Leicester City ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion in the season opener at the Hawthorns. Timothy Castagne scored the opener on his debut and Jamie Vardy added two penalties to put the game beyond reach.
Manager Brendan Rodgers played the hand he was dealt, but it was a thin deck to draw from. With Jonny Evans out due to suspension and injuries to Wes Morgan, James Maddison, Christian Fuchs, Ricardo Pereira, and Demarai Gray, the defense was always going to be of the makeshift variety. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back four of debutante Timothy Castagne, Wilfred Ndidi, Çağlar Söyüncü, and James Justin. Nampalys Mendy anchored the midfield between the Belgian duo of Dennis Praet and Youri Tielemans. Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez started on the wings and Golden Boot winner Jamie Vardy got the nod up top.
Neither team carved out a clear-cut chance in the opening ten minutes. The best opportunity of the period fell to Ndidi, who received a pass across the top of the area and cannoned it just wide of goal. This was just as well since it was his own goal and it was an attempted back pass.
Most of the attacking intent was coming from the hosts as Leicester were struggling to get the ball out of midfield. Justin was forced to give away free kick on the edge of the area, bringing down Darnell Furlong and picking up a yellow for his efforts. Matheus Pereira took the free kick but couldn’t get it over the wall.
The Foxes nearly took the lead just before the half hour mark. After a couple of half chances were spurned by Praet and Ayoze, Praet got behind the defense in space. His attempted cross was deflected into the path of Barnes, who met it sweetly but it was well saved by Sam Johnstone. Moments later, Justin put Barnes in again. His initial effort was parried by Johnstone and the follow up shanked well wide.
Schmeichel was called into action for the first time with just five minutes to play in the half. The Baggies switched play neatly after a free kick and opened up the Leicester defense on the left, finding Pereira unmarked deep in the area. The Denmark stopper did well to block the shot with his foot and keep the match level as the half-time whistle blew.
The Foxes emerged from the tunnel with no changes to start the second half. Apparently, Rodgers instructions were to continue to be loose with the ball and to be extremely static in possession because that is what Leicester did. The first ten minutes of the half looked suspiciously like the first ten of the previous half. The less said about it the better.
Then, suddenly, City found the breakthrough and it was an absolute dream debut for Castagne. A neat move down the left saw Justin cross the ball to the far post. It was cleared as far as Barnes, who slid it back to Justin. This time, he found Praet’s run into the box. The Belgium midfielder stood up an inviting cross that was met by his countryman Castagne and planted into the back of the net to give the Foxes a deserved lead.
Leicester were fully on top at this point, with Praet seeing a fierce drive deflected over for a corner. Barnes tried his luck next, with his goal-bound effort deflected off of Vardy and into the net. Alas, the former Fleetwood Town striker was offside when the ball struck him so the goal was chalked off. Rodgers took this opportunity to withdraw Ayoze in favor of Marc Albrighton.
Multiple near-disasters struck moments later. Inconceivably, Baggies defender Kyle Bartley made the second-oldest mistake in the book*, trying a back pass with Vardy on his shoulder. Johnstone just beat him to the ball and made a booming clearance, catching the Leicester striker in the back with his knee. Vardy spent several minutes grimacing on his back but was able to continue to every Leicester fan’s great relief.
Not learning his lesson, Bartley turned provider for the second Leicester goal. Barnes made an absolutely mad run down the left, beating the entire Albion defense. Vardy made a run down the center to receive the inevitable cross, but Bartley wrapped his arm around him and brought him down. It was as stone-wall an off-the-ball penalty as you’ll ever see. Vardy took it himself, sending Johnstone the wrong way and doubling the lead.
Things got even better for the Foxes as James Maddison was able to make his return from hip surgery and came on for Dennis Praet. The intensity of the play dropped a bit as the match was essentially settled, but there was till time for Vardy to add a second penalty. Barnes lost possession on the left but it fell to Justin just ahead of Dara O’Shea. The Albion defender’s lunge caught Justin across the shins just inside the area. Vardy once again sent Johnstone the wrong way and it was 3-0 to the Foxes.
Vardy Ear cupping an empty stand?— ellis (@thetruefoxyt) September 13, 2020
Hahaha, my striker pic.twitter.com/63gr45DuEC
The last ten minutes played out at a snail’s pace, with West Brom getting forward a couple of times but neither side showing much in the way of attacking intent. There were three minutes of time added on and the referee blew the whistle precisely when the clock ticked to 93:00. Job done.
After some fits and starts in the first period, the Leicester attack found its stride in the second period and it was a comfortable win in the end. The makeshift back four were rarely troubled and Schmeichel had only one save to make all afternoon. Sure, two of the goals were penalties, but one of those would have been a certain goal had there been no penalty.
This is normally where I would list the standout performances, but there were enough that I suspect it will warrant an entire article. Instead, I’ll admit I was wrong about the lineup selection. I was afraid that, with Ndidi at centre-half and Mendy as the defensive midfielder, we would struggle to get out of our area and be vulnerable to giving up penalties. Rodgers got it right and I’ve never been happier to admit I was wrong.
It’s worth noting that the last time we won the opening match of a season was in 2015. Someone will have to tell me how that season turned out. The victory places the Foxes at the top of the table, tied with Arsenal on goal differential. Speaking of Arsenal, our next match is at home to Arsenal in the 3rd round of the League Cup on Tuesday, 22 September. We return to Premier League action against Manchester City at the Etihad on Sunday, 27 September.