Leicester City defeated Stoke City by a score of 4-0 at the bet365 Stadium in their first FA Cup action of the year. A brilliant strike by James Justin gave the Foxes the lead at the half, and second half goals by Marc Albrighton, Ayoze Perez, and Harvey Barnes put the game beyond reach of the Potters.
Manager Brendan Rodgers had the opportunity to ring in the changes and wasn’t remotely interested in doing so. Aside from leaving out Vardy and Maddison to recover from injuries, this was a very familiar Foxes side. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back four of Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, and James Justin. Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans partnered in central midfield behind an attacking trio of Marc Albrighton, Dennis Praet, and Harvey Barnes. Ayoze Perez led the line as the lone striker.
The opening exchanges were scrappy, with both sides carving out single opportunity in the opening ten minutes. For the Foxes, Albrighton carried the ball out of defense and picked out Barnes on the left side of the area. The academy ace stared down his defender and attempted an audacious snap shot directly through the legs of his man. The keeper saw it late but made a good diving save to keep things level.
The Foxes were fortunate not to go down a goal on 28’. Fofana was booked for a perfectly fair challenge (the commentators were refreshingly frank about it). The ensuing free kick pinged around the box and looped to an unmarked Sam Vokes right in front of the net. He swung his leg at it and spun it over the bar when literally any good contact would probably have beaten Schmeichel.
Just as I was commenting to our writing staff that the Foxes have three terrific right backs but no real left back, the ball was worked to Justin out on the left wing. He brought the ball back towards the edge of the penalty area and unleashed a curling drive that left keeper Josef Bursik rooted to the spot as it nestled into the far corner.
Just close down voting for goal of the month?
The Foxes were well on top now and should have doubled the lead a few minutes later. Great work on the right allowed Praet to burst into the area. He unselfishly pulled it back for Barnes’ diagonal run and the winger met it perfectly in stride, but could only strike it against the onrushing keeper.
Leicester ended the half besieging the Stoke net but weren’t able to add to their lead. It wasn’t the prettiest, or most eventful, or even interesting half of football, but it ended with the Foxes up 1-0 and we’ll take it.
Unsurprisingly, neither manager made any changes to their sides at the half. The run of play didn’t really change, either. The Foxes were knocking the ball comfortably in second gear and dealing with every Potters foray forward with relative ease.
The next goal was always going to be the one that determined how the remainder of the match would play out, and it was the visitors who found the net next. Tielemans sent a raking cross-field ball towards Albrighton. It should have been cleared by James McClean, but the Republic of Ireland international made a hash of it. The former Villa winger accepted the gift, cut inside, and finished smartly with his left foot inside the far post.
James Justin and Brendan Rodgers spoke to @talkSPORT afterwards. Both spoke highly about the performance, especially second half. Rodgers delighted to see Albrighton amongst the goals.— Jason Bourne (@JasonBourne1986) January 9, 2021
This fits in nicely with my belief that Justin is the heir to Albrighton: Versatile, hard-working, does whatever the manager asks even if it’s not his preferred role. #ConfirmationBias
It was all Leicester now as the hosts stretched to find a goal to get back into the game and the Foxes looked like punishing every mistake. The punishment manifested brilliantly when Praet took a stellar touch on the right, taking him behind the entire Stoke defense. He slid the ball to Castagne in the box and the former Atalanta man unselfishly tapped it to Ayoze who finished the move with an emphatic first-time strike.
With the job done, Rodgers took the opportunity to withdraw Fofana and give Çaglar Söyüncü a quarter hour of pitch time. He’d only been on the pitch for a few moments when the Foxes added a fourth; A ball into the Potters’ box aimed at Ayoze was cleared as far as Barnes, who struck it first time and left the keeper stranded.
That was Harvey’s last involvement as Kelechi Iheanacho came on for him immediately after the goal. The only thing left to do was to see out the match without any injuries, but alas, that wasn’t to be. A perfectly weighted low cross found Praet in front of the net, but he didn’t get his footwork right, scuffed it out for a goal kick, and pulled up with what was certainly a hamstring injury.
Nampalys Mendy came on for the Belgium international, but there wasn’t even enough time for him to get involved as the referee blew the whistle and the Foxes were through to the next round.
There might be a tendency to expect the Foxes to cruise to an easy victory in a cup match against a team from a lower division, presuming you’d never seen Leicester play in a cup. This was a potential banana peel, and the team handled it professionally and surprisingly comfortably. Even when the final ball wasn’t there, the ball was moved quickly and with purpose, and the defense looked up to handling whatever the Potters threw at them.
The win sees us through to the fourth round of the FA Cup. The draw for that round and the fifth will take place this Monday, the 11th. The Foxes have a full week off (!!!) before returning to action on Saturday the 16th hosting Southampton. After that, it’s a Tuesday outing to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea.
He said James Justin is improving with every game and, with more development, further honours may not be far away— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) January 9, 2021
"Gareth (Southgate) will have his eye on all the U21 boys. JJ is getting better with every game. He’s a fantastic talent, at 22 years old he’s developing very well" pic.twitter.com/BH8iznBu6u
Anyone who predicted this is way ahead of me in terms of player evaluation.