Leicester City could only manage a draw against Crystal Palace on Monday morning at Selhurst Park. The Foxes dominated the first half but a missed Kelechi Iheanacho penalty meant it was scoreless at the break. A Wilfried Zaha goal gave Palace the advantage in the second period, but a late Harvey Barnes strike gave the Foxes a deserved, but disappointing point.
With a kickoff coming only 50 hours or so after the end of the last match, Brendan Rodgers made seven changes while apparently keeping the same shape as the side that drew Manchester United on Saturday. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back four of James Justin, Daniel Amartey, Jonny Evans, and Luke Thomas. Hamza Choudhury and Nampalys Mendy slotted in as defensive midfields behind an attacking trio of Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet, and Ayoze Perez. Kelechi Iheanacho led the line as the lone striker.
The opening ten minutes were short on pace, cohesion, quality, and in most ways looked very much like the middle match of the festive program. With two deep midfielders, the Foxes dominated possession but failed to create any chances while the hosts couldn’t string any passes together on the rare occasions when they managed to get the ball out of their half.
City should have taken the lead on 18’ minutes when Barnes played Thomas in and James Tomkins bundled him over in the box. Referee Graham Scott didn’t hesitate to point to the spot and VAR just confirmed the obvious: Penalty! Iheanacho did one of those stuttering run-ups and chipped it unconvincingly down the middle, giving Vicente Guaita the easiest save he’ll make this year.
At the other end, the Eagles had their first clear chance when Choudhury played a sloppy pass that was meant for Evans but instead found Wilfried Zaha in full flight. The winger had only Amartey to beat, but the Ghana international proved up to the task and snuffed out the danger, allowing Choudhury to get back and clear the danger.
The next chance fell to the visitors as Praet’s unconventional lobbed pass found Ayoze in the area. His cross was blocked but spun awkwardly towards the goal and bounced off the crossbar. It fell to Praet just outside the six yard box. He chested down and then blasted well over when he might have considered poking it to Barnes or even just guiding it on target.
The Foxes continued to dominate in every sense other than the one that matters most. The scoreboard remained resolutely neutral in spite of Leicester having having enjoyed 68% of the possession and outshooting the hosts 9-2 including a Kermorgantian penalty.
Premier record for penalties in a season— Leejon (@LcfcLeejon) December 28, 2020
Manchester United - 11
We have 22 games left
I may be an incurable optimist, but I feel like we have a real shot at this one.
Neither manager made a substitution at the half, so the second picked up right where the first left off...sort of. Palace game out of the gates with considerably more aggression and more possession, albeit without much in the way of threat.
The Palace press was troubling the Foxes, which, given that Amartey, Choudhury, and Mendy were in the lineup, might have been predictable. Rodgers decided to relieve the pressure by introducing Youri Tielemans for Choudhury. It made all kinds of sense on paper but it failed almost immediately in spectacular fashion.
Tielemans’ first action was take a free kick that was cleared by the Eagles. They broke with three men against six Leicester defenders, but Zaha did incredibly well to find Andros Townshend’s run on the right. The former England winger fired in a cross to the far post. Zaha arrived unmarked and squeezed the ball between Schmeichel and the post from a tight angle with a volleyed effort.
In all honesty, if City were to only get a point, the would only have themselves to blame. And they did only get a point. So they have themselves to blame.
Rodgers decided to switch things up immediately, throwing Jamie Vardy into the fray for Praet. The ageless wonder that is Vardy is quick, but the first three balls over the top after his introduction were directly to Guaita and would have required a run that made Speedy Gonzalez look like regular Gonzalez.
The gaffer made his third change on 70’, bringing on Demarai Gray for Iheanacho. The Foxes were looking more frantic than anything, misplacing passes and trying for the spectacular when patience might have been the better option. Twice Thomas dribbled the ball out of play and Tielemans managed to dissect the gap between Justin and Gray and directly out of play.
Out of almost nothing, the Foxes were level. Barnes had three defenders on him, but in this case, three Eagles were no match for one Fox. Barnes created just a half yard of space on the edge of the area and lashed a shot inside the near post with his left peg. Game very much on!
Leicester laid siege to the Palace goal over the last five minutes of regular time and four minutes of time added on. Ayoze won a free kick on the edge of the area that came to nothing, a Tielemans’ corner was just out of reach of Evans, Barnes got on the end of a Justin cross but couldn’t get it on target and, in the dying moments, Justin found Ayoze charging into the area with an absolutely brilliant ball, but the Spaniard contrived to smash it over. The whistle blew, and the honors were even.
Based on the first half (and the last ten minutes), you’d have to say that this was two points dropped as opposed to a point gained. Palace didn’t turn up for the first forty-five minutes, but they were very much on top for long periods in the second half. In a sense, it was the inverse of the last match. We were perhaps a little fortunate to get the draw against United while we arguably deserved the entire haul today.
The draw gives us 29 points from 16 matches, good enough for second on the table for the moment although that is exceedingly unlikely to remain the case for more than a couple hours or so. We close out our festive period slate on Sunday at St. James Park against Newcastle United, and then we’re off to Stoke on Saturday the 9th for our first FA Cup match of the season.