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Five things we learned from West Ham v Leicester

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The race for the Champions League just got a little more pressured as Foxes shoot themselves in the foot

FBL-ENG-PR-WEST HAM-LEICESTER Photo by JOHN WALTON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

1) Leicester can’t help but keep up the tradition of not doing things the easy way

Anybody else feeling nervous that history is about to repeat? This felt like one of the pivotal weeks of the season for Leicester City. A shame then heading into some key games and an FA Cup semi-final that it ended with a 3-2 loss to West Ham and an even more frustrating scandal. David Moyes’ team were always going to be a tough opposition, they’ve already outclassed us this season, and their home record is impeccable. Plus there is that old chestnut of Leicester loving to do things the hard way.

This wasn’t quite a Bournemouth collapse, we were never ahead for example and this is a higher calibre of team who are fighting for the same spots in the table we are. But it was a tough first half. Forced to tinker with the team more than Brendan Rodgers would have hoped, due to ongoing Covid precautions with Soyuncu and an idiotic, unprofessional decision from Ayoze Perez and James Maddison, it was a squad short on attacking options. But we didn’t play well, making some ridiculous decisions and gifting West Ham some goals that were just too easy.

If you were looking for signs that the team has matured from the likes of Bournemouth last season, it came by way of the fight back. It’s just a shame we only produced that in the last twenty minutes or so. Had we have been able to do that from minute forty-six, we could have forced a result. Maybe we wouldn’t have deserved it for how asleep and passive we were in the first half but the home side were definitely in panic mode when we did get it back to 3-2!

Nothing that has happened this weekend provides ideal preparation for heading to Wembley to face Southampton but Rodgers handled both key talking points admirably and if he can use the difficult conversations to motivate the group then there’s still hope. We don’t have the gap to the teams below us that we previously did, and Chelsea are just hitting top form, but we are still third. It’s still in our hands. It just doesn’t leave us much, if any, room for further blunders.

2) It will be overlooked given the other news but Kelechi Iheanacho moves up to joint top scorer

This match provided a fact that is both shocking and also very telling: this was the first time Kelechi Iheanacho had played six consecutive Premier League games. It’s perhaps a better explanation of why we hadn’t previously seen him hit his potential than paragraphs can manage. Consistency and faith from his manager has bred goals for Iheanacho and if you were worried he’d rest on his laurels after a new contract, think again. He’s now our joint top scorer for the season. Pretty impressive when he’s only been a mainstay of the starting lineup in 2021.

Regardless of how we started the West Ham game, you still believed in the Foxes potential to get a goal. And if you had to stake your money on who would get it, you’d have opted for Iheanacho! His brace makes it eight from his last six. Superb form and the man of the moment for the Foxes. Given the injuries to the other front runners for Player of the Year, don’t be surprised if it goes the way of the Nigerian now.

Iheanacho’s first was an impressive shot. He’d tried a couple of similar speculative ones in the first half highlighting his own belief. Similar to West Ham’s goals it essentially came out of nothing. Some pressing from Ricardo dispossessed the Hammers player and it was a simple knock to Iheanacho who never hesitated. He made it look easy the way he turned and fired home. His second was much more of a poacher’s goal after some hard work from one Marc Albrighton. We may not have many positives to flag up, but Iheanacho is such a joyous one.

3) Marc Albrighton showing yet again that hard work and work rate are worth more than talent alone

I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on individual performances for why our first half display was so lacklustre, and the praising of Marc Albrighton is not at all a criticism or reflection of Dennis Praet’s efforts. I would have liked a world where we could have brought Albrighton on without sacrificing the Belgian but I understand the change too. However we looked an entirely different side with Albrighton on the pitch. His change followed the introduction of Luke Thomas for Daniel Amartey. Thomas added some more energy on the left but it was Albrighton who really made the difference.

You know what the Englishman is going to bring. He’s going to run until he’s exhausted himself, he’s going to drive forward and he’s going to look to score whether it’s direct or by way of setting somebody up. Not once in his Leicester career has he done anything differently. The opponents know what his game is, but knowing it and stopping him are two different things. So often he just wants it more than the player covering him, or he gambles on a bounce, a mistake. Even at an older, perhaps slower age, he’s still going to outwork most people. That is exactly the type of player you need when you’re chasing a game.

