Leicester City saw off Sheffield United by a score of 2-0 Thursday evening at the King Power. A goal in each half from Ayoze Perez and Demarai Gray were enough to condemn the dull Blades to defeat. This victory gives the Foxes a three point cushion over Manchester Untied for the final Champions League slot with the Red Devils playing later this evening.
European football guaranteed for Leicester City ✈️— Ian Stringer (@StringerSport) July 16, 2020
I think we all would have taken this at the start of the season.
We knew manager Brendan Rodgers would make some changes to the side that lost 4-1 at Bournemouth; the specific changes were a surprise to most of us. Kasper Schmeichel retained his place in goal behind a back three of Ryan Bennett, Wes Morgan, and Jonny Evans. James Justin and 19 year-old academy product Luke Thomas got the nod at wing back, flanking a midfield pairing of Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans. Ayoze Perez slotted in behind strikers Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy.
Blades were able to carve out an opportunity almost immediately, playing a ball in behind debutante Thomas for George Baldock. He pulled it back for David McGoldrick, but Justin was wise to it won a goal kick when it looked like the Republic of Ireland man was going to blast it into the back of the net.
The Foxes reacted well to the early danger and started to get a grip on the match. Barnes, in particular, was showing terrifying pace breaking on the left. He pulled the ball back for Thomas, whose cross to the far post was met by Ayoze, but the former Newcastle man could only head over from close range.
The next chance came from the opposite side, as a lung-busting run by Bennett opened up space for Justin on the right. His first-time cross found Vardy, who twisted away from his defender and sent in a low drive that was just turned away by Dean Henderson’s toe.
Leicester were looking the more dangerous side and turned up the pressure a bit after the 20’ mark. A good spell of possession saw Ayoze win the ball at the far post. His shot was blocked by Henderson but only as far as Tielemans. The keeper did well to recover and keep the Belgium international’s shot out and eventually the Blades got the ball out of danger.
The Foxes took the lead just after the water break out of almost nothing. Leicester were knocking the ball around without any real penetration when it was worked around to Thomas on the left who slipped it in to Ayoze just inside the box. The Spaniard dug the ball out from under his feet and drove it low and just inside the near post, a la James Maddison.
Blades tried to muster a response and had a spell of possession in the Leicester half. The City defense coped well if not always comfortably. The wings backs in particular were doing the job of tracking runs down the wings, forcing United to play in the center of the park without any particular success.
The half sort of fizzed out at the end, but with a one goal lead, that suited the Foxes just fine. Of course, I felt that same way at this point in the last match, didn’t I?
United made three changes at the break, but it was City who had the first chance of the half and what a chance it was. Tielemans weighted a ball perfectly into Vardy’s path. The Premier League’s leading scorer got in behind the defense and beat Henderson but his shot struck the upright when you would have bet on it rippling the back of the net.
Leicester also had the second great chance of the half and again, it should have resulted in a goal. A lovely cross-field ball from Bennett found Vardy on the left. His first touch wasn’t quite right so he couldn’t run at the defense, so he laid it off for the onrushing Barnes. He took two touches which was probably one too many, giving Henderson a chance to cut the angle and deflect the shot. It didn’t help that he was being shoved in the shoulder from behind, but he still should have taken the chance.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, there was yet a third golden opportunity on the hour mark. Ndidi nicked the ball in the midfield and played in Vardy. He held the ball up and slid it to the unmarked Barnes in the center of the area. His first-time effort was directly at Henderson with both corners beckoning.
These missed chances are gonna hang HUGE the longer this match goes on— Sean Rosales (@Sean_ESPN) July 16, 2020
I thought so too, but, well...in the words of Philip J. Fry: “Time makes fools of us all.”
Feeling left out, United missed out on a terrific chance to level just moments later. John Egan outclimbed Evans for a corner and it pinballed dangerously and deflected towards the goal from close range. Schmeichel did very well to get down and turn the ball out for a corner for his first save of the match.
This got us to the 70’ mark and the water break. With the match much more even than it had been for most of the match, Rodgers made his first change, bringing Hamza Choudhury on for Ayoze. A few minutes later, he sent Demarai Gray on for Barnes. This turned out to be a very good substitution.
A long cross-field ball found Vardy on the left. He drew in the defense and crossed it for Gray at the other edge of the area. The former Birmingham City man kept his cool, sending a low shot just inside the far post that left Henderson no chance.
Blades attempted to mount a comeback, but the Leicester back three remained resolute and denied every probing cross. With a comfortable-ish two goal lead, the Foxes kept their energy up albeit without the same urgency. Ndidi was absolutely breaking up everything that got near him and there was just no way through for the visitors. The whistle blew after four minutes of time added on without any significant goalmouth action, giving the Foxes a much-needed 2-0 win.
That was something, wasn’t it? It should have been comfortable, with Leicester spurning three brilliant chances at the start of the second half, but in the end, it’s about the points and not the fine details. Blades only managed one shot on target against what might be generously referred to as a “makeshift” City defense. Rodgers threw the dice on this one and it came up...whatever number is good in dice. Sevens? Sure, we’ll go with sevens.
Both wingbacks looked solid and Thomas even got an assist on his debut, but to my eyes, it was the central midfield partnership of Tielemans and Ndidi that were the key. They both did the defensive work and kept United from being able to get any rhythm going whatsoever. It was a little like watching Drinky and Kante out there, and I mean that in the best way.
The victory gives the Foxes 62 point from 36 matches. We remain fourth on the table and will do so regardless of Manchester United’s result against Crystal Palace. There are two matches remaining and they’re big ones. We travel to London to face Spurs on Sunday and then a week after the Tottenham match, we host the Red Devils in will now almost certainly be a very, very important match.
Bring. Them. On.