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Five Things We Learned From Leicester City v Sheffield United

The Foxes get their swagger back

Leicester City v Sheffield United - Premier League - King Power Stadium Photo by Molly Darlington/PA Images via Getty Images

1) City on the rampage, it’s great to have some creativity back

It’s been a very good week for Leicester City. A full week between matches, welcoming back Jonny Evans, Ayoze Perez and a very ahead of schedule Dennis Praet, plus no new injuries. Results prior to the Sheffield United game had all gone our way, leaving an opportunity for us to capitalise on that. It also allowed Brendan Rodgers a chance to field as close to a full-strength side as we’ve seen this season. It’s actually quite fun trying to think how we’ll get James Maddison and Harvey Barnes back into this side.

After a few games where the Foxes had really lacked a creative edge, it was back with abundance this time. Having an actual player who can slot into the ten role had to help. Ayoze Perez seizing his chance to stake a claim as the first in that position to be fit again. Yes, Sheffield United were incredibly flat, if you told me Kasper had left the pitch temporarily to go get a book to read, I’d believe you given the Blades’ zero chances on target. But this was a rampant Leicester City. Five actually flatters the opponents a little and despite some of the excellent goals, we were a little wasteful with some chances.

It seems a perfect game to say ‘you can only beat what’s in front of you’ as not many teams would just let our players have epic amounts of time on the ball, or have defenders watch a Leicester player pick up the ball and just run away from them. This result was the combination of a woeful, hurt Sheffield United side and a Leicester City side back to the swaggering, passing football that has made us generally exciting to watch this season.

It’s a slight contradiction to say that Kelechi Iheanacho was the clear Man of the Match while also acknowledging that Schmeichel aside (he deserved a game off), everybody played well enough to score at least a 7/10. From a teamwork perspective, it was perfect today. Not one selfish player or shot out there. We all love this squad right?

2) Kelechi Iheanacho’s hat trick shows what he can do with consistent match-time

With his hat trick against the Blades, Iheanacho joins a small but elite list of Foxes’ players to bag a treble in the Premier League. His will go down as one of the most pleasing too. Despite the occasional odd touch that so often follows a really great first touch, it’s hard to be mad at the Nigerian. Few Leicester players deserve a first hat trick more either. Not content with just setting one ‘first’ record, this is also the first he’s scored in three consecutive Premier League games. Which gets to the heart of it really. The stats, and most fans, would argue all Kel needed was to play regularly.

A bit like Shakira’s hips (maybe Iheanacho’s too as the man can dance), Squawka’s stats don’t lie

There was a nice range in Iheanacho’s hat trick, his first was one of the easiest finishes he’ll get but his timing and positioning were spot on, a complete contrast to the goal that earned him the matchball, a long-range effort after nobody deemed it important to close him down. With the issues Rodgers has been having in the lack of attacking options available, it really has opened the door for Iheanacho to not only have a run in the side, but in a different way. So often it’s been him or Vardy. We’ve been accustomed to just playing one striker for a few years now but we’re really seeing the benefits of having two on at the same time.

It seems to be a boost to each striker and we’re finally getting a Vardy-Iheanacho partnership. It wasn’t that it hadn’t previously worked so much as it just rarely happened. It’s been a saving grace with the absences we’ve had and being able to add Ayoze into the mix just helped bolster it as a front three. Just having more options in the box has been an issue in prior games when Vardy had been forced out to the wings, but Iheanacho is always looking to pop up in the middle.

Ever likeable is our Kel. His interviews usually have something about them and he continued it again

This is the Iheanacho we all hoped we’d signed from Manchester City. It’s been written about so many times that he’s a confidence player, and it’s hard to disagree with that but confidence is still not a match for just regular playing time. This is the best run Iheanacho has had in the Leicester side since arriving from Manchester and both parties are reaping the rewards. Here’s hoping Manchester City have forgotten about that buy-back clause they put in his contract...

3) Jamie Vardy gets everything but his goal in a complete, perfect-passing performance

Death, taxes and...oh wait, Jamie Vardy didn’t score against Sheffield United?! It wasn’t for a lack of trying though. Thwarted by a defender’s face, the goalkeeper and an own goal, it just wasn’t to be for Vardy today, much to the relief of corner flags all over the pitch. This was a pretty perfect performance from the number nine though and while he probably deserved a goal, he can be pretty happy with his afternoon.

