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5 things we learned from Newcastle v Leicester

Foxes keep up New Years tradition

Newcastle United v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

1) Leicester take the win in this forty-five minute game

We’ve all agreed to just pretend that the dismal first half never happened and the actual game began after halftime right? Most of it was dominated by players on the floor and the referee trying to touch the ball. Otherwise? Very little worth mentioning really.

Luckily the second half was an improvement, something we’ve got a little accustomed to in this season. It was our first shot on goal that broke the deadlock but with the way Steve Bruce sets up Newcastle, it was pleasing. This won’t be remembered as a vintage performance but it could be a key one as we head into some tough fixtures across January. It also added another win to our impressive away record this year.

As much as progress was clear from Brendan Rodgers’ side last season, it was sustaining it and the resilience that let us down in the end. That and a huge break rather than ending the season anyway. It’s too early to see if we can endure a full season more effectively, but we already feel more resilient. Reflecting back on the points picked up away to Tottenham, home to Manchester United against Crystal Palace in what felt like a potential banana skin and now this. Rodgers’ Foxes definitely look tougher.

2) Marc Albrighton must be the Duracell bunny (North American translation: Energizer bunny)

Marc Albrighton is currently enjoying what could be described as a third life at Leicester under Rodgers. No stranger to fighting his way back into a side and showing a manager what he can offer, he’s proved key contributions in a few games this season after some time out of the side. If you’re a manager, having a workhorse professional like Albrighton must be a lifesaver. He’s also the perfect team player for a game like this. His ability to deliver at least one ball worthy of an assist a game doesn’t hurt either.

Despite looking knackered around the 60 minute mark against Newcastle, Albrighton just kept going and going. Given his stature, I presume he is basically the Duracell bunny at this stage. He notched a perfect assist for Tielemans to put us 2-0 up and then proceeded to pop up with tackles in various parts of the pitch. There’s just no drama with Albrighton, you can put him in virtually any spot and be assured that he will run himself into the ground both pursuing a goal and covering defensively.

Players like Albrighton don’t get the Man of the Match nominations, or wins, they may deserve. Outside of their own fanbases, they rarely get the media coverage or plaudits either. Crucially, a player like Albrighton doesn’t need any of that. Players like him can be the difference though for a team. It’s likely what made Rodgers keep him on rather than looking to the likes of Cengiz Under. A game that was going to need a lot of careful management and felt like a first goal could swing it one way.

3) Patience broke down a Newcastle back five

Fair play to Rodgers. Selecting the team was probably easy enough now that he can virtually pick our best eleven. What that doesn’t account for though is how to break down a stubborn opponent who will flood the box and aim to frustrate you. Judging by our zero shots on target in the first half, Steve Bruce’s side did their jobs well. They didn’t really test Kasper Schmeichel’s goal themselves but an offside disallowed goal, aside, we didn’t threaten either.

What Rodgers did have his players doing well was being patient and working with one another exceptionally well. Jamie Vardy may have been frustrated by how marked he was but he used that to his advantage, drawing players with him and opening up gulfs of space in the box. See our first goal. Not one Newcastle player was covering James Maddison, who had time to plan his goal celebration before curling the ball into the net beautifully. Vardy’s selflessness and decision making is just as important to us now as his goals themselves.

In truth, goals from outside the penalty box felt like they were our best route in, but when Newcastle have so many bodies there, that’s easier said than done. It was a little surprising that Youri Tielemans hadn’t opened his account earlier on, given his proficiency for shots at long range. There was a chance earlier where instead of firing into goal, he’d sought out fellow countryman Timothy Castagne. The first time, precise take was as glorious as you’d expect from the ever smiling Belgian.

The fact that we twice found the net against Newcastle and broke down a packed defence must be pleasing to Rodgers, but then scoring goals hasn’t really been an issue for us at all this season.

4) Caglar Soyuncu wins the battle of the man buns in the end

Our starting eleven was as strong as it’s been this season. Add in Caglar Soyuncu, finally back on the bench, and Ricardo and it pretty much would be. As Rodgers introduced Soyuncu, Newcastle decided to make it the battle of the man buns by throwing Andy Carroll into the mix. As Carroll’s face met Turkish thigh late in the game, and the fact that Soyuncu makes his hairstyle work for him, I declare us the winner in this battle.

What’s that though, Carroll hadn’t scored for Newcastle in the last decade? Leicester ‘Charity’ City can help with that! Honestly, statistics like that just make me sigh now because they always pop up when we’re playing a club and we always ensure they get resolved. Of course, it was too little too late but a clean sheet would have done us the world of good again. Something that a sterling Jonny Evans performance deserved too.

It’s great to have Soyuncu back. It helps fortify our options for the backline and gives Rodgers the chance to time manage Wesley Fofana rather than throwing him into every single game. However, as you saw from the fact that Carroll’s goal came from yet another set piece, it’s not the personnel impacting this stat as much as the tactics and the approach to them. Easier to ignore when we won, but it’s getting hard to think about the points we could have had if we stopped conceding these.

5) Foxes keep up a new year tradition

Something that had slipped me by until the commentators brought it up was that we’ve not lost the opening game of a new year since 2008. Had I read this pre game, it might have induced an eye roll as that’s usually a curse for us, but it’s pleasing that despite the late pressure, we saw the game out. Especially in a season where we’ve fallen prey to sides lower in the table too often so far.

Despite the lacklustre first half and the nervy last five minutes, this will be a valuable three points. Rodgers will have enough positives to take out of this too. Despite some frustrations with his final balls, Harvey Barnes continued to look like a bright spark again, involved in the build-up to the goals and generally carving space for himself. James Maddison overcame what looked like a potential serious knock to his knee to be instrumental in breaking the deadlock and Wilfred Ndidi showed yet again that he is the controller that enables our forward players their freedom.

We’re not saying we are in the title race, but looking at the league, it is really open and if we have ambitions to land a Champions League spot, three points on the road keep us very much in the race for that. We do have to park any league ambitions for a week as there’s an FA Cup game to focus on first. Given momentum for us this time last year was key, it should be a pretty strong side that match up against Stoke.

Bonus Learn: Something that is a little frustrating about not being able to attend games currently is how the television cameras and angles can be deceptive. Case in point as Newcastle surged forward and from nowhere, out rushed Kasper Schmeichel doing an excellent Manuel Neuer impression. If you were there, you’d have seen it coming, seen that he was in control, but this way you get a (fun?) surprise. As it’s our Big Dane, it worked but I think we’d all be comfortable with him not doing it again too soon.