Leicester City fell to bottom-of-the-table Norwich City by a score of 1-0 on Friday evening at Carrow Road. Leicester dominated a goalless first half and thought they’d scored to open the second, only for VAR to rule it out for handball. The Foxes were punished for the failure to finish when Jamal Lewis struck on 70’ to give the Canaries a much-needed lifeline to stay in the top flight.
We’ve arrived at the point in the season when the niggling injuries start to pile up and the managers are forced to get a little more creative with their lineups. We’re going to call today’s formation a 4-3-3 as that seems at least adjacent to the actual tactics employed. Kasper Schmeichel started between the sticks behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Ben Chilwell. The midfield three consisted of Dennis Praet, Hamza Choudhury, and James Maddison. Kelechi Iheanacho lead the attack, flanked by Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes. Notably, Jamie Vardy wasn’t even in the squad due to a calf issue, while Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi made the bench.
The opening quarter didn’t have much in the way of goalmouth action. Both sides had one chance of note: a Maddison corner found an unmarked Choudhury in the box, but it was just a little behind the midfielder and he couldn’t keep it from going over the bar. At the other end, a Norwich move down their right saw Max Aarons ping the ball into the box. Ben Godfrey got a head to it, but wasn’t able to get any power on it and allowing Schmeichel to save comfortably.
Everything good for the Foxes was coming down the left through Barnes. A slick move saw him lose his man and lay the ball off for Praet. A give and go or a cross seemed the more likely option, but shot and caught Canaries keeper Tim Krul by surprise. He was able to parry it and then gather the rebound. The Belguim international had an even better opportunity when Barnes, switching to the right, found Ricardo’s marauding run into the box. His cross found Praet, who tried to guide it into the net with his knee, but it came off the post instead.
Leicester were well on top at this point and creating quality chances in abundance, albeit without quality finishes to put the cherry on top. A clever Barnes flick with the outside of his boot found Ayoze in the six yard box. The former Newcastle man somehow twisted away from three defenders, but did well to keep the ball out. Moments later, a Leicester corner routine found Madders on the right. His low cross gave the keeper a nervous moment, but he was able to push it away and somehow avoid the four nearby blue shirts in the process.
The breakthrough was starting to look like it would continue to approach ever more closely without ever actually coming. A sort of footballing Zeno’s Paradox, if you’re in to that sort of thing. Ayoze did will to turn the host’s defense inside and freed himself up for a shot on the edge of the area, but his low effort was uncharacteristically tame and failed to trouble Krul. He turned provider moments later, crossing for Iheancho in the six yard box. The Nigeria man turned his defender but blasted his shot well over from point-blank range.
The Canaries did have a nice spell at the end of the half, moving the ball around smartly and eventually winning a free kick on the right wing, but it was well cleared by Choudhury with the last touch of the half. The whistle blew with with Leicester having twelve attempts on goal to Norwich’s five, which counts for exactly nothing on the scoreboard but it at least gives one cause for encouragement.
It took only three minutes for Leicester to get the ball in the back of the net and almost as long for VAR to rule it out. A ball over the top found Iheanacho one-on-one with Godfrey. The ball bounced around at chest height before the striker controlled, turned his man, and curled in inside the far post. To say that the replays were difficult to judge would be an understatement. The ball appeared to hit Godfrey’s hand and then perhaps just brush Iheancho’s. I’m not sure how, but VAR determined that it was clear enough to chalk the goal off, but trying to understand VAR is a sure path to madness.
The game was wide open at this point, with Ayoze going close from a header that beat Krul but drifted wide of the post. At the other end, Schmeichel was forced to turn a Duda drive over the bar. Barnes did everything right in the Norwich area to create a chance and then very little right in taking the shot. Duda had yet another drive well saved by Schmeichel when he looked likely to score.
A disciplined Hamza Choudhury is, unfortunately, an ineffective one and Brendan Rodgers decided to haul him off and bring Wilfred Ndidi on. The game was in need of a little quality and it came from an unlikely souce. Max Aarons did Chilwell on the wing but his cross was wildly overhit. The other Norwich fullback, Jamal Lewis, fired the ball into the mixer and into the back of the net.
Rodgers responded by sending Tielemans on for Praet and Marc Albrighton on for Ayoze. Leicester were having all of the possession with the Canaries keeping their entire side behind the ball. Albrighton did well to end a long passing move, beating his man and putting in a cross, but it was just too high for Barnes.
The Foxes laid siege to the Norwich half without in any way imperiling the goal. Everything was rushed, nervous, and the team never really looked like equalising. The final twenty minutes were a clinic in passing the ball around and then giving it away cheaply without getting a look on goal. Pro tip: That’s not a clinic you want to send your kids to. The final whistle blew and the Foxes were left staring at a very ugly 1-0 defeat.
That was really, really poor. Even without Vardy, with Ndidi on the bench, and with the Magic Eight-Ball that is VAR, this Leicester side should have been strong enough to take three points from Norwich City. City are chasing a Champions League spot and we only managed one point from both matches against the bottom team in the league. We’ve managed less than a point a match since the December draw at home against Norwich and that is, or at least should be, a serious cause for concern regardless of position on the table.
None of the performances were particularly dire, but they weren’t great either. WhoScored.com has every player rated between 6.4 and 6.8 aside from Iheanacho ( an absurdly harsh 5.9). That really tells the tale: No one was terrible, but no one took made much of an impact, either. If I had to pick my top player, it would probably be Barnes. He looked most likely to do something special, but honestly? There really wasn’t a man of the match in blue, was there?
The defeat leaves us on 50 points from 28 matches and in third position on the table regardless of this weekend’s results. We host Birmingham City on Wednesday in the FA Cup and then face Aston Villa at home on Monday the 9th. If the team can’t get up for that match, then the problems are more serious than this slump suggest. We owe Villa, don’t we?