Everybody gets an opinion, unfortunately we can file this one under ‘did you even watch the game?!‘

There’s a chance, for the first time in years, that Vardy may not be our top goalscorer for the season. Previously that may have set off alarm bells but it says a lot about our side and about Vardy. This is possibly the most complete he’s looked as a team player, and he’s been pretty great previously. It may not grab the headlines given the overall score line and Iheanacho’s hat trick but Vardy’s passing, and the assists he’s getting from them, is outstanding right now.

It’s perhaps strange to proclaim Vardy is back to his best in a game he didn’t score, but this was the most Vardy-like performance from the striker since his return from injury. He made the types of runs we expect and looked sharp again. If any player is going to benefit from a return to one game a week right now, it’s probably him. He’s had partners over the years but they’ve primarily been supplying balls and passes to him, it’s really fun to see him turn provider for somebody like Iheanacho. The two clearly have a lot of love for each other and complement one another.

If you had to pick a word that summed up the performance against the Blades, I’d make an argument for ‘unselfish’ with a picture of Vardy next to it. Every player ticked the box of being a good team mate but he was exemplary. Both his assists were pitch perfect passes with great vision and not even a thought about taking the chance on for himself. It’s the type of chemistry that’s served us so well in the past.

4) Fully fit or not it was a great comeback game for Ayoze Perez

If any game should end the ‘what is Ayoze Perez’s best role?’ or ‘what can he do for this team?’ debate, it should be this one. Sure, I’m biased in Perez’s favour but he looked great in this formation and this role. Playing in the ten role behind Vardy and Iheanacho allows him space to move, look for passes or receive them and especially with a defence who stand off their opposition so much, he really made the most of that. Back from a knee injury that came at unfortunately the same time as every other player who can fill this position, this was a big chance for Perez, the first to return and working very hard to show what we’ve missed without him.

It’s only really Vardy who seems to love scoring against the Blades more than Ayoze. After being incredibly unfortunate not to open the scoring from another Timothy Castagne pass (this potential partnership is one I like), a fine header off the post. When he did get the chance the Spaniard took his goal well, having the luxury of time and space to strike it. It was a goal he deserved after a lot of unselfish play throughout the afternoon.

There’s an intelligence to Ayoze’s game that tends to be overlooked, potentially as we’ve got a lot of it at Leicester. His quick, sharp pass to Vardy to help set up Iheanacho’s first goal was superb. His work rate has impressed me for a while and we got more of the same. While he couldn’t quite get onto a Youri Tielemans pass, his determination forced the defender to mess up his touch letting Iheanacho slip in for another chance.

Given he allegedly wasn’t fully fit, looked pretty fit to me, it was pleasing to get eighty minutes out of Perez and he deserved the applause he got when substituted. It gave us a chance too to hand out yet another debut this season, this time to Thakgalo Leshabela who looked lively in the ten minutes he was allowed.

5) We won’t shout it too loudly but we looked like we might score from a set piece again

Helped by the second half substitution of Marc Albrighton, but the Foxes looked capable of and came close to scoring from a few corners today and a late free-kick. Albrighton is possibly the most consistent of our set piece-takers, having been the supplier on the corner we scored last time out. A short corner from him out to Ayoze almost netted us another goal and it was audacious to try the exact same routine on the next one. Audacious and clearly something Sheffield United didn’t expect.

Perhaps the short, varied routines are a card we can play on. Commentators may find it hard to believe with the ‘quality of delivery’ we don’t score more but opponents studying our threat, or lack thereof, from set plays this season probably don’t get too concerned about what we’re going to do. Something we can use to our advantage. The fact that we even crafted chances in these situations, easily where we’ve most lacked creativity and execution, tells you a lot about the overall performance.

A set of learns where it didn’t seem relevant to mention a defence that kept a clean sheet, tells you a lot!. The only potential sour note from the whole game was having to pull off one of the back-line, Ricardo, at half-time. A sensation in his hamstring is not worth the risk at the moment given how crucial this last run-in is and how important he is for us. We’re fortunate that we had Marc Albrighton to slot straight in there but while the whole game was generally exciting and a much needed boost, this is still worrying. Please be ok Ricky, it’s been great having him back and we definitely need him.

Bonus Learn: Wilfred Ndidi has the best laugh going, as proven in this clip he loaded to Snapchat. It’s also a joy to see how much fun this squad have together. And Vardy in full Vardy mode!