Leicester City edged past Southampton by a single goal in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday evening. Kelechi Iheanacho scored with the only shot on target in the entire match. The victory sends the Foxes to their first FA Cup final in over half a century to face Chelsea, who defeated Manchester City yesterday to earn their place at Wembley.
Ndidi is both the best defensive midfielder on the planet AND an absolute treasure who should never, ever leave Leicester.
Manager Brendan Rodgers handed a start to only one of the prodigals returning from exile for breaking COVID-19 protocols. Ayoze Perez got the nod in the hole behind strikers Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy. The four-man midfield was comprised of wingbacks Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira flanking the central partnership of Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi. Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, and Çağlar Söyüncü made up the back three in front of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
The Leicester fans in Wembley were treated to the site of James Maddison after only five minutes of play but not for the best of reasons. Vardy slid in to take the ball off of Ibrahima Diallo in midfield. Diallo crashed into the former Fleetwood Town striker as the Foxes broke at pace. Tielemans found Ayoze on the left, but the Spaniard’s curled effort failed to do any actual curving and flew over. Vardy was left in a heap but ultimately able to carry on after receiving treatment.
Things turned cagey almost immediately afterward, with both sides trying to force turnovers in the midfield but neither side able to make it count when they did. Neither keeper had made a save as the 25’ minute mark rolled around. The Foxes finally carved a real chance out of nothing when Vardy won the ball in midfield and played a beautiful ball to Ayoze. The former Newcastle man returned it to Vardy, whose first touch was heavy but it made for a beautiful pass back to Ayoze. He pumped a cross into the box with both Vardy and Ihenacho unmarked at the near and far posts respectively, but it was overhit and the chance was lost.
It was nearly 1-0 to the team in blue just after the half hour mark. Tielemans picked up a loose ball in midfield and laid the most perfect through ball you’ll ever see into Vardy’s path. The former England striker was on it in a flash. He took a touch and then tried to clip the ball over Fraser Forster but he couldn’t keep it on target and the ball sailed both high and wide.
Another chance came and went with five minutes to play in the first half. A clever Iheanacho touch gave Tielemans the opportunity to pick out Castagne on the right. The Belgian’s pass was behind Vardy but the Foxes won the corner. It found Ndidi, whose glancing header landed on the roof of the net. Another corner minutes later caused chaos in the Saints’ box, but three defenders were just able to prevent Vardy from nodding home.
Into the first minute of injury time, Ayoze was harshly penalized for what looked a good tackle in a dangerous position. James Ward-Prowse whipped the ball into the box, but the defense held firm, the ball was cleared, and the whistle blew for the half. Leicester were definitely the better side, but it not only amounted to no goals, but no shots on goal either.
Neither manager made any changes at the half so presumably both managers were satisfied with the proceedings. The commentators proclaimed that Saints’ manager Ralph Hasenhuttl would be the happier of the two managers even though his side had yet to attempt a shot which was pretty typical of the commentary on the afternoon. Regardless, they did manage a shot early on, with Jannik Vestergaard heading well over from a Ward-Prowse free kick.
Out of essentially nothing, the Foxes took the lead through England’s most in-form striker. Ricardo played a ball down the left wing for Vardy to run on to. The former Stocksbridge Park Steels man turned his man and was off to the races. He pulled the ball back for Iheanacho. His volleyed effort was going wide, but it was deflected back to him off of Vestergaard. He made no mistake with the second effort, tucking it in past the stranded Forster.
Rodgers made his first change just before the hour mark, sending Marc Albrighton into the fray and withdrawing Ricardo, with Castagne switching over to the left. It was the south coast side, however, that had the next opportunity. A loose ball by Tielemans gifted the ball to the Saints in midfield. Danny Ings drove forward and laid the ball off to substitute Che Adams, whose shot was well blocked by Evans.
It was all Southampton at this point as Ward-Prowse was pulling the strings in midfield. The England man’s pull back for Diallo was met sweetly on the volley and blasted just wide with Schmeichel absolutely nowhere near it. Rodgers decided he’d seen enough and introduced James Maddison for Ayoze. His first real contribution was to win a free kick in a dangerous area. Unfortunately, his second was to put said free kick out of directly out of play.
The Foxes weathered the storm and started to exert some control with a quarter hour to go. Iheanacho showed some brilliant footwork to carry the ball down the center of the Southampton half and lay the ball off for Madders. He had acres of space, but wound up missing the shot by slightly more than that. Moments later, the ball once again found the former Norwich City man in a dangerous position. His shot from distance was closer, but “closer” only counts in horseshoes and Nine Inch Nails songs.
The clock was in slow-motion now as the first digit ticked over to “8.” It was nervy stuff in the sense that “it would only require a single goal to send the match into extra time” as opposed to “Southampton looked like scoring that single goal.” Four minutes of time were added on which was entirely too much for my liking. The Saints won a free kick on 93:48 and sent everyone forward, but Ward-Prowse’s effort was directly into the arms of a grateful Schmeichel and that was that.
That wasn’t the most entertaining match you’ll ever see, but the result made it immensely satisfying. It was always going to be a low-scoring affair; in spite of being on the end of some rather lopsided scorelines in the league over the last couple of seasons, Southampton had not conceded a single goal in their FA Cup run. Still, Leicester were the better side throughout and the Saints will be disappointed they didn’t offer more going forward.
52 seconds!— Have EITHER of The 9-0’s Been Mentioned (@9_0Mentioned) April 18, 2021
wasn’t too far off... https://t.co/Pjm8GJueeN
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The victory sets up a barnburner of a final between the Foxes and Chelsea on 15 May. The Blues punched their ticket to the final via a 1-0 win over Manchester City yesterday. It’s back to league play this Thursday as we face West Bromwich Albion in our rescheduled match from this weekend. After that, we host Crystal Palace in a rare Monday match on the 26th.