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Five things we learned from Leicester v Manchester United

Hail to the King Kelechi

Leicester City v Manchester United: Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

1) A result that showcases what Brendan Rodgers has been building for the last 100 games

There’s something a little bittersweet about Leicester City’s first FA Cup semi final since 1982 taking place in a time where fans can’t descend upon Wembley to enjoy the occasion. It’s a result more than deserved for this set of players though. What a way to mark Brendan Rodgers’ 100th game in charge; making some history for a whole generation of Foxes fans and dropping the team performance of the season so far.

Rightly or wrongly, modern football has a tendency to favour snap results over a patient, long-term build. The Foxes have always been lucky that the Thai ownership learnt a lesson about that (with Sven) very quickly and are generally patiently building towards our long term goals. The improvement Rodgers has brought to Leicester was clear in his first season, suffered a slight blip last season with the way it concluded but has proven what he can do to both a club and individual players.

This is a side that has improved on last year. Not just in terms of mentality, but in terms of quality. It says a lot that despite Harry Maguire’s transfer fee almost covering the cost of our new training facility, he wouldn’t get into our current back line. Based on the efforts and desire shown by the United side in this FA Cup match, none of them would get into our side. Give me a hard-worker who can cross a ball like Marc Albrighton every day of the week when he’s determined enough to outpace Paul Pogba to a ball!

Rodgers has a group here who would run through a wall for each other and for him, not to mention some serious talent in every position. Summer signings Timothy Castagne (not to be confused with whoever Thomas Castagne is) and Wesley Fofana have added depth and additional quality to an already exciting squad. This team may not pick up the Premier League trophy but they’re a better team overall than we had in 2015/16.

There’s not a single player you could criticise after the Manchester United game, every single one of them contributed to the team goal. Credit to Rodgers and his staff because almost every single player we already had at the club when he arrived has grown and improved too. Yes, the players themselves are clearly hungry and have a desire to improve, but the staff behind them know exactly how to help them do so. You have to look no further than Man of the Match and regular FA Cup hero Kelechi Iheanacho to see exactly how good this work is.

2) King Kelechi reigns supreme in a standout performance

At this point of 2021, you’d have to be dead on the inside if Kelechi Iheanacho’s name alone doesn’t bring a smile to your face. Continuing his rich vein of form, he found himself on the scoresheet yet again, two more FA Cup goals. Another memorable post match interview in the bank too, which only serves to make us all love him even more. He is the feel good story of Leicester City this 2020/21 season! He deserves it too.

Iheanacho is proof that patience and hard work pays off. He is the case study for what Rodgers has done at the Foxes. Of course there are two major factors that Leicester have tapped into that he just hadn’t had before either; regular opportunities and playing alongside another striker. Both of which seem to not only improve his confidence but boost what he’s capable of. It wasn’t just his goals against Manchester United, the level of his performance was as good as we’ve ever seen and he even pulled out a few siky skills to go along with it.

We also got the rarest of substitutions, Jamie Vardy pulled off rather than Iheanacho. He is our in form striker at present, the one you leave on because he could easily pop up with another. A role reversal for now. In a game where Vardy missed one of the easiest chances of his life, you can forgive the more casual viewers for proclaiming ‘Vardy is done’. It’s not right, if anything we should be praising him and Rodgers for tapping into a different side of his game. His vision and run for the Tielemans’ goal was outstanding. He’s got a great understanding with both Iheanacho and Ayoze Perez and it has to be a challenge to try and mark the three of them out of a game.

3) Credit to Ayoze Perez because we look a better team with him in it

Fosse Posse’s own editor in chief, Jack, made the excellent point that the only real change from a couple of weeks ago when we were bemoaning a touch of creativity is Ayoze Perez. He’s only been back for two games but the difference he’s made is apparent. Rodgers’ face when he substituted him tells you how proud he is lately.

Ayoze’s form, and his determination to get back early, have to be winning over some of the sceptics and critics he has, often unfairly, gained. It’s lifted the pressure off rushing James Maddison back and given us more options in attack. Ayoze and Iheanacho in particular seem to have a superb understanding and way of linking up with one another. It felt like it took a few minutes to get Ayoze involved in the United game, but when we did, we started to hit our rhythm.

The lesser appreciated part of his game is the off the ball work he puts in, pressing the opposition. It’s not hassling in the Vardy sense but it’s effective. More than a few times he’s won the ball back or forced a mistake. It’s pretty tireless and as we know, one of the things Rodgers absolutely demands. The thing he is most credited for is the dropping into space and switching where he pops up.

The footwork that preceded his missed opportunity was worthy of a goal. When the rest of the team were absolutely on fire, his performance will probably get overlooked but he’s a key cog in the machine at the moment.

4) A real midfield battle highlights yet again that the Foxes have the best midfield duo

I don’t want to be like one of those Twitter posts that has a photo of two celebrities you’ve probably never heard of with the caption ‘name me a better duo? I’ll wait.’ but if we did one of Youri and Wilf, we’d be waiting a very long time for somebody to produce a better one. It’s a perfect combination in every sense of the word.

We should be running out of superlatives to describe the pair now, that’s how good they are. Make no mistake about it that they absolutely ran the show, conducting our play with ease and a finesse that must be the envy of many a manager. We’ve long known that we just cannot play our best without Ndidi, but the same absolutely applies to Tielemans. They are yin and yang in terms of jobs, and one is not the same without the other. Fortunately for us, both appear to be capable of playing ninety minutes every week without ever looking tired or lacking a smile.

Both players were always likely to keep showing signs of improvement given their young ages, but what Rodgers and the club have done to nurture their impressive talent is impossible to be quiet about. We’re biased but Ndidi was already the best holding midfielder in the league, his legs are so nimble at getting at every ball, it’s almost visual art. Every other team should be concerned though with the part of his game that has shown the most improvement; his forward passing and range. He clearly gets a kick out of playing with best friend and compatriot, Iheanacho. The two perform a dance with the football with a level of understanding that only time and trust can develop.

For Youri, his improvement has come in his overall contribution, namely in the way of his goals. Clearly he’s always had a shot on him but we’re seeing more of it this season. More of him getting into channels and being the right place to slot them home. His goal against Manchester United was a perfectly placed shot, after incredible work from Vardy, and he looks set to end the season with double figures for goals scored given the games left. With every passing game, he looks and sounds like even more of a leader too.

If a game is won by its midfield, the Foxes are in safe hands as long as we can keep both of these stars. You can make an argument for both of these guys being the most underrated in their position but their partnership is even more overlooked.

5) Foxes finally have a sturdy looking back three available

Manchester United didn’t trouble Kasper Schmeichel too often, the goal and one good chance aside. He’ll be happy that some of that comes down to just how efficient our back trio were. Whereas playing a back three has previously looked cobbled or unstable, this back three of Jonny Evans, Wesley Fofana and Caglar Soyuncu looks outrageously promising.

Evans’ solidity could be a little overlooked alongside the younger two but he’s super important to have there as the last man, the experienced head while the two learn. He was near faultless against United. Soyuncu and Fofana get picked out more because they are more flashy in the tackles and moves they make. Fofana getting forward is a pretty common sight now when we’re in possession and he looks so comfortable doing it, who are we to argue?

Witchcraft, Sam, it was witchcraft

Soyuncu particularly caught the eye, keeping the United forwards quiet. He put in a contender for tackle of the season too, more expected from an old fashioned centre back and timed to millimetres of perfection. Despite United making four substitutes in one go and throwing on their big hitters, our defenders looked in command, comfortable and United didn’t look hugely likely to score. Not a clean sheet for the back line but a cracking performance.

Bonus Learn: You think we’d be bored of saying ‘this team’ by now, but nope. That’s how great they are. This bonus learn goes to deckchair print jumper wearing James Madison, Wes Morgan and Ricardo Pereira. Unable to play but lending their support from the stands and being by the tunnel to hug and congratulate their guys at the end. Team work makes the dream work!

Leicester City v Manchester United: Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images