1) Leicester City didn’t invent the term smash and grab, they just showed exactly what it was coined for
You’d be forgiven for seeing the score on paper and assuming it was a fair representation of the game, a predictable outcome perhaps. One side who are closer to the relegation zone and struggling for home wins versus a side challenging for the top four who have the most away wins. If only it had been that simple! This was a huge three points for the Foxes and a win that felt unattainable for at least sixty minutes of the game. Sorry Brighton, this was very much a smash and grab victory and it’s exactly what Leicester City needed. Not a win we’ll want to replay but the kind that, if you want to be a top four club, you have to grind out regardless of how much you deserved it.
The game had been labelled ‘must win’ which is always a little frustrating with quite a few games to go. Although the sentiment rang true because from a squad mentality point of view, it didn’t feel like we could afford to go another game without three points. The fragility that had led to such a poor start at Burnley unfortunately continued. We’re rarely starting the same eleven players these days, which always means there’s a settling period. During which we’ve conceded twice in consecutive games. We were our own worst enemy in the first half against Brighton. Even the usually reliable players couldn’t seem to complete a successful pass and outside of a stinging shot from Sidnei Tavares, we offered nothing on the attack.
Tavares starting was received positively and while it wasn’t a knockout performance, the signs are encouraging. He didn’t look out of place, more just a little raw. Understandable for his age and this being his first Premier League start. It’s important to our future and our model that we keep having youngsters to bring through and Rodgers certainly seems to know how to manage them. Once Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall returns from Luton, you can probably bet on it being him and Tavares to be next season’s break-through academy players.
2) A winning goal goes someway to turning around a difficult performance from Amartey, but mostly it shows the squad character
Daniel Amartey popped up, or rather headed down, to score the winning goal, his first for the Foxes in four years and arguably one of the most important. Of the starting eleven for Leicester, Amartey had struggled the most throughout the game and offered the least going forward. Both of these statements are entirely true, just one reason why Brighton may wonder quite how they came away with nothing. If you’d said pre-match our winning goal would come from a corner AND be scored by Amartey, well, most Foxes fans would have scoffed at the idea. Marc Albrighton re-takes his spot as our best corner taker!
It feels incredibly unfair to pick at Amartey given his contribution in the end but it hadn’t been a great game for him before that. He’s clearly a good guy and defensively, he’s pretty solid. He just doesn’t offer us much going forward and he didn’t look entirely comfortable on the ball either, not in the way Wesley Fofana does for example. The assessment of Amartey pretty much sums up the entire first half issue for Leicester, offering nothing creatively and too often passing back.
It’s a little bit like the Nampalys Mendy conversation. Neither player does anything wrong, but they don’t have the creative edge or spark that almost every other player in the squad does. Is the issue that we’re just used to players in that position being more attacking? Amartey is the most conservative in that area since Danny Simpson. Except Simpson had Riyad Mahrez ahead of him so we never wanted or needed him to come forward.
Amartey continuing his comeback after such bad injury luck is pleasing, he seems back to full fitness and as mentioned, his defensive duties aren’t really up for discussion. It’s just whether he fits into the new Leicester City mode where our defenders are expected to be just as important for our attack as they are in the back-line. He certainly has the right attitude, never giving up and still fighting. We’ve also been in desperate need of one of our defenders actually scoring at a set-piece (it’s not always been a delivery issue). It still feels like his role will be primarily a squad player though when we have a fully fit squad.
His comeback and his goal help show off character though. This doesn’t feel like a squad who shy away from picking at each other as to why a performance isn’t working. In a helpful sense of course, you can’t imagine them coming to blows over it, but just being honest about any shortcomings and a determination to change it. I can only imagine it was a loud dressing room at half-time as something definitely shifted in the second half. For the first time we got to see the likes of Timothy Castagne making runs and cutting in from the left and the moves starting to come together.
3) Form may be temporary but class is permanent as our midfielders demonstrated
How do you know a Leicester performance is really bad? Even the likes of Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans gave the ball away and were unable to complete passes in the first half. It was almost painful to watch, but as they both demonstrated, you can have a challenging forty-five minutes of football but still be world class. Sometimes you just need one moment, one touch of the ball.
Step forward Youri Tielemans who delivered the pass of this season. After Dennis Praet took that award last season, I can only conclude that it’s just a Belgian thing, right? Put both passes in a looped video for whenever we need to be cheered up. The ‘oh Youri’ count had been pretty low prior to that, but he is just pure class. The no-look pass is testament to Youri’s quality but also to our togetherness, confidently knowing where your teammates are or will be. For a striker, this type of player is the dream. It’s so good to have Tielemans back in his primary position. Also refreshing that people not associated with/supporting Leicester City are finally appreciating this goat.
Played 38/40 games this season— George (@lcfcgeorgee) March 7, 2021
Controls and leads the midfield at 23
Passes like this...
Youri Tielemans, our star man pic.twitter.com/7tM01duqNS
Speaking of their best positions, yes to having Ndidi back in midfield too. He’s perfectly fine at centre-back but we absolutely just do not have the same powers when he does play there. Continuing our excellent record of points picked up when he’s in the middle, he struggled along with the rest of the side in the first half and looked much more like it in the second. Of course, even Ndidi in a poor first half is better than a lot of midfielders out there, we’re so fortunate to have players like him and Tielemans.
Still young and still developing, Ndidi has taken it up another notch this season. Possibly a by-product of the entire system Rodgers likes to operate, but he has been more involved in passing forward and adding to the attack, on top of all of his key interceptions and tackles. Both he and Tielemans look more and more like the complete midfielders with every passing game.
We should never take Ndidi for granted. While we have multiple absences in several positions, having Ndidi is the card that keeps so many options in formation open. Not the player that pundits usually think of when you say ‘Leicester’s key man’ but if we were judging on this season alone, we look lost without Ndidi and probably would were injury to claim Kasper Schmeichel.
4) Iheanacho pops up yet again, who’s ready for a tough conversation?
With the equalising goal against Brighton, Kelechi Iheanacho has levelled Jamie Vardy in terms of goals from open play this season. It feels like we have so often watched an Iheanacho performance and said ‘he needs a goal’. Cue the role reversal then of looking at Vardy and thinking that, while the Nigerian looks full of confidence.
Admittedly, we took a long time in the Brighton game to look capable of scoring a goal, which doesn’t help Vardy’s cause. He showed some glimpses of the form we’ve come to expect against Burnley and in a different scenario, perhaps he would have finished the Brighton game with a goal. You could argue that he would have taken the penalty had we actually be awarded it (check out the Bayern Munich and Manchester United penalties if you fancy getting more annoyed). He also had a chance put on a plate by Iheanacho that he couldn’t convert.
Right now, if we were to switch back to the usual formation meaning one striker (this is presuming we get some of our attacking options back soon), you could make a case for why it would be Iheanacho that deserves to start ahead of Vardy. A tough conversation given we all know Vardy often just needs one ball in a game. But we have to address the fact that he is no longer a thirty-eight Premier League games a season striker. It doesn’t change his status for us, or his ability to net when he does play, but it’s positive for us that have answers for games without him and crucially, a second striker who is starting to score regularly.
Iheanacho did well for his goal. Not quite the outstanding strike of the Burnley equaliser, but a well timed move to latch onto the perfect ball from Tielemans. One of the biggest issues we’ve had with Iheanacho is not being able to give him regular game time. The stop-start nature of when we’ve used him certainly never seems to help his confidence. It’s that fine line between reliance on Vardy and having a suitable back-up. This season feels like the closest to achieving balance we’ve had and it’s great that Iheanacho is looking more like an option we can rely on.
5) We finally got to see the Soyuncu and Fofana partnership and Lil Wes is back!
The Foxes didn’t keep a clean sheet, and Fofana wasn’t the defender who got the winning goal so he was never going to be a pundits Man of the Match. He’s probably the Leicester player who most deserves it over the course of the ninety minutes though. His first start since returning from injury and it was very much needed. Both for Rodgers to be able to play the formation he did but also for the performance he put in.
Fofana was one of the busiest Leicester players of the first half, he had to make some key interceptions and as we’ve come to expect, he’s not shy in getting forward on the ball either. It was a display that wasn’t perfect, he made one or two small errors or poor decisions, but he was very impressive generally and it stood out. The Soyuncu-Fofana partnership has been a very promising looking one but injury has stopped us from seeing it until now. Sure, they didn’t notch a clean sheet just yet, but they do look good together. It’s perfect timing to have both fully fit again.
20-year-old Wesley Fofana has been the most convincing in that Leicester back 3.— Mthembu wase Gubazi (@uMusaNje_) March 6, 2021
Hey yeah, remember how Lil Wes is only 20? Strikers should be worried
With how comfortable Fofana looked in a back three, a trio of Jonny Evans, Soyuncu and Fofana could well be an outlet for Rodgers in the coming months once Evans is back fit. It certainly looks like a solid back-line on paper and would allow the likes of Castagne and Ricardo to keep higher positions. It may not solve all of our set-piece issues, but it might be a start.
Bonus Learn: Almost every single one of our injured players was very active on social media during the Brighton game, cheering them on, celebrating the genius Youri pass and generally loving life. Special mentions to both James Maddison and Ayoze Perez though for taking on some less favourable tweets. Especially Ayoze, showing he has perfectly mastered English snark/sarcasm. We’ve got a good bunch of guys at this club.