1) Forty is the magic number, the Foxes are safe for another year!
Dilly Ding! Maybe one year we’ll stop celebrating the forty point mark and the ‘safe from relegation’ line, but it’s a bit of a charming tradition at present. A nice reminder that it wasn’t so long along we were happy just to retain our Premier League place. If you found yourself questioning the owners and our ambition this week, perhaps remember that. Looking at the squad, our facilities and the mindset (highlighted by Kasper Schmeichel on top media form this week as always), this is not an issue.
While Manchester City are opening a gap at the top of the Premier League, we’re still there disrupting the top six. Quite how far our ambitions can go may depend on how well we can juggle the squad as the Europa League returns. Given we’re yet to manage a Premier League game with every single first choice player available, we may need to get some rituals going to avoid further injuries.
Beating Fulham 2-0 in the way we did has the feel of an important win. Not quite the golden opportunity taken that beating Leeds would have been, given how many around us dropped points, but keeping us in the top four and again showing the stronger mentality. Yes, this squad is a year older and still smarting from missing out on the Champions League, but to get a win straight after our first loss in a while is the perfect reaction to anybody doubting their credentials.
Between the forty point mark, the win itself and Brendan Rodgers giving the good news that Wilfred Ndidi and Jamie Vardy are on the way back, there’s nothing to be unhappy about really. It could have been a slightly different story if Schmeichel hadn’t popped up with a strong hand from a corner, but that’s why he’s our number one.
Unbelievable save from Kasper Schmeichel to keep out Tosin Adarabioyo, to react and get that big hand on it was absolutely sensational. A towering header from the Fulham defender and he tips the ball over the top of the crossbar. Barely troubled at the back until that point.— Josh Bunting (@Buntingfootball) February 3, 2021
Always here for somebody giving Kasper the credit he deserves
2) More solid than spectacular but our goals are so well worked this season
This was the ‘Nampalys Mendy of wins.’ Credit to Fosse Posse’s own Matt for that fantastic summary of a win that I described as solid if not spectacular. Often these victories end up being some of the most important when you reflect back on a season. The opening half had more to enjoy than the second half that was professionally managed by Rodgers side in a way that hopefully gave some players a rest.
Something that has been more spectacular on average is the manner of our goals. Not many have been scrappy, ridiculously lucky or unattractive. So many of them have been crafted from back to front through most of the team, or featured a stunning bit of one-two play or a pinpoint cross. The first goal for Kelechi Iheanacho had a bit of it all, but particularly a fantastic cross in from James Maddison, straight to the waiting head of Iheanacho.
This was an early goal so needed for confidence-reliant Iheanacho, who has to be so patient with the opportunities he gets. His performance was in line with the solid, not outstanding theme of the game but you can’t help be happy to see him score. After a solid outing and with Vardy not quite back, he may get the chance to build on this against Wolves.
The Foxes second goal is a contender for team goal of the season. Almost every player was involved in some way. While some are unconvinced by Schmeichel’s distribution, he rarely holds up getting us back on the attack. There was a clever pass by Justin to feed it to Iheanacho, clever footwork by James Maddison and not content with the earlier pass, Justin had surged forward to coolly slot home the finish. Slick, fast football again from the Foxes.
Justin may not have been the obvious choice to be our furthest player forward but I loved the fact that Maddison knew if he just controlled it and waited momentarily, somebody in a Leicester shirt would be there for him to square it to.
3) We could just give James Justin the Player of the year trophy now, right?
Ok, maybe a little too soon, but he has to be at the forefront of the list right now. At the rate we’re going he’s likely to be nominated for Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. He might even be in the running for Goal of the Year, though I think the likes of Maddison won’t be done just yet with eye catching goals.
Another tick in the box for our recruitment strategy, Justin’s development in a short amount of actual regular playing time is phenomenal. Perhaps more so when you look at how he’s stepped up in that left-back role. Clearly already able to do a certain job on both sides, he hadn’t looked as strong on the left. Against Fulham, it was his best outing on that left flank. He looked well rounded in both attacking and defending. His run and positioning for his goal were both outstanding.
It must be beneficial for the younger fullbacks like Justin and Luke Thomas (currently missing out because Justin is just so great) to have the likes of Christian Fuchs, Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira to learn from. Especially Ricardo. Having him on the right and Justin on the left provides that extra attacking edge to an already sharp looking sword. Getting ninety minutes of league action under Ricardo’s belt is one of the highlights of the night.
Not quite back to peak Ricardo, but close. Our Portuguese right-back had a good game, looked dangerous down the right and it was unfortunate his goal was chalked off by VAR when he’d worked it so well. I enjoyed some of the swapping play with Ayoze Perez and he made a few key moves defensively too. It’s great to have him back.
4) When Maddison is in maestro conductor mode, Leicester are a fine-tuned instrument
All Maddison needed to be a true conductor against Fulham was the baton. This team has such a good understanding of one another’s roles and movements though that the baton probably isn’t needed.
After being marked pretty heavily against Leeds, and a run of disappointing set pieces, this was a big game from Maddison who was back at his best. The creative midfielder being at his weaving, dribbling best is becoming more and more crucial for Leicester’s performances. Playing behind Iheanacho but very much given the freedom to drift where he wanted paid dividends again as Fulham struggled to keep him under any sort of control.
Notching an assist for both goals, in very different ways, shows the number of tricks up his sleeve. It’s another tick in the box for consistently producing numbers too, if you’re interested Mr Southgate. Every player with creative talent is hungry for goals, so a level of selfishness is almost forgiven. What stood out for Maddison against Fulham was just how unselfish his play was, to the benefit of the whole team.
At times, Maddison made so much of what he did look so easy that Fulham were left just nibbling at his heels, no other method to slow or stop him. It may have been a more subdued second half generally, the focus was on control rather than all out attack, meaning Maddison wasn’t quite as noticeable but the fact that across the game we had three goals disallowed tells you we were firmly in control. He was involved in almost all of those too.
5) Foxes did the right thing in keeping Hamza Choudhury
Trying to understand the position that Leicester feel they’re in with Choudhury is a little confusing. It sounds like he was close to leaving, but our preference is a permanent deal, but we then feel he’s very important and always intended him to start against Fulham so long as he didn’t leave. Feeling a bit miffed yet? Just me? Either way, I’m relieved that we’ve kept him, retaining a little depth and a player who can do something a little different in that defensive midfielder space to Nampalys Mendy.
The Foxes are fortunate to have three players for one position who all bring varying strengths. Clearly the first choice will always be Ndidi, but in his absence Rodgers can pick between Mendy and Choudhury. The first half showing from Choudhury was a particularly strong argument for him being the closest, although still very different, replacement for our Nigerian.
A more controlled and calm performance has been a theme from Hamza when he has played this season. He had a similar display in one of the final Europa League group games, showing some maturity and hopefully a sign he’ll start to pick up less cards! It was the type of performance against Fulham that goes easily under the radar but given how close he came to leaving, demonstrates professionalism. There was certainly more of that toe poke ball stealing we love from Ndidi in Choudhury’s game than with the smaller Mendy.
Bonus Learn: Call me emotional but it is so heart-warming to see this squad interacting with, and clearly loving, each other. See Ricardo being the first to congratulate JJ and all of the Twitter interactions afterwards! As a group of players, this is one of my favourites for years and it’s a joy to see that they clearly are very much together!