Leicester City defeated Newcastle United by a score of 2-1 at St. James’ Park on Sunday afternoon. After a goalless first half, the match opened up in the second period. Strikes from James Maddison and Youri Tielemans ensured the three points for the Foxes in spite of losing the clean sheet to a late Andy Carroll effort.
Like an asymptotic line approaching but never quite reaching the destination, Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI inched ever closer to what one might expect would be his first-choice assuming 100% health. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back four of James Justin, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, and Timothy Castagne. Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans set up as deep-lying midfielders behind an attacking trio of Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, and Marc Albrighton. Jamie Vardy returned as the lone striker. Çağlar Söyüncü, Cengiz Ünder, and Daniel Amartey were all deemed fit enough to make the bench along with Danny Ward, Kelechi Iheanacho, Ayoze Perez, Dennis Praet, Luke Thomas, and Nampalys Mendy.
The match started exactly as one would have expected it to, particularly if one knew that the Magpies were lining up in a 5-4-1 formation. The Foxes enjoyed the majority of the possession over the first ten minutes and all of what few opportunities there were. Maddison retrieved his own deflected pass and sent a rasping drive across goal that drifted just wide. Another chance fell to Tielemans, but his unselfish lay off for Castagne was just too far in front of the fullback.
City had the ball in the back of the net on 13’ through a beautiful Vardy effort; the former Fleetwood Town man got on to the end of a through ball in the box, rounded Karl Darlow and finished brilliantly from a tight angle. Alas, the flag went up, and the replay showed he was inches offside and, in today’s game, inches might as well be miles for all the likelihood of getting the call.
The Tynesiders had the first effort on goal on 17’. Miguel Almiron found DeAndre Yedlin on the right and his cross was blocked by Fofana, but only as far as the USA fullback. He crossed a second time and found Joelinton this time, but the Brazil striker’s finishing was poor and his effort was little more than a back pass to Schmeichel.
Twenty minutes went by and not an enormous amount was happening. If you like packed midfields and can’t stand goalmouth action, this was your game. Leicester looked the more dangerous of the two sides, but that bar was a low one to clear. Credit to Newcastle as this was very much their game plan and they were executing it well. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.
For such an uneventful half, four minutes of time were added on due to numerous knocks taken throughout the half. A Maddison delivery found Fofana’s leap, but the former Lille defender put it over. That would be it for a hard-fought but not especially eventful half (unless you consider the ball striking the referee an “event”).
Anybody got the refs xG rating for the first half? #NEWLEI pic.twitter.com/s2vbWq0gp3— Glenn the Foxile (@GlennTheFoxile) January 3, 2021
He legitimately had more touches than some of the outfield players.
The same XI emerged from the tunnel to start the second half, which was something of a relief as Maddison spent some time on the turf clutching his knee in the first period. The Foxes started on the front foot, with Castagne finding Vardy with a ball over the top, but it took an awkward bounce and the former Stockbridge Park Steels striker could only find the side netting with his snap shot.
The Foxes finally broke the deadlock on 55’. The hosts committed too many men forward and when Fofana intercepted the break was on. He found Barnes, who carried the ball the length of the pitch with Vardy to one side and Fofana to the other. He slid a pass to Vardy on the left and the entire defense collapsed around him. Two clever touches later, he found Madders all alone 12 yards out and the former Norwich City man took his chance and beat Darlow at the near post.
There were shouts for a penalty at the other end when Callum Wilson drove into the area and was dispossessed by a sliding Castagne tackle. The former Atalanta man timed his tackle perfectly, even if it probably wasn’t a truly necessary intervention.
City doubled the lead just after 70’ and it was a thing of beauty; Madders found Albrighton on the right, Vardy took three defenders with him, so the former Villa man pulled it back into the path of Tielemans’ run in behind. The Belgium man hit it first time, curling the ball from outside of the goal just inside the near post and giving Darlow no chance to get a hand to it, let alone save it.
Rodgers made his first change in the 79th minute, withdrawing Maddison and introducing Söyüncü who was making only his fifth Premier League appearance of the season. At the same time, Steve Bruce sent Andy Carroll into the fray for Newcastle and it was this substitution that made the most immediate impact. The Magpies won a corner but it was only cleared far as the former Liverpool hitman. He struck it first time through traffic and Schmeichel saw it far too late to have any hope of saving it.
This set up a nervy ending as Newcastle started lumping the ball forward and defending high balls into the box hasn’t exactly been Leicester’s forte. However, the Foxes did marvelously well at winning the ball and keeping it deep in the hosts’ territory. City saw out the remaining time and the four minutes of time added on with relatively little drama and no danger at all.
Birthday boy Jonny Evans has been outstanding today. 93rd minute. Big ball forward, Evans v Carroll and Evans wins it. Superb.— Rob Tanner (@RobTannerLCFC) January 3, 2021
My disastrous initial take on Evans just keeps looking worse. Happy birthday, Jonny.
This was always going to be an interesting tactical battle with Newcastle setting up to defend deep and try to hit the Foxes on the break. The question was always going to be “Would Leicester be able to find that spark of creativity to break down the Tynesiders’ defense?” The answer was “yes.” One might have expected Tielemans and Madders to be key in creating the openings, but they were instead the beneficiaries of splendid vision from Jamie Vardy and Marc Albrighton.
The victory puts the Foxes on 32 points from 17 matches. We managed five points from our three matches over the festive period and are now unbeaten in four. Next up, it’s off to Stoke as we kick off our FA Cup run in the West Midlands next Saturday. We return to Premier League action the follow week as we host Southampton on Saturday the 16th.