Leicester City ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against Crystal Palace at the King Power on Saturday. The Foxes dominated a goalless first half, but a second-half strike from Kelechi Iheanacho and a late brace from Jamie Vardy sealed the much-needed three points. Vardy’s goals were his 100th and 101st Premier League goals, making him part of an exclusive club despite not having reached the top fight until after his 27th birthday.
Chasing the first win since the restart, manager Brendan Rodgers rang in the changes and switched to a hybrid 4-4-2 / 3-4-1-2. Kasper Schmeichel started behind an unchanged back line of James Justin, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi partnered with Youri Tielemans in central midfield and Marc Albrighton stationed himself on the right wing with Ayoze Perez operating centrally and occasionally on the left wing. Kelechi Iheanacho got a rare start alongside Jamie Vardy in attack.
Maybe it’s was the fact that that my freed had no piped-in crowd noise, but the intensity of the match felt a little off for the opening quarter hour. Both sides appeared to be operating in second gear and struggling to string passes together. There were no chances of note in the opening exchanges, but it was certainly the Foxes who were showing signs of finding the range.
Albrighton found space on the left and found Iheanacho’s run in behind Vardy, but his header had neither the power nor the placement to beat Vicente Guaita in the Palace goal. Moments later, the hosts were just inches from the breakthrough. Tielemans found Justin on the edge of the area with a long ball on the floor. The former Luton Town man took a touch and then blasted a shot off of the crossbar with Guaita well-beaten.
The Foxes continued to get the ball into dangerous areas but couldn’t find a telling touch. Ndidi had a header from a corner that was blocked and nearly fell to Iheanacho, but Mamadou Sakho did well to cut it out. A Christian Benteke turnover let Perez send Vardy on his way, but Sakho was again on hand to block the cut-back that would have given Iheanacho a tap-in.
With Leicester wholly on top, Chiwell went down with what appeared to be a heel injury or boot problem. He went straight down the tunnel, leaving the Foxes on 10 men for several minutes and effectively dousing the momentum. Things were a little more even when the England fullback returned, with Palace occasionally moving into the City half.
Things ended with in the familiar pattern of Leicester having almost-chances but not really threatening. Ayoze, whose central positioning was an apparent tribute to Madders’ wing play, collected a high ball in the middle and slid the ball to Vardy between the two centre-halfs. A good first touch would have seen him in on goal, but his first touch was the other thing, the opposite of a good one, and the ball ran all the way to the keeper before he could collect it.
Leicester have so much control on my mood I’m absolutely buzzingggg— Emma (@em__louise97) July 4, 2020
Imagine Emma’s reaction if we scored.
That was the last action of the first half. Leicester looked good at times, and Palace’s attacking trio of Zaha, Benteke, and Ayew were only contributing on the defensive end of things. But, Manchester Untied had taken a 3-1 lead at the Vitality, so “looked good at times” wasn’t going to be enough.
Chilwell wasn’t able to answer the bell for the second half, so Wolves loanee Ryan Bennett came on to make his Leicester City debut. This pressumably meant that the Foxes were going with three at the back with...look, I’ll be honest, I’m not what the shape was supposed to be. What was certain was that Albrighton got to move over to his preferred left side and he wasted no time in whipping in an inswinger that Vardy met but couldn’t get on target.
The former Villa man was heavily involved when the breakthrough finally came. A ball out of defense found Albrighton hugging the left touchline. He touched it first time into the path of Ayoze. The former Newcastle striker found Tielemans run on the outside. The Belgian curled in a low cross that evaded Guaita and fell to Iheanacho at the far post who turned it into the back of the net.
It wasn’t long before the Foxes had another good chance. Ayoze’s through ball found Vardy’s diagonal run; the former England man went for power and found the side netting when squaring it for Iheanacho would have been the better choice.
Schmeichel was finally called into action for the first time on the hour mark. James McArthur was given time to pick out a cross on the right. The intended target, Benteke, was well-marked, but the ball sailed over him to Gary Cahill, whose stooping header was well-saved by the Danish stopper low to his right.
Palace manager Roy Hodgson shored up his midfield by introducing Cheikhou Kouyaté, so Rodgers responded by withdrawing goalscorer Iheanacho for Dennis Praet. The run of play started to go Palace’s way a little as they won three corners in succession and began winning the loose balls.
With the substitutions, the water break, and a knock taken by Luka Milivojevic, the flow went completely out of the match. With a quarter-hour to go, Rodgers made a double substitution, bringing on Harvey Barnes and Christian Fuchs for Albrighton and Ayoze.
Vardy missed a golden opportunity to get his 100th Premier League goal when a long ball over the top reached him in the Palace box behind the entire defense. He tried to sweep it into the corner first time and slipped, tapping it gently to Guaita. The keeper rolled the ball to Sakho, who attempted a Cruyff turn when Barnes closed him down.
Mamadou Sakho is no Çağlar Söyüncü.
The French defender slipped and presented the ball to Barnes, who unselfishly squared it to Vardy. The Premier League’s leading scorer had the simplest of tap-ins to claim his 100th goal in the Premier League and double the Leicester lead.
Jamie Vardy’s roar of relief there was oddly wholesome?— michael (@mef_57) July 4, 2020
“Wholesome”? “Vardy”? I don’t think I know this guy.
With time running out and play getting stretched, Rodgers made his final switch, bringing on Hamza Choudhury for Tielemans. Referee Jon Moss, perhaps recognizing that he hadn’t yet had his traditional impact on a Leicester match, added six minutes of injury time. With the Eagles stretched, Barnes found Vardy’s perfectly timed run in behind the defense. No Palace defender had any hope of making up the ground, so it was Guaita v. Vardy one-on-one. With the weight of #100 off his back, there would only be one winner in this battle as Vardy comfortably chipped the ball past the stranded keeper.
That was both a relief and a great deal of fun. To say we needed a win would be the understatement of the restart. The well of confidence was nigh-empty and Manchester United were closing what looked an unassailable gap, so this was as close to a “must win” match as we’ve had. We were well in control in the first half but there was a sense that we might not be able to find the final touch. Once we got one, the floodgates opened and, for the first time in months, we got to see the real Leicester City Football Club.
There were bucketloads of fine performances worthy of note. Vardy, of course, got his brace, Iheancho’s movement was fantastic and he was unfortunate to be substituted. Tielemans absolutely ran the show in the midfield, and Harvey Barnes was an absolute menace when he came on. Palace had no answer for his pace and his vision. Really, everyone was good and it feels great to be able to say that.
Youri Tielemans best player on pitch today https://t.co/MJull62kSd— James Maddison (@Madders10) July 4, 2020
The victory gives the Foxes 56 points from 33 matches, 3 ahead of Manchester United and 4 points ahead 4th-placed Chelsea for the last Champions League slot (presuming that Man City win their appeal and keep their place, which I think we all know they will). We kick off at the Emirates in just 74 hours against Arsenal and then square off against Bournemouth at the Vitality next Sunday.