Leicester City got back to their winning ways with a decisive 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa on Monday evening at the King Power. Leicester led 1-0 at the half through a Harvey Barnes goal. Substitute Jamie Vardy added a pair before Barnes finished off the scoring and the Villains on a rainy night in the east Midlands.
Jamie Vardy, recovering from a calf injury, was adjudged to have been fit enough for the squad, but not sufficiently so to start. Manager Brendan Rodgers starting XI consisted of Kasper Schmeichel in goal, a back line of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and James Justin, a midfield of Wilfred Ndidi, Marc Albrighton, Dennis Praet, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes, and a lone striker in the person of Kelechi Iheanacho. Ben Chilwell tweaked his hamstring, hence the inclusion of Justin at left back.
It was the Villains who got out of the blocks first. Jack Grealish and Matt Targett linked up well on the left side with a move that was a little too familiar to Leicester fans, but the defender’s inviting cross evaded all of the claret and blue shirts. A few minutes later, Mbwana Samatta won a free kick on the edge of the area. Conor Hourihane crossed it to the back post, but Samatta made a hash of his finish and put the ball behind for a goal kick.
Leicester began to take control of the match and won a couple of corners through good work from Iheanacho and Justin. Pepe Reina did well to save Evans’ point-blank header from the first, and Söyüncü headed over when unmarked from the second. Justin making a menace of himself, beating Frédéric Guilbert for pace every time down the pitch. Michael Oliver had his first big decision to make when Guilbert brought down the Leicester left back in the area. The referee determined that the defender got the slightest of touches on the ball before barreling into Justin and nothing was given.
The chances were coming and it looked as if Leicester would break the deadlock on the half-hour mark. A period of sustained pressure saw several balls pumped into the box and only half-cleared. Finally, a short corner was worked to the left and fired back in, finding an unmarked Iheancho six years out. He put the ball just wide with Reina well beaten at the near post.
The breakthough finally came on 40’. Iheanacho did exceptionally well to track back and nick the ball inside his own half. The ball fell to Albrighton, who dribbled out of trouble and lofted a perfectly-weighted ball over the top for Barnes. 37 year-old Pepe Reina had the absolutely daft idea that he would get to the ball before Barnes and came out of the area. Barnes flicked it past the stranded keeper and then lashed the ball into the back of the unguarded net.
That was a bold call from Pepe Reina, and it did not pay off.— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) March 9, 2020
Leicester lead! pic.twitter.com/k1qKuthLLj
“Bold”? Weird flex, but OK...
There was plenty of more action in the last five minutes of the half, but none of it resulted in a goal or even a shot. The Foxes went into the tunnel with a 1-0 lead at the half, and one which was just about deserved.
The second half started much as did the first, only faster in that Villa’s bright spell to start proceedings ended more swiftly and Leicester’s spell of dominance started earlier. Iheanacho really should have done better when Madders set him up in the area, but he couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet and the chance was lost. That proved the former Manchester City man’s last contribution as Jamie Vardy was introduced just before the hour mark.
It took less than five minutes for the Premier League’s goals leader to double Leicester’s lead. Barnes got another ball over the top to run on to and he turned provider this time, crossing the ball to Albrighton. It was intercepted by Tyrone Mings, who leaned into it and cleared the ball with his shoulder. Michael Oliver deemed it a hand ball and pointed to the spot. It was extremely harsh on the young England defender, but VAR didn’t see a clear and obvious error so the call stood. Vardy took no time in dispatching - blasting past Reina for his first goal in months.
Pepe should know better than to mention the missus...
There probably should have been another penalty just minutes later. A ball over the top found Vardy on the right. He held it up and spotted Maddison’s run into the area. The former Norwich man got to the ball, stopped, and Hourihane pushed him over with both hands. Madders was clearly looking for it, but it still looked for all the world like a much stronger case for a penalty than the earlier one that was given.
With a quarter hour to play, Rodgers brought Youri Tielemans on for Praet to keep our Belgium international midfielder count at “1”. It was very much the Harvey Barnes show, with the winger getting behind the Villa defense for fun. He twice burned his man and put in inviting crosses but no one making the runs to meet the balls at the far post. He was involved in the buildup to the third as well. He sent Vardy on his way on the left. The striker’s return ball was blocked, but it fell kindly at the feet of the former Fleetwood Town man and he lashed it first time inside the near post.
The game won, Rodgers withdrew Ndidi in favor of Nampalys Mendy just after the 80’ mark. Moments later, the lead was four as Tielemans unlocked the Villa defense with a clear first-time ball to Albrighton on the right. He teed up the onrushing Barnes who blasted it with his first touch, giving Reina absolutely no chance of keeping it out.
Three minutes of injury time were added on which probably pleased Villa manager Dean Smith and the visiting fans. Leicester retained their intensity but the pace of play was taking it toll. A marvelous team move featuring Justin destroying his man, Barnes feeding Tielemans, and the former Monaco man backheeling it to Ablrighton should have resulting in a fifth, but the former Villa man blasted the shot over.
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? It’s been some time since we’ve delivered this kind of performance and, with the chase pack starting to round into form, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The combination of slick passing moves and devastating breaks makes one think fondly back to the days of yore (“yore” in this case meaning “November”). After a nervy opening ten minutes, Villa were never in this match and by the end of it, looked like they might not be in the league come next August.
The goalscorers will get the all of the attention and for good reason. Barnes is beginning to look scary on the right and a little rest seems to have done Vardy a world of good. The entire back line kept Villa in check, but the stand-out for me, was James Justin. He’s not quite strong enough yet, but the ease with which he got forward was impressive and it looks suspiciously like we have a glut of fullbacks right now.
The win brings the Foxes up to 53 points from 29 matches, keeping us third on the table. We’re 5 point ahead of Chelsea in fourth and 8 clear of Manchester United for the final Champions League spot. We’re off to Vicarage Road next Saturday to face off against Nigel Pearson’s Watford next Saturday. The following week, we host Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals.