1) Professionally done even if goal two felt a LONG time coming
Where have you heard this narrative before: Leicester City wasteful with chances, sitters missed and then the other team get their own chance and bury it to either level the game or snatch a win? It’s been a problem previously but it’s a marked change, so far in this 2020/21 season that we’ve seen out games like this. Held our composure and came together for a hugely pleasing 2-0 win over a fellow team trying to disrupt the traditional big six.
If you didn’t say/shout/think ‘finally’ when Harvey Barnes got the very late second goal then I can only presume you’d either switched off or were too busy being distracted by it being another late Barnes goal. It was a second goal that had felt such a long time coming, and with our current home form, it felt like a huge relief to finally just put the game to bed. We’d been pretty wasteful in front of goal, Alex McCarthy had been making excellent saves and we weren’t always making the right decision in the final third.
This won’t be remembered as a standout game, but Brendan Rodgers will be pleased with how his side handled it. The fact that cases are being argued for almost every player to get the Man of the Match tells you that this was very much a team performance. More of that resilience we were sorely lacking in the closing stages of last season. There’s still room for improvement, a home win bucks a worrying trend so far but we still started nervously.
2) On a night where Jamie Vardy misfired, Foxes still found a way
This is perhaps a little harsh on Vardy. The first half we struggled to really get him involved for large chunks and Southampton looked determined not to let him play it over the shoulder. When we did get him involved, he probably could have five goals on another day.
Vardy’s got an odd record that felt certain to be broken when the commentators kept mentioning it, but never mind. He’s yet to score against the Saints at the King Power. They must be one of the only teams who haven’t been on the receiving end of a provocative celebration from him there.
While the FA Cup game at Stoke was a very different beast, this has been two games running where the question of ‘what will Leicester do without Jamie Vardy or when he doesn’t score?’ has been answered fairly resolutely. Clearly, for everything he brings that isn’t just goals, we’re usually at our best when he is, but we feel the most adept to cope with him not firing, or even playing, I can recall. There’s the potential for goals, and assists, in almost every other outfield player.
It’s players like Harvey Barnes and James Maddison stepping up and ensuring they’re adding more goals and assists to their game. Maddison has frequently talked about doing this, and while he had to be patient for a chance to come his way, he showed his talent again. It was interesting to hear him talking post-match about channelling an Arshavin goal in the technique he used to put it into the roof of the net. The angle looks tight, no matter the replay, and it’s impressive he made it look so simple. Our number ten also continues his mission to charm the world with yet another great post-match interview.
Thinking of our team effort to score, versus what felt like an overreliance on Vardy before had me looking at statistics, checking what percentage of goals Vardy has been responsible for over the past seasons. Depending on the remaining games of the campaign, this could be the least we’ve solely had to rely on our talisman. He’s currently been responsible for 24% of the goals scored (not looking at assists) this season, as opposed to 28% last season and an even higher 32% from the 18/19 campaign. The lowest I could find took me back to 2016/17 when he accounted for 24% of our goals. Rodgers seems to have given us a plan B or a solution, it’s not even necessarily one person replacing him but having enough other players in the side who are a threat.
3) Midfield battle won by the ever impressive Wilfred Ndidi and dependable Marc Albrighton
Show me a hard-fought win for Leicester City and I’ll show you an impressive performance from Wilfred Ndidi. It’s just inevitable. Winning the midfield battle and disrupting Southampton’s attack in this area was always going to be key. The first half against Southampton resembled more of a chess match, both managers having done their homework and some nervous moments from both. The secret weapon that is Ndidi’s inhumanely long legs and their ability to just wrap around and carry the ball away definitely helps give the Foxes an edge. He may not pick up many plaudits on the commentary, but his input was integral for collecting the ball and sending us forward.
Somebody who is finally getting the praise he deserves is Marc Albrighton. He’s been drafted in more and more over the past weeks and he’s been invaluable to the way Rodgers wants us to play. It doesn’t feel like a learn, because you know he’ll do this week in, week out, but his work ethic and the efforts he gives the side are never short of flat out. The biggest takeaway I’m seeing is that Rodgers is managing to do something previous managers hadn’t, which is getting a full ninety minutes from the winger, despite his age and those efforts. An Albrighton substitution had become quite commonplace but he seems to be able to manage it all the way through now with no detriment to his efforts in those ninety minutes.
