Leicester City saw off relegation-haunted West Bromwich Albion by a score of 3-0 at the King Power on Thursday evening. A first-half barrage, featuring goals by Jamie Vardy, Jonny Evans, and Kelechi Iheanacho settled the match. City maintained their dominance in the second half but couldn’t add to their tally despite several excellent opportunities.
Manager Brendan Rodgers retained his faith in the three at the back, two up top system and made only two changes to the side which defeated Southampton on Sunday. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back three of Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, and Çağlar Söyüncü. Timothy Castagne switched to his natural position on the right and Luke Thomas came into the side on the left wing. Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans partnered in central midfield. James Maddison received his first start since returning from injury, slotting in behind strikers Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho.
The Foxes really ought to have taken the lead in the third minute. Dara O’Shea turned the ball over in his own half, leaving Iheanacho one on one with Baggies’ keeper Sam Johnstone. The Nigerian’s touch was heavy, allowing Johnstone to force him wide and then block a tame effort. The ball was eventually worked to Maddison, who had a good look at the goal, but a look is all it was as his shot sailed well over the bar.
This was, somewhat surprisingly, the tenor of the entire first half. Sam Allardyce teams aren’t known for expansive attacking displays, but they came out of the gates very open and looking to get forward. As the events in the opening five minutes suggested, this strategy was not without risk.
The next quarter hour or so was dominated by Leicester attacks which either failed to find the final pass or wound up at the feet of Maddison, who was getting closer to finding the range but it was a frustratingly iterative process. Still, there was the sense that a breakthrough was inevitable no matter how hard the West Brom defense sought to, um, “evit” it.
That breakthrough arrived in the 24th minute, and it was a thing of beauty. A perfect through ball from Tielemans found the just-barely onside Castagne outside the visitor’s box. He slid the ball to Vardy on his left and the former England man struck it with confidence, power, and utterly unstoppable placement. VAR had a good long look at it, presumably to admire it as opposed to chalk it off, as there was nothing at all wrong with it.
The Foxes have been looking more dangerous on corners of late, as Tielemans has started whipping them in at pace and without much loft. It was such a corner that caught out the West Brom defense, bobbled off of a couple of heads, and fell invitingly to Jonny Evans. The Northern Ireland international stopped and planted it past the stranded Johnstone to double the lead just three minutes after Vardy broke the ice.
I’VE SEEN JONNY EVANS SCORE A GOAL— George (@lcfcgeorgee) April 22, 2021
Oh, don’t sound so surprised. He’s already scored from a corner this year...unless you mean “Score a goal FOR Leicester.”
It was very nearly three moments later. Castagne, who looks an entirely different player on the right, drifted inside and attempted to pass the ball inside the far corner. The keeper was beaten all ends up, but the post wasn’t having it and the ball came back off when it looked like the Belgium man was going to score in both fixtures against the Baggies.
The third did arrive, and it was all down to the partnership between Leicester’s dual strike force. Thomas set Vardy away down the left wing. He still had a lot to do, but do it he did. He absolutely skinned his marker, cut inside into the box and squared to Iheanacho. The former Manchester City man had time to pick his spot and blast it past Johnstone.
It feels almost greedy to say there should have been another, but there should have been another. Madders reverse the ball to Castagne, who nodded down for Iheanacho, or perhaps for Tielemans, but Iheanacho picked it off and turned to find himself facing the goal six yards out with no one in front of him but the keeper, but he blasted over instead of placing it past Johnstone.
That was it for the half, but c’mon: That’s enough, isn’t it? The Foxes were absolutely rampant, with 73% of the possession, 10 shots to West Brom’s 2, and a three goal lead at the break.
While Rodgers was obviously well pleased with the first half, Big Sam was less so and his side switched to five at the back to start the second period. This resulted in now less possession for the Foxes, but significantly fewer opportunities in the early going. It also resulted in approximately zero chances for the visitors, which seemed a fair trade-off.
Just before the hour mark it, say it with me now, should have been four. Madders and Iheanacho played a lovely one-two, followed by another one-two, giving the Seniorman an opportunity from close range, but O’Shea did well to get in front of it and deflect it out for a corner. Rodgers decided it was time to make his first change, taking off Fofana for Marc Albrighton and switching to a back four.
There was a mad moment just a few minutes later that yet again should have resulted in another goal from the Foxes. Evans hoofed a ball clear following a West Brom corner. It looked for all the world like he’d put it out of play, but it had just enough curl on it that it hugged the line and stayed in play. Vardy was the first to it and his eyes lit up when he saw Johnstone well off his line. The former Fleetwood Town man’s effort from 45 yards would have been a spectacular goal had it been on target, but “on target” it was not. Pity, because had he charged forward, there he would have had Iheanacho in support against the stranded keeper.
With a quarter hour to play and the job done, Rodgers introduced Ayoze Perez for the tiring Maddison. One of his first contributions was to win a free kick just outside the penalty area. With Madders off, Iheanacho and Tielemans stood over it. The Nigeria international took it with his left foot, curling it towards goal but leaving it too close to Johnstone to seriously trouble the keeper.
Dennis Praet was the third substitute, coming on for Vardy with five minutes of normal time remaining. Even up three goals to none, the Foxes continued to look the more likely side to get the next goal. It never came, nevertheless, the degree to which City maintained control throughout ensured that there would be no slipping up on what looked like it could be a banana peel of a match.
The commentators were quite unimpressed by the end of the match, stating that the Foxes had only looked good in spurts. That understandable, as the second half was hardly a thing of beauty, but I am not exaggerating when I saw that this could have easily have been a 6-0 scoreline and the run of play would not have changed one whit. Leicester were happy to keep the ball, avoid injuries, and utterly nullify the Baggies in the second half and I was pleased with the level of professionalism they displayed in doing so.
The Vardy & Iheanacho strike partnership really is flourishing - both are acting as the creator & both can be the goal threat, which makes them very tough to defend.— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) April 22, 2021
They’ve scored or assisted 15 Leicester goals in just 9 starts together this season pic.twitter.com/uJIeFSfQhm
I am starting to suspect Brendan Rodgers knows what he’s doing.
The win gives us 59 points from 32 matches, third on the table and four points ahead of Chelsea and West Ham. We host Jeff Schlupp’s Crystal Palace on Monday and then travel to the south coast for a rematch against Southampton at the St. Mary’s on Friday the 30th.