the whistle and the Foxes were ran out easy 3-0 winners.
That was as comfortable as you could like against Brighton, but it could easily have gone differently. Schmeichel’s early save on Welbeck and Rodgers changing the shape won’t get the attention they deserve, because without those two events, 3-0 isn’t on the cards.
There were no new injuries. James Maddision and Wilfred Ndidi both look like they’re rounding into shape. The only negative mark was Evans picking up a yellow. That was his fifth of the season, meaning he’ll miss out on the next match.
Vardy at CB and just let havoc ensue— Sean Rosales (@Sean_ESPN) December 13, 2020
I’m not going to lie. A part of me really would love to see it.
The win puts the Foxes on 24 points from 12 matches. That puts us third on the table, a point behind Spurs and Liverpool. Our next match is at home to Everton on Wednesday and then it’s off to north London to face temporarily table-topping Tottenham Totspur..er, Hotspur.