He also praised Marc Albrighton after another impressive display from the ex-Aston Villa man: "Marc is a great example to every winger, talent alone isn’t enough. You have to run and work, you can’t carry anyone. The spirit is really good and Marc typifies everything we want."— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) January 16, 2021
While not strictly Gareth Southgate’s fault, the England manager’s presence at this game reminded me that I’m still incredibly angry Albrighton doesn’t even have one England cap to his name. The season we won the league for example was the prime example. Overcoming all the odds, proving to be one of the best free transfers going and he wasn’t rewarded. You don’t find many footballers who are more of a model professional than Albrighton. We’re very lucky that our young squad has role models like Albrighton, Vardy and Schmeichel to help shape them.
The whole team put a shift in to help defeat Southampton but the midfield were virtually faultless, ignoring some wayward shooting. Youri Tielemans continues making his case to be the most complete midfielder I’ve had the pleasure of watching for Leicester. His passes early in the game lacked the right weight but he more than made up for it as the match progressed and while the stats claiming this to be his first two League assists of the season sound odd, he is so often the guy assisting the assist that it makes sense.
4) Foxes bench shows strength as full squad begins to return
How often do Leicester have a stronger bench than our opponents in the Premier League? Nothing usually helps that hit home harder than playing the likes of Chelsea or Manchester City. Yes, Southampton have got some unlucky injury issues right now but we are finally starting to get over ours (Dennis Praet news aside). At least we hope so, writing this pre knowing the extent of Vardy’s hip twinge, feels a little dangerous.
The bench had our editor, and probably most of us, making heart eyes with the combination of Çağlar Söyüncü, Ricardo Pereira and Cengiz Ünder available again. Yes, it probably favoured defensive options overall, but with Kelechi Iheanacho and Ayoze Perez on there too, we had options to bolster the front line. It must be a luxury for Rodgers to look at Wesley Fofana being on a yellow card and be able to take the risk out by putting in Söyüncü. Valuable minutes in the Turkish international’s comeback and given his relationship with Jonny Evans, a risk-free change.
Rodgers’ substitutions of late have generally come at the right time and in the shape of the right player. Bringing on Ayoze Perez for Maddison made sense with a big game against Chelsea to come, plus it put the Spaniard back into the coveted central role he suits. His impact was virtually instantaneous with a fantastic possession steal, turn and run forward. He’s unlucky that we couldn’t finish the move off with a goal.
There was no game time for Ricardo but it’s just a pleasure to have him back in a Premier League squad after ten long months. Yes, it’s probably an incoming selection headache for Rodgers but what a great one to have. All signs point to giving Ricardo a run out on the right wing if you ask me.
5) Kasper Schmeichel’s 400th appearance was yet another timely reminder that he is a special goalkeeper
It’s a contentious point whether we should have celebrated this against Stoke, but seemingly nobody counts the Charity Shield. Still, this is a huge milestone. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think if I’ve seen another Leicester player hit this milestone in my lifetime given he’s now surpassed Andy King and I had to go back a couple of decades to remember the legend that is Steve Walsh got to 449, something Kasper should comfortably get to. Players just don’t really stay at one club that long these days, but as we approach ten years of watching our Danish goalkeeper, it was a pleasure we kept him a clean sheet to celebrate this milestone.
We made Schmeichel work for it too, while I’d commend elements of the way we defended against Southampton, we did call on our number one to save the day (again) several times. The best save coming to deny Ryan Bertrand. He was allowed a slightly quieter second half but all credit to him again as most of his saves came when the game was still wide open and tensely tied at 0-0.
Good luck to whoever has to take on the number one spot because whether it’s consciously or not, you will be compared and the chances are I’ll be disappointed that they’re not Kasper for a good while. That is the legacy that the big Dane has for us.
A safe pair of hands, Mr Reliable, passionate and loud enough to drown out my commentary sometimes (fine by me given some of the ludicrous comments against Southampton). Calling him a one in a million goalkeeper may sound like an exaggeration to come but we’ll miss that comfort feeling of believing he’ll stop a shot so often.
"F****** book him then" bellows Kasper Schmeichel as #SaintsFC hold off taking a free-kick as they wait for N'Lundulu to get ready to replace Smallbone— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) January 16, 2021
Oh yeah, he gives great entertainment value too!
Bonus Learn: If there was an award for the most adorable footballer then I have to think Youri Tielemans and his ever smiling little face would be right up there. Him trying to high five Maddison with his foot to ensure they maintained social distancing was a nice touch following some superb interviews this week. The toe touch for Barnes’ goal celebration too. On Youri!