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Five things we learned from Leicester v Southampton

Foxes end a fifty-two year wait for another FA Cup Final

Leicester City v Southampton FC: Emirates FA Cup Semi Final Photo by Michael Regan - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

1) A history making afternoon for a whole generation of Leicester City fans

Cast your mind back 1969, or imagine it if, like a few generations of Leicester fans you weren’t born or weren’t old enough to remember it. It’s the last time Leicester City got to an FA Cup final and it’s a trophy that still eludes us. The dream of watching the Foxes lift it is one step closer though, thanks to a pretty composed and collective performance against Southampton. Chelsea await us in the final on May 15th. No easy game, but Leicester may feel the stars have aligned.

This feels like vindication for the rather lacklustre way the Europa League challenge fizzled out. Brendan Rodgers wasn’t wrong when he spoke of fan appetite to progress in the Cup and given we have a much healthier squad heading into this game than we did for the Slavia Prague tie, it feels like the club made the right choice. It’s refreshing to be excited about a domestic cup too.

It sounds contradictory to say that despite deserving the win and generally never looking in trouble, Leicester were wasteful in front of goal. Prior to Jamie Vardy’s assist, it felt like we were missing that final key pass, the little something special. This despite some of our best attacking corners all season, we just couldn’t seem to get a goal. We dealt with any Southampton pressure well, but had we been that little bit more clinical, we could have put the tie to bed much earlier.

There is something very right though that it was a Kelechi Iheanacho goal that ensured a return trip to Wembley for the final.

2) Like the FA Cup, we all love ‘Seniorman’ Kelechi Iheanacho

It makes sense that Iheanacho feels like the FA Cup loves him given his record in it and the run he’s currently on. He’s now got the most goals, fourteen, since the 2015/16 season, taking over the likes of Sergio Aguero. For Foxes fans, there isn’t a more popular combination for a winning goal right now than vintage Vardy pace and a cross to set up his in-form partner, Iheanacho. It also ensured we got another entertaining post-match interview with the Nigerian too. Plus you don’t get a more typical Kelechi goal than this one. If at first your shot is parried, simply shoot again when the ball lands at your feet!

Iheanacho is now the outright top scorer for us this season. You’d be hard pressed to confidently name our best starting eleven or formation but he is getting in it regardless and his partnership with Vardy means it would have to be one that caters for two strikers. After being a one striker up top club for so long, which in theory is great until the other team works out how to nullify said striker or he has a bad day, but we now get the best of both worlds.

I don’t pretend to fully understand this but the Ndidi and Iheanacho friendship and video production is always entertaining, a little confusing and generally heart-warming.

He’s undoubtedly the story of our season, and deserves all the plaudits he’s getting. With another decent performance to sit alongside his goal, it’s feeling more and more like he should take Player of the Year within the Leicester ranks. He was quick to credit the team effort after the match and how privileged he is to play with Vardy. The two didn’t necessarily seem like a natural partnership. When we signed Iheanacho, it very much looked like he would be the back-up, or the replacement. Their characteristics are similar but perhaps that’s exactly why it works, they know what the other wants to do with the ball, the ability to move and turn. It’s certainly one of the most interesting strike partnerships in the Premier League currently and as their work against Southampton showed, teams can stop one of them but stopping both is a little trickier.

3) After last week’s drama, all eyes were on our returning duo of Ayoze Perez and James Maddison

Regardless of where your opinion fell on the party and those involved, they were always going to be put under the spotlight a little from fans. Given James Maddison’s limited game time recently, it wasn’t a huge surprise that he didn’t start. It also felt like perhaps Rodgers would have preferred Ayoze Perez regardless given the letter’s defensive contribution. That side of his game was pretty impressive, even if his final balls and efforts at the top end of the pitch didn’t really meet expectations.

If there was a surprise in how the game started, it was mainly that Perez wasn’t playing as centrally as you’d expect. It may contribute a little to why he didn’t quite hit previous attacking heights. He essentially just took the spot occupied by Dennis Praet against West Ham, more wing than down the middle. If people wanted to see an apology played out by way of a performance then you’d have to say he probably did it by his efforts defensively, even if he couldn’t get a goal or an assist. The entire team approach to defending, winning the ball back and covering everything was outstanding. The usual shout out for just how good Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans are.