At a time where Rodgers may be considering who to play on the right, or in the middle against Southampton, Albrighton has definitely thrown his name into the mix. He didn’t record an assist or goal at West Ham but he essentially set up Iheanacho’s second and our best spell of the game pretty much bega when he came on. His set pieces were more reliable than any taken previously. We’d actually managed to harm ourselves with set plays in the first half, but with Albrighton back on them, we could have even snatched a last minute equaliser. Wesley Fofana will rue the header he put just wide.

It’s been a season where some questioned quite how much Albrighton would or should be involved. His contribution and impact showed exactly what he’s still capable of and seemed to help inspire a generally more attacking output from his colleagues. Perhaps he can’t play every week, or ninety minutes quite so often, but there’s a lot of life left in Albrighton. Is this the right time to remind everybody that he was a free signing?! Our best free signing ever? Sounds fair.

4) Not quite back to 100% but there were lots of signs of Ricardo getting close to his best again

Again, let’s try and focus on something positive; this may be the closest to his former self that Ricardo has looked since his return from injury. It’s great to get ninety minutes out of him but he had quite a few moments of inspiration and of the attacking quality that we witnessed last season. We’ve missed that and while it’s not 100% back yet, the signs are very promising.

Unlucky not to be able to turn home a couple of chances he found himself on the end of in the box, he registered an assist for our first goal. His best moment to score came from some incredible one-two play with Youri Tielemans. The Belgian possibly surprised him by somehow squeezing the ball back through to him instead of shooting. His drive to push up and get into the box provided some extra attacking options that we lacked without the likes of Maddison and Praet.

The Foxes were generally better in the second half, ignoring the immediate post halftime capitulation and Ricardo was important in so many of the key moments. He was tireless alongside Albrighton in trying to force an outcome. Credit to him for not going down more dramatically and trying to play on at a trailing Hammers leg too, not all players would do that. Having Timothy Castagne behind him to overlap with probably wasn’t as explored as frequently as I’d have liked but again is a promising potential partnership.

Given the tricky fixtures ahead for the Foxes, and the added pressure as the gaps have tightened up, a return to peak form for Ricardo now would be perfect timing. It could well give him a late push to be starting for Portugal at the Euros too, something he very much deserved prior to his injury.

5) A moment of stupidity but with an outcome that goes deeper than the offenders probably considered

Who’d have thought that people’s tolerance for footballers doing stupid things would be even lower during a pandemic when everybody has sacrificed so much? Given the club knew about it before the media suggests that Perez hosting a house party (apparently attended by Maddison, Hamza Choudhury, Harvey Barnes and club Captain Wes Morgan) may have been shopped by somebody else within the club? You’d understand if their colleagues were as frustrated as fans are.

Sure, they see each other every day so the Covid risk is low but it doesn’t detract from how having a party in the build up to such a pivotal week is just downright stupid. And when fans can’t attend games, or even see family they don’t live with, it’s a bit of a slap in the face. We as fans don’t expect perfection from footballers but we do expect some common sense and some professionalism.

The punishment of dropping said players had to be done but it’s hard not to question how it hurt us too. It’s impossible to know whether having them available, and not having had this entire issue, would have meant Leicester could have won or got a point, but it certainly would have given us a better chance. You have to agree with Rodgers’ choice to do it though, playing them anyway wouldn’t have helped and fans likely would have been even more annoyed. No player is bigger than the club after all.

Actions speak louder than words. Given that Rodgers expects the players in question to be back in the squad ahead of the FA Cup match, it’s going to be a huge week for all involved. They’ve made their mistake, suffered the consequences and now need to do better. Scrutiny over their performances has to be expected though and given how much we needed the skill set of Maddison and Perez against West Ham, there’s some making up to be done.

Bonus Learn: Hard to find something fun or more light hearted to pick out so let’s just go with the joy of sending Kasper Schmeichel forward at the end of the game for two corners. I’d rather have tried that in case it did get the equaliser and risk a counter goal than have played it safe and given up. It’s a positive sign as the season enters the final stretch that there’s a lot of desire still. Plus who doesn’t enjoy goalkeepers charging forward?!