1) A point gained but two points lost by wasteful Foxes
Before the game, long-serving Leicester fans looked at this fixture with scepticism. It would be so on brand for the Foxes to beat Spurs, draw to Manchester United and then lose to a Crystal Palace side who have really struggled this month. Especially when Palace have been a bogey team of sorts. If you’d been offered a point then, it would have been tempting. Having watched the game played out, it’s definitely two points dropped.
Seven changes were about what was expected for Leicester after such a tight turnaround between games. What felt different to previous years was that this was a ‘B team’ you could be a little excited for. Dennis Praet, Ayoze Perez and James Justin all down the right suggested an overload of attacking options and it’s pleasing that Luke Thomas is preferred at left-back now to offer some attack and overlap for Harvey Barnes.
It was a first half where the outcome being 0-0 at half-time very much favoured Roy Hodgson’s side and invited them right into it. We might have dominated possession and created quite a few chances in the opening forty-five, but wasteful would be the word. The penalty was a golden opportunity to start putting the game out of Palace’s reach but Kelechi Iheanacho never looked like he was going to score it and the stutter only played into Guaita’s hands; quite literally. A second opportunity was served to him on a golden plate with a gorgeous ball across from Praet but he couldn’t sort his position to head it in. Both opportunities just made everybody wish Jamie Vardy was on the pitch.
2) This felt like a (Leicester City) career defining performance for Kelechi Iheanacho in all the wrong ways
It can’t be easy as a striker, one who seems to be entirely confidence based, to be dealt such limited opportunities to play as Kelechi Iheanacho is. However, there comes a point when if you don’t deliver with the chances you are given, it becomes impossible to look at the whys. It feels like we’re getting closer to that point with Iheanacho now at Leicester. He looks like he needs regular game time and it’s impossible to see how he’ll get that here.
The reality is that even if Iheanacho had netted the penalty and the ball that Praet put on a plate for him, he still wouldn’t be threatening Vardy’s place in the starting line-up. That has to have an effect in itself mentally, but it’s a problem that the Foxes have to address. You need to be able to rest your 34-year-old striker and you need somebody who can convincingly deputise. Too often, Iheanacho is not that player. Finding a quality striker who could straddle that line won’t be easy.
Jamie Vardy must sleep well knowing that the guy behind him pushing for his spot is Kelechi Iheanacho...— Iain Taylor (@Iain_Taylor8) December 28, 2020
This is one of the less abusive tweets but does hit the nail on the head. Not sure Vardy struggles for motivation, but some competition couldn’t hurt either
It’s hard to focus like this on Iheanacho as it does feel somewhat unfair but it isn’t the first time trying to rely on him hasn’t panned out. There’s been Europa League games where he’s squandered chances too. His weaknesses have too often outweighed his positives and we saw them cropping up again at Palace. He’s generally made poor decisions, missing fantastic runs from his teammates and often running into the same, already occupied area instead of creating space. Comparing him to Vardy is unfair too but it’s impossible not to.
The cameo from Demarai Gray pushed a lot of Foxes fans to their last nerve. We may not have had many other options, with resting and injuries, but given that he looks to have mentally checked out of his job at Leicester, he didn’t do much that would have convinced prospective clubs either.
3) Foxes shopping list probably hasn’t changed after this but might be more heavily underlined
Two positions that have probably been on the January shopping list since the start of the season are another central defender (because with Wes Morgan finishing up in the summer, we’ll be even shorter) and another striker. Although perhaps we’re almost at the stage where we’ll finally start Ayoze Perez there for a game.
The Iheanacho issue will be a problem though in the Foxes search for a forward. How can you attract a quality striker, and keep them in good form, when their play time will be limited? As much as we’ll have to one day face a starting lineup that doesn’t include Jamei Vardy, injury notwithstanding, it doesn’t feel like that’ll happen soon as he isn’t slowing down.