Bringing on Maddison at some point for Perez felt written in stone. It wasn’t the first change, Ricardo Pereira was sacrificed to bring on Marc Albrighton, but Maddison was sure to get some minutes. A little like Perez, his efforts didn’t result in a goal or an assist but he got a little closer. You’d probably have to argue that Albrighton had the bigger impact of any of our changes. It hadn’t really worked for Ricardo, it was an incredibly conservative outing from him on the left, perhaps expected when he’s more naturally right sided, and Albrighton never fails to liven us up.

Given the Foxes progression into the final and the team very much looking as united as ever, I guess all is forgiven. A very different mood from the West Ham game!

4) Çağlar Söyüncü was the missing piece in a stable back three but Jonny Evans stole the show

The return to the UK of Çağlar Söyüncü got a little overlooked last week amongst the party drama but it felt key. Not that Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana do a poor job without him, but our approach of a back three (or whatever we flex between during the game) needs a third player who can match them, and for us, that’s Söyüncü. The Turkish international has continued where he left off last year, retaining his composed aggression and some flair, he’s as solid as ever. We definitely missed him in the last couple of weeks!

Perhaps it says a lot that Southampton had so few chances on goal, Kasper Schmeichel was a bystander for much of it, and while perhaps that’s disappointing for them, it’s also a reflection of a more robust defensive display. It was all hands on deck at moments, our midfielders pretty heavily involved in playing their part too as mentioned above for Ayoze.

While it didn’t always resemble a back three, sometimes Fofana appeared to be on the right, later in the game we moved Castagne over to the left, it’s hard to argue that with the combination of the three centre backs, we just look better. Even set pieces don’t generate as much fear!

Fofana is getting much of the attention, he got into the team of the round, and he was great as the commentary alluded to, but credit is due to Evans who was outstanding against Southampton. The least flashy of the trio but always one of the most dependable in the side. He was in total control of our back-line and kept Danny Ings very quiet. In a world where man of the match awards didn’t always go to a goalscorer, he would have been my shout to get the Budweiser or whatever the FA Cup hand out. Given his recent contract extension takes him through to 2023, our back line is in safe hands.

5) A small number of fans gave the rest of us some hope on a big day for football

It may not have been you and I at Wembley cheering on the boys but it was pretty emotional seeing actual Leicester fans, sporting shirts and scarves, celebrating the win. In one of the FA’s pilots for re-introducing fans, we can only hope it was a success. The number who could attend were unlikely to be able to make too much noise, but their presence was felt and it must have been refreshing for players to have some normalcy. You only had to see the look on Iheanacho’s face when an interviewer told him the proposed numbers set to be allowed for the final, players have missed fans, an atmosphere. Even if not all clubs seemingly have.

Tickets for the final will likely be gold dust. Whoever does get them though, you will carry the torch for all of us. Now that the dust has settled and I’ve had time to process my range of emotions, there’s still a huge sense of pride in what this team has achieved, but a little sorrow because I’ve long dreamed of seeing us at Wembley in an FA Cup final. It’s a dream that Vichai had too and that will play on the Foxes minds in a positive way.

Little old Leicester City making an FA Cup final over so many of the ‘big boys’ fell on a pretty important day for football. As the so-called big six sneakily announced their intentions to join a ‘Super League’ at midnight on Twitter, along with other teams from around Europe, we have upset the apple cart again. This is a group of owners who have too much power, some with a weird delusion of grandeur, and for whom no amount of money is seemingly ever enough. For clubs like ours, who we all hope would never be involved in things like this, it all feels a little sour.

Not saying we broke the world in 2015/16 but...

The FA Cup has always been heralded as a competition for the underdogs. We revel in the upsets, the chance for fans of lower league teams to watch their side in a famous stadium or welcoming big name players to their own stadium. Mainly, it represents the chance to dream of your club achieving something great. It’s lost some of its shine in previous years, but that chance to dream should never be devalued. These are the stories we emotionally connect with. Leicester City fans know this better than most. It’s only ten years since we conga-d our way around Southend to celebrate League One promotion. With a Premier League title coming in-between that and now an FA Cup final, surely most of us want to see more Leicester City’s? More teams upsetting these entitled boards please.

Football should always be for the many, not for the rich few.

Bonus Learn: Not entirely linked to this, but with a rich history of teams recording songs for cup finals of the part, I wanted to understand if the 1969 Leicester team had tried their luck. I found no musical evidence but I did stumble across this incredible photograph of the players having a singalong at a training session (apparently). That’s Captain David Nish on piano. Apparently Kasper Schmeichel was learning guitar during lockdown so no pressure Kasper, but over to you!

Leicester City 1969 Photo by Monte Fresco /Mirrorpix/Getty Images