Leicester City edged past Birmingham City by a score of 1-0 in an FA Cup match at the King Power Stadium on Wednesday evening. The Foxes left it late and needed a Ricardo strike in the last ten minutes to put the stubborn Blues to the sword. The win puts Leicester into the quarterfinals.
No one could accuse manager Brendan Rodgers of not taking the Cup seriously. Back in the familiar 4-1-4-1 formation, the vast majority of healthy regulars were included in the starting XI. Kasper Schmeichel captained the side from the back behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi was deemed fit enough to start the match, slotting in behind James Maddison and Dennis Praet in central midfield. Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton were handed starts on the wing and Kelechi Iheanacho led the line as the lone striker.
The Foxes dominated the opening ten minutes with something approaching 100% of the possession. There weren’t any clear-cut chances, but there there were a couple of moments of danger. Praet beat the trap and looked to be in, but he scuffed his shot close range. The Belgium international was the provider moments later as he turned his man and found Maddison in the “D”, but the former Norwich City man snatched at his shot and put it well over.
The visitors started to get a foothold in the match and won a couple of corners and a dangerous free kick just outside the area when Evans brought down Hogan, but the back four did well to clear the danger. Things were just getting a bit static for the Foxes. They were still enjoying the vast majority of the possession, but weren’t doing anything to bother the Birmingham defense.
Referee Jon Moss was busy being Jon Moss, albeit in a slightly different fashion than we’re used to. Rather than stopping play for minuscule offenses, he was allowing a great deal of physical play to go unpunished. Unsurprisingly, this tended to favor the larger Championship side more than the quicker Foxes. To the delight of the crowd, former Villa man Marc Albrighton was often on the receiving end of things including, but not restricted to, two-footed tackles from behind and defenders holding him back with two arms.
On the half hour mark, Evans came down awkwardly while defending a corner and took a knock to his left knee. He was able to carry on, but the last thing the Foxes needed would be an injury to a starting centre-half. The game then settled back into pattern of Leicester having all of the possession but not doing anything particularly interesting with it. Birmingham would win it back, race down the pitch, win a set piece, and then make a hash of it.
The match just sort of dribbled to the half-time whistle. There wasn’t a great deal going on at either end that would make you think there would be a goal. Leicester had 73% of the possession, but only four shots and none on target. The Blues, resplendent in yellow, had only six and one tame effort on frame.
This was not a good half of football.
Both teams emerged unchanged to start the second half because, hey, who wouldn’t want another forty five minutes like that? Once again, the Foxes started strong. A clever quick free kick from Madders gave Iheancho a look on goal, but the last defender was wise to it and put it behind. The corner was played short to Albrighton, whose first-time cross was met by Evans, who mistimed his leap and put it over. Another cross from the right fell to Chilwell in front of goal, but he somehow directed the ball wide when a goal seemed the more likely result.
The one-way traffic continued for the first 15 minutes. Madders spurned a golden opportunity from a brilliant ball over the top and had to square it to Iheanacho, who got it on target but that was the extent of what was right with the shot. Praet put in a glorius cross from the right that fell to Gray’s feet, but he wasn’t able to react in time and chance went begging.
Rodgers decided to throw the dice and haul off Ndidi at the hour mark, introducing Youri Tielemans. The pressure continued and the Belgian won a free kick on the edge of the area. Maddison fancied his chances and put enormous bend on the ball, but he only rippled the side netting with his swerving shot.
Demarai Gray was the next to be replaced with Harvey Barnes coming on in his stead. Leicester continued to press forward, and Madders came inches from breaking the deadlock. His uncontested shot from distance took the slightest of deflections and struck the post with keeper Lee Camp well beaten.
Leicester had the ball in the back of the net in 75th minute. Iheanacho received the ball in an acre of space and calmly rounded the keeper to slot home. Unfortunately, he was in acres in space because he was a good yard or so offside which is incredibly useful for creating space, but not so good for scoring goals which count.
The breakthrough finally came on 82’. Ben Chilwell did well to drive forward and get in a cross. It was over-hit, but Iheanacho did just enough to keep it alive and get it to Abrighton. The former Villa winger twisted and appeared to lose the chance to cross, but he made one more turn and lofted the ball into the area. Ricardo rose highest to meet it and glanced it past the stranded Camp and into the far corner.
Rodgers sent on Hamza Choudhury for Maddison to try to see the match out. Leicester were never going to look comfortable with the one-goal lead, but their cause was aided immeasurably by the fact that Birmingham City just didn’t have the firepower to punish the nervous Foxes. The Blues in Yellow won a late throw but faffed about in the corner rather than putting in a cross as Moss blew for full time.
We made that tougher than it probably need to be but in the end, we’re in the draw for the final eight. Full credit to Birmingham City for making it difficult, but the visitors offered next to nothing in the second half and anything other than a Leicester win would have been harsh on the hosts. It wasn’t pretty, but the job was done and, crossing my figners for Jonny Evans, we emerged unscathed from the fray.
Ricardo seems an obvious choice for standout performer on account of the fact that he was our best player by some margin. After shaking off some early rust, Albrighton put in a shift. Chilwell had his best match in some time, and I felt this was one of Praet’s best efforts in a Leicester shirt.
Fox in the box #UndertheLights #LEIBIR pic.twitter.com/w0yscakGT9— The Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) March 4, 2020
The Twitter embeds are STILL not working, but do click the link and enjoy the goal. It’s an official account, so it won’t be taken down.
I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to two unlikely recipients. Jon Moss was...pretty good today? I know it sounds mad to say it, but he was, for the most part, consistent with his calls and, while I didn’t always agree with them, I’ll take “consistent”. On the other side of the ledger are the commentary team, who were absolutely dreadful. They spent 90 minutes, plus half-time and most of the highlights, talking about how desperately poor the team which had 77% of the ball, 60% of the shots, 67% of the shots on target, and all of the goals were. We weren’t at our best, but this wasn’t the dire, Puel-esque performance they so badly wanted it to be.
This being a cup match, it has no impact on our place on the table, but it does get us into the hat for the FA Cup quarterfinals. Leicester will learn their opponent shortly as the draw will take place just half an hour after the end of the match. We will host Villa in the league next Monday afternoon, and then square off against Nigel Pearson’s Watford at Vicarage Road a week from Saturday.