1) A win composed of one half pretty and one half gutsy sees Leicester further shake off that fragile tag
Not for the first time this season, you can file the second half underneath ‘games we probably wouldn’t have won last season’. Instead despite the early second half pressure that Aston Villa threw at us, and a very poor defensive start to the forty-five, we held on. The second half was more gutsy defending in numbers and not one to remember fondly, but at this business stage of the season, it’s a very important three points. Sure, it’s still February and there’s a lot of games to go, but we look so much mentally able to see out games this year.
The good news is the first half was everything that makes Leicester City an exciting prospect to watch for a neutral fan, and everything Foxes fans love about this side. Attacking intent from the opening kick, driving forward in numbers, crisp passes, full-backs overlapping and some silky football. The two halves couldn’t be much more opposite. Aston Villa had few answers for Brendan Rodgers’ men for the first forty-five and we only had ourselves to blame for not enhancing the lead more than our two goal cushion.
As has been a theme for this Leicester City season, it was good news that Timothy Castagne was fit to play, as was Ricardo and Jamie Vardy, despite him being our only striker option for the Europa League on Thursday. However, a knock that saw James Maddison substituted as precaution suggests the injury list may claim another big name. The injury deities giveth and taketh in equal measure, unfortunately.
2) What to do when you have too many good fullbacks? Put one on the wing
1 right-back + 1 right-back = fun. Rodgers solved the current selection question pretty easily now that Castagne is back by still playing Ricardo, but pushing him up on the wing. It’s a role many of us speculated that the Portuguese right-back would be more than capable of with his forward attitude. Coupled with Castagne’s similar attacking attributes, it suggested an exciting partnership. The early signs from the Villa performance confirm that. At what point do we get accused of just hoarding good fullbacks? Because at some point, we will have more fit than we can get into the side.
It was a solid return for Castagne too, perhaps surprising that we played him for the full ninety minutes, and he got his chance to be very temporarily pushed forward too. It’s so easy to forget that the Belgian only arrived in the summer, he looks so at home in our side. The beauty of having the pair on the right was that when we did attack, Castagne kept the width and allowed Ricardo (assisted in the first half by Villa’s refusal to close our players down for periods) to cut inside. He had several interesting shots too showing a hunger for a goal.
Timothy Castagne amongst the best full-backs in the league! Does everything you'd expect from him with consummate professionalism, and a unique touch of quality. #AVLLEI— Anthony ⚽️ (@antzhumbleent) February 21, 2021
Goes with my theory that the more Belgians the better
Rodgers essentially solved a second question (or issue) too which is what do we do with the slight injury issues we have in the AMR, right-wing department. We’re still around two months away from a Dennis Praet return (I’m missing the Belgian more with every passing week) and while not as lengthy an absence, Ayoze Perez’s injury. Clearly Rodgers still isn’t sold on what Cengiz Under could do in the Premier League, or perhaps with his strength or team work. Ricardo has always looked capable of doing something like this and it’s clearly a position we’d like to strengthen, but if money is still tight, have we found the obvious solution within the squad?
3) Foxes are looking a bit short in the number ten role ahead of a big week
When one problem gets solved this season, another possible one loves to pop up! Hopefully he’s fine and it’s not a flare up of the hip injury that kept James Maddison out during the restart, but he hobbled off against Aston Villa. As mentioned above, we’re already looking pretty thin on the ground for that number ten role. Having to deal without Maddison, or potentially manage his time cautiously for a couple of weeks, would certainly be an inconvenience. In theory, Ayoze Perez can slot straight in, but he’d need to be back and fully fit first.
It was Youri Tielemans who stepped up into that role when Maddison departed. Not an issue at all, Tielemans is one of our most reliable players, he’s capable of taking set pieces, delivering beautiful crosses but he doesn’t quite tick every box Maddison does. It’s a shame to have to contemplate this, Maddison had started strongly against Aston Villa and his goal was well taken. What’s been worrying, mainly in the league, is our creativity behind Jamie Vardy when we’ve been without Maddison. Here’s hoping this is a purely hypothetical situation.
