Leicester City were comfortable 2-0 winners over Fulham on Wednesday afternoon at Craven Cottage. First half goals from Kelechi Iheanacho and James Justin allowed the Foxes to take their foot off the gas in what might generously be described as “an utterly dire second half devoid of any attacking football whatsoever.”
Sean saying it all in one sentence and...wait, no, keep reading. There’s a lot more to say.
After a brief spell of stability, injuries are once again insuring that manager Brendan Rodgers couldn’t select the same starting XI from match-to-match even if he wanted to. Kasper Schmeichel captained the side from the back, marshalling a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and James Justin. Hamza Choudhury partnered with Youri Tielemans in central defense behind attackers Ayoze Perez, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes. Kelechi Iheahancho got the nod to lead the line as the lone striker.
The hosts immediately made their intention to intimidate the Foxes physically clear from the opening whistle. Aleksandar Mitrovic shoved Evans into the turf chasing a ball going out of play, Ruben Loftus-Cheek toppled Söyüncü going for a cross, and worryingly Harrison Reed stood on Tielemans’ ankle after the ball had gone. It was very much not the sort of start you’d want to see when your squad is so thin you have two academy players on the bench.
The best chance of the opening quarter hour fell to Fulham on a counter-attack. Ademola Lookman got loose on the Leicester right and bore down on goal. Mitrovic did brilliantly to allow the defenders to run past him and turn a low cross towards goal, but his finish only found Justin’s feet and then trickled harmlessly to Schmeichel.
The Foxes took the lead just minutes through the sort of goal Leicester need to score when Jamie Vardy isn’t available. After moving the ball around the outside of the penalty box, City worked it to Madders on the right wing. He picked out the run of Iheanacho at the near post, and the former Manchester City man planted his header inside the near post. It was simple stuff, but the execution was absolutely perfect.
It was nearly two on 25’ and through a set piece of all things, albeit not a particularly good one. Madders early cross didn’t catch Fulham out but Iheanacho was able to gather and slip the ball to Ayoze on the right. He set up a cross that glanced backwards off of Evans’ head and looped to Söyüncü. The Turkey international’s volley had plenty of venom and, in a just world, would have rippled the back of the net. Alas, Cottagers’ keeper Alphonse Areola was equal to it and parried it to safety.
The Foxes actually got the ball in the back of the net from a corner after the half hour mark which is worthy of note even if it didn’t count. Madders played it short to Tielemans, who tapped it to Ricardo to cross into the area. Söyüncü met it at the back post and nodded it home. The whistle blew on account of former Freiburg defender having pretty blatantly shoved his marker out of the way.
The hosts nearly leveled just before the half through a corner of their own. Lookman’s cross was met in absolutely towering fashion by Tosin Adarabioyo. A mortal keeper would have had no hope of saving it, but håndled af stål Schmeichel got up well and turned it over the bar.
Fulham were left to rue the missed opportunity when the ensuing corner was cleared to Justin. He picked out Iheanacho, who turned smartly on and played in Maddison. The soon-to-be-England-fixture twisted and turned in the box and picked out Justin’s run. The fullback showed nifty footwork in getting around the keeper and tapping it home from close range, giving the Foxes a 2-0 margin at the break.
Leicester started the second period by mimicking a moment from the first half. The Foxes won an early corner and played it short. The cross fell to Söyüncü, who headed across goal. The ball was cleared to Choudhury whose deflected shot landed at the feet of Iheanacho, who swung his leg and scored. Or, at least, he would have had he not been a couple of yards offside. As they say: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
With that said, the hosts made the brighter start to the second half. Fulham manager Scott Parker changed the shape to something like a 4-2-2-2, or “throw a bunch a bunch of big guys down the middle and see if that works.” Brendan Rodgers responded by making a couple of changes on the hour, introducing Marc Albrighton and Nampalys Mendy for Ayoze and Choudhury, respectively.
City had the ball in the net yet again moments after the change. A Barnes shot was deflected to Ricardo. He spotted Albrighton on his right and played a give-and-go with the winger and was in on goal. The Portugal international’s shot from a tight angle deflected off the keeper and into the goal, but Albrighton had been in an offside position and Leicester had a second goal correctly disallowed.
Rodgers made his last change with a quarter hour to go, withdrawing Barnes for Daniel Amartey and switching to three at the back with the rest of the formation remaining somewhat of a mystery. Let’s call it a 5-4-1 as the job was very much “see out the game” at this point.
So, what should we talk about now? Certainly not anything happening on the pitch as the match was now being played with the intensity of a friendly. Fulham had all of the ball and none of the cutting edge and City were content to watch the sands slowly drain from the top of the hour-and-a-half glass. The job was done by halftime, and the fact that there were no shots on target in the second half wouldn’t bother Brendan Rodgers a bit.
Outside of a good save and a good block, that was refreshingly comfortable. Kasper had only one save to make on the day he passed Muzzy Izzet for the second-most Premier League appearances by a Leicester player. It was the sort of performance that will likely please the gaffer: Professional, efficient, lacking in drama, and absolutely nothing like a game of basketball.
That one save was pretty good, mind you.
The victory gives the Foxes 42 point from 22 matches, so we can now breathe easy about relegation for another year. This is good enough for 3rd on the table, so I guess most of us weren’t that worried about the drop to begin with. We travel to Wolverhampton to face Wolves at Molineaux this Sunday, and then we host Brighton and Hove Albion in the 5th round of the FA Cup a week from today.