It also feels that if we are going to add another striker into the squad, it should be somebody with more height and a physical presence. There’s an argument that we essentially have somebody like that in the squad but the Islam Slimani boat seems to have long sailed.
Our right wing options still feel a little weak too, despite us looking very much an attacking threat down that side. I wonder if it’s a position that will creep onto the list as today, our only option for that position was Gray. Of course, with a fit Cengiz Under and the option to push Ricardo further up on that side, it’s very much a temporary issue. However, if Gray does leave as expected, we might want to add some more depth there.
4) More Harvey Barnes = More fun
It was Harvey Barnes to the rescue again for the Foxes, scoring another goal to level a game at 1-1 in forty-eight hours. It was also a second Man of the Match performance for the winger, and this one was fully deserved. Over the course of the ninety minutes, he was the one Leicester player who never had a quiet or shaky moment. He constantly looked a threat and likely to be the one to make something happen. His goal was another impressive one to add to a growing collection too.
The commentator described this as a ‘coming of age’ season for Barnes and it’s hard to argue with that. He’s proven that he’s now an integral part of our regular side and having already overtaken his entire tally of goals from 19/20 in the first half of this campaign shows that added maturity. His interviews are another reflection of that too, polite and confident in talking to the media about his game and his side. In an uncertain season, his consistency has been really pleasing.
Quite how the winger pulled off his shot for the goal is impressive enough. After cheating it down beautifully, he took it past some players and then somehow holding off Luka Milivojevic is no small feat either. The finish may not have packed the same power in the shot that his goal against United did, but it was so precisely put into the corner, the goalkeeper never stood a chance. Barnes’ left foot is so good at this stage that I’m fully expecting it to get its own five minutes cameo in the next Tarantino film.
5) Foxes full-backs provide hope again
James Justin probably deserves a game off more than anybody given he’s started every single game. Rodgers’ hands were a little tied though with Wesley Fofana’s knee niggle meaning the other right-back, Daniel Amartey, had to slot in at centre-back. The fortunate news is that, like Barnes, playing twice in such close proximity didn’t seem to harm Justin. It’s almost expected now that Justin will diligently do his defensive duties while creating chances from the wing. He’s just a no-fuss reliable sort of player.
Harvey Barnes probably the best performer in an underwhelming Leicester performance, but thought that James Justin was superb as well. Deserves a lot of credit for his link-up play with Praet & Perez, while managing to keep defensively solid.#LCFC— Alex Jones (@AlexJCambs) December 28, 2020
Where Justin was good today, Luke Thomas matched him. We took a little bit of time to get the left-back into the match, but when he did he was often bursting forward, cutting in past Barnes and certainly unsettling Clyne. It was his pressing work that led to the penalty, Tomkins unable to deal with him.
Both full-backs benefited from a relatively small amount of defensive work being required in the first half. Granted a lot of space and time on the ball, something that was reduced in the second half. Though both caught the eye yet again, offering hope for the Foxes and a sign of the future. Particularly in Thomas’ case, the youngest Leicester player on the pitch, not that you’d know from how confidently he does his job.
It was also great to see Daniel Amartey back and fit. It also notched us about our thirteenth different defensive line this season. Think we can get to twenty? Given we didn’t keep a clean sheet, not much will probably be said about his performance but I thought he was solid enough when called upon. Even if he, and we, were lucky VAR chose not to investigate his handball!
Bonus Learn: If you didn’t watch the game and only looked at social media, they’ll have you believe that Ayoze Perez did nothing or was utterly terrible. He may not have been able to impact the game in the forward way he’d like (although we do insist on playing him out on the wing still and he’ll be kicking himself for squandering his chance) but he did offer a lot defensively. Particularly in the first half.
He made several key tackles or interceptions and at one point pushed Palace all the way back towards their own goal. It’s not the pretty stuff, and it didn’t get us a goal, but it took pressure off our defense and showed a really good work ethic from him. I can’t keep justifying a lesson to write about why Perez deserves more from our fans, but it’s hard to sit back and see him called out game after game.