Mason Mount vs James Maddison— Ninad Barbadikar (@NinadB_06) February 22, 2021
The Beeswarm battle. pic.twitter.com/ZiSVZa5e3d
This does a nice job of showing what Madders brings to our game
It does highlight that perhaps the ten role is one we should be looking to strengthen in the summer. Unless again, we’re looking to further use Praet and Perez here, which may explain why we’re rightly being linked with candidates who might provide some cover for Tielemans. Again, his role in the middle is one we don’t really have much cover for. In pushing the Belgian into the ten role yesterday, it meant replacing him in the midfield with either Nampalys Mendy or Hamza Choudhury, neither of whom feel like adequate switches for what Youri brings to the side.
Perhaps it’ll further increase our reliance on one Harvey Barnes? Some say he’s quite good at football.
4) Barnes and Thomas make a perfectly balanced left duo
Barnes and Thomas are the closest to a perfectly balanced winger and full-back combination as we’ve seen in my time at Leicester. Danny Simpson will always be known for his discipline and patience in staying back to cover Riyad Mahrez. It worked, but it was a balance of a different sort. The difference with these two is that they complement one another more.
Sure, Luke Thomas wouldn’t be getting so much game time so soon if injuries weren’t dictating it but he looks more than comfortable. You can’t get much higher praise than our title-winning left-back saying he was proud of watching you but Thomas deserves it. He was worthy of the Man of the Match award and if it couldn’t be him, Barnes was the next best choice. Both were outstanding on the left for Leicester. The fact that every time a full-back gets injured, we just whip out another one ready to take their chance is so impressive. Thomas looks more assured and more comfortable in that spot with every passing game and it was pleasing that he held onto his spot.
Barnes’ contribution has to mean his name is now penned in, not pencilled, for the England set-up. Only one goal behind Vardy for our top goal scorer this season, he took his chance confidently and was as electric down the wing as we’ve come to expect. What I really enjoyed from this performance, and a few of his lately, is his physical progression. He’s definitely stronger, contributing more defensively too.
He and Thomas overlap well. Thomas has the awareness to stay back when needed but, despite some arguing he doesn’t come forward as often as previous full-backs, I’d disagree. He’s more than happy to do it providing he can see it’s the right time. The interplay between the pair seems so natural too. Yes, they train together every day but some understandings seem easy and theirs is definitely one in that category. Thomas may well earn himself an England Under-21 chance too if he gets more regular playing time with us.
5) Strong leadership qualities aplenty
He may not have been Captain against Villa but Youri Tielemans’ leadership still stood out. An upside to having to watch every game on television, with the facial close-ups and sound, is being able to see how vocal and instructive the Belgian is. His post-match comments don’t hurt either, acknowledging the side only had themselves to blame for the manner in which Villa got a goal back and saying they must improve. Rest assured Kasper, your armband will be in very safe hands with Youri.
Looking at our squad as a whole, there’s a good amount of leadership. In a week where other managers are bemoaning players’ attitude, or lacking leadership in more than one area, we can be pretty smug at Leicester. Schmeichel is outstanding, Jonny Evans would be more than capable of taking the armband, all signs suggest Ndidi and Soyuncu could do the job, Youri seems like the obvious person to inherit it and I still believe Maddison would make an excellent captain.
Bonus Learn: Brendan Rodgers seems to be a Fantasy Football lurker. As stories go, real or not, this a gem! I’m not a betting girl but I’d be willing to put my house on BR having Madders, Barnes and Vardy in his FPL team (sadly you can only have three from the same team).
This is brilliant— Diddly_Squat (@DiddlySquat20) February 22, 2021
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers, worked out that Villa's captain Jack Grealish would not be playing....because loads of other villa players / backroom staff suddenly dropped him from their fantasy football teams...