Leicester City had to settle for a draw at Vicarage Road against Watford in Saturday’s matinee match. The first game back from a three-month layoff was short on quality for long periods and then burst into life in the 90th minute when Ben Chilwell gave the Foxes the lead with a spectacular strike. The Hornets (who should be Wasps or Mooses or something) grabbed a stoppage-time equalizer through Craig Dawson’s first goal for the club.
Brendan Rodgers starting XI emerged from the tunnel to piped-in crowd noise in an empty Vicarage Road. If the setting wasn’t familiar, the names were. Kasper Schmeichel in goal behind a back four of James Justin, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Ben Chilwell. Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, and James Maddison made up the midfield three. Wingers Harvey Barnes and a bearded Marc Abrighton flanked lone striker Jamie Vardy.
The match kicked off after a minute of tribute to the victims of COVID-19 and the players taking a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. If you’ve ever seen a pre-season friendly, you probably can imagine the pace and quality of the opening exchanges. For example, it took an uncharacteristic ten minutes for Söyüncü to perform his first needless Cruyff turn.
Both teams looked to play long balls on the theory that “fewer passes = fewer mistakes” and there appeared to be some merit to that idea. Ismaïlia Sarr got behind the Leicester defense a couple of times but his crosses were easily gathered by Schmeichel. The Foxes had more success looking for Vardy over the top; he struck his shot well, but it was always going wide and might have struck an unsuspecting fan had there been any.
Play resumed after the first drink break in much the same fashion as the... first quarter? Passes were being played too short and broken up by the comically-rosy-cheeked Will Hughes, or else were too heavy for legs that were well short of match fitness.
The first real chance of the match fell to the hosts. Ndidi’s first touch at the edge of the Leicester area was too heavy. Troy Deeney nipped in and centered it for Abdoulaye Doucoure whose first-time effort was goal-bound, but Schmeichel did well to save with his legs. On the plus side, we got to see the reaction of an extremely-unimpressed Nigel Pearson on the Watford bench, so that was fun.
The last action of the half was another dangerous moment for the Foxes. A clearance from a free kick fell to Étienne Capoue who volleyed into the path of Sarr on the wing. For once, his cross evaded Schmeicehl and fell to two Watford shirts at the far post. They could only contrive to get in each other’s way and the chance was lost. Thus ended a poor, poor half of football. Make no mistake, this wasn’t merely poor for a competitive match; this wouldn’t be a positive in a friendly.
The second half started with unchanged sides and a worryingly-familiar run of play. Watford were pressing every time the Foxes got the ball. Albrighton turned it over in midfield and one touch later, Sarr was one-on-one with Schmeichel. The Dane stopped, made himself big, and made a brilliant save with his left hand. Moments later, a cross in from the right found Deeney between two defenders, but he guided his header just wide of the post.
The Foxes finally got a clear chance on the hour mark when Justin won a free kick on the right wing. Maddison lined up over it and whipped it to the far post giving Söyüncü a free header, but he contrived to glance it wide from point-blank range. It was at this time that Rodgers changed things up, sending Demarai Gray into the fray for Barnes. The former Birmingham City man got a look shortly after coming on, but his curler from the edge of the area was high and wide.
This brought us to the second water break, with play resuming on the 70’ mark. After a few false starts, the Foxes started to turn the screws. Gray did brilliantly to bring down a long ball and find Albrighton alone in the box. The former Villa man struck it well, but smashed it against the inside of post. Maddison was the next player teed up by the lively Gray, but his low, goal-bound shot was just pushed around the post by Ben Foster.
Rodgers introduced Hamza Choudhury in favor of Tielemans and Watford made a raft of changes as the 80th minute approached. Shortly afterwards, Albrighton was withdrawn and Kelechi Iheanacho was sent on to try to break the deadlock. Watford turned the ball over in midfield and Iheanacho carried the ball down the center before finding Maddison, who found Chilwell, whose cross was directly between the strikers and cleared by a grateful Watford defense.
In the 90th minute, Gray found Chilwell all alone on the left. With acres of space in front of him, the England fullback struck it, and what a strike it was: An absolute rocket across Foster into the upper right-hand corner. No force on this planet would have kept that one out. It deserved to be a winner.
The hosts laid siege to the Leicester penalty area and won a corner in the 93rd minute. The ball caromed off of Christian Kabasele towards Craig Dawson. The fullback performed a pirouette and scissor-kicked the ball from close range. Schmeichel got a hand to it, but could only turn it against the inside off the inside of the post and into the net and earning Watford a point.
The word of the day is “disappointment”. It was a poor match with very little quality for the first 89 minutes or so. Chilly’s wonderstrike would have been a worthy winner, but we couldn’t see out injury time. If I’m being honest, getting three points out of that performance would been awfully flattering.
So many new American Sports fans turning into Premier League for the first time this weekend. Massive, Massive opportunity for English Football— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) June 20, 2020
And this match is what we treat them to? Rude.
You’d have to say Chilwell was our top performer given the goal and his willing running all afternoon, although he saw the back of Sarr’s heels an awful lot. Justin looked sharp and we could do a lot worse than having him to cover for Ricardo. The midfield frankly, looked lost. Neither Madders nor Youri impressed and Ndidi wasn’t quite up to the pace for long periods of time. This meant that the attacking three saw very little of the ball. Albrighton was both the best and worst of the lot, giving the ball away, but coming centimetres from scoring.
The good news is that the draw keeps us 8 points ahead of Manchester United for the final Champions League spot. The bad news is that Watford were one of only three teams in the bottom quarter of the table on our summer schedule. We remain 3rd on the table and host Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday. Then, 4th place Chelsea travel to the King Power next Sunday in a match that will have no impact on the table whatsoever on account of it being an FA Cup quarterfinal.