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Five things we learned from Leicester v Crystal Palace

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What a difference four months makes if you’re Kelechi Iheanacho

Leicester City v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

1) Four weeks is a long time in football but this team has the feel of being a slightly different animal to last year...

Make no mistake, this is a great time to be a Leicester City fan. The fight for a Champions League place is still in our hands currently and there’s the FA Cup final to look forward to. The Foxes have arguably the toughest run of games of all the teams in the race for the top four, so it feels too early to be confident, but this team has a different feel to last year. For starters, had we gone 1-0 down at home last year to Crystal Palace, it’s tough to imagine us coming back from it. This team? A different animal. Even when we were struggling in midfield and with balls in the final third, it felt like we could score. It feels like we can always get a goal if needed lately.

Coming from behind and picking up a win when not at your best is something we’ve not done too often in recent seasons but it’s exactly what the traditional big six clubs have thrived on. There’ll be things Brendan Rodgers will reflect on, our high line did leave us looking vulnerable and rarely we struggled in midfield. We’ll hope it’s a one-off for Youri Tielemans rather than tiredness, given he’s not had a rest in about a year and even Wilfred Ndidi gave the ball away a few times, which is very unlike him. Palace have often been a thorn in our sides and Wilfred Zaha against us is what Jamie Vardy is against Liverpool, a nailed on goalscorer. To overcome that in the second half is another step in the right direction.

Realistically, we probably need eight points to secure a Champions League spot. As has been pointed out, while we’re closer to second than fifth place West Ham are to us, we’ve been here before. Brendan Rodgers seems to have given the players that extra edge. We’ve also been fortunate that despite the injuries, they’ve primarily paved the way for a different player to come in and make an impact. Whenever the dust settles on the season, whatever the outcome, we can be proud of how united the squad has been and in the recruitment over the last year again. Other teams with more injuries seem to have crumbled under the pressure more.

2) Lesson number two will now just be a Kelechi Iheanacho, Seniorman tribute section

Would a tribute section be complete without some reflection and a correction corner? During the early, tough Iheanacho outings I was a defender of his. I’d been excited to acquire him, and his time was so often limited and not ideal that it never felt like it was fault. My faith definitely wavered though earlier in this campaign though and you had to wonder if he was to be the next Andrej Kramaric, a victim of bad luck and circumstance, not a bad player. Poignantly, my big question of ‘where does Kelechi go from here?’ also came when playing Crystal Palace, last December.

Looking back on those learns, I had one entitled ‘This felt like a (Leicester City) career defining performance for Kelechi Iheanacho in all the wrong ways’. The reasoning for why felt justified, he really struggled that game. I am happy, ecstatic, to report how wrong that was. What a difference four months can make! Tonight’s performance was the complete opposite and Kelechi is absolutely what we need. This time it felt like a career defining performance in all the right ways. Football is a team game, and Iheanacho is always quick to credit the squad, but he’s been instrumental as we’ve entered the business stage of the season. Everything he couldn’t do against Palace last year, he’s getting exactly right now, decision making, his shooting, his awareness.

Likeability was never the issue for Iheanacho, but having an impact was. Him playing as part of a top two may have started out as a move of necessity (when we lost so many other attacking options) rather than being a first choice selection, but he’s surely now one of the first names on the team sheet. Hindsight is key; his appearance away at Crystal Palace was as a Vardy replacement, rather than in a partnership with our number nine. Reflecting back, not many of us were even suggesting this, we’d got so used to the lone striker set-up. He’s flourished in this new approach. Part of the joy with Seniorman is the eclectic mix of goals he’s got. The winning goal here may be the best he’s scored in a Leicester shirt, with an exquisite first touch. His first touch isn’t a sure thing, but when he does nail it, it’s fantastic.

3) Jonny Evans proving you don’t need to teach an older dog new tricks

Man of the Match awards so rarely go to defenders and so often to goalscorers. Iheanacho will be the player who’ll get all the headlines, and he deserves it, but the real Man of the Match had to be Jonny Evans. Had both of our goals not caught the eye, the main talking point would be that tackle. Perfectly timed and stopping a certain goal, he bailed out our back-line and covered Schmeichel who’d come out to try and shut down the attack.

Evans has been putting in shifts like this consistently now and while our younger centre-backs are the ones who catch the eye, they absolutely need his experience alongside them. His foresight and reading of the game, not to mention the turn of pace he showed to deny Benteke was just incredible. That’s two games in a row you could have made a strong case for Evans being the best man in a Leicester shirt. Quite how we got him for the small sum of three million pounds should haunt West Brom for at least another couple of seasons.

What was probably less expected of Evans was that he’d pop up with a superb assist. The Foxes have rightly had a lot of praise for the football, the build-ups to goals this season. Evans’ ball over the top to Iheanacho was the kind of thing we were primarily known for in 2015/16, more counter-attacking, direct balls. It’s not something the Northern Irishman has done often for us either, but it was a perfect ball to Iheanacho. It also highlights that intelligence again as it probably hadn’t gone unnoticed to him that Palace looked vulnerable to this move. He could have had two assists had Çağlar Söyüncü taken his chance earlier in the game.

While the back three of Evans, Wesley Fofana and Söyüncü is clearly the one Rodgers has been waiting for, and our strongest defensive line, the high line we played in the first half didn’t always make for comfortable watching. Palace utilised it pretty well, but it did showcase how vital Evans is in this side. While his younger teammates, who both got caught out on occasion, will have some valuable takeaways, with Evans in the middle and being such a rock, it’s less of an issue.

4) Timothy Castagne continues to excite down the right

Picking up where he left off against West Brom, Timmy kept the more Belgians, more fun belief system going with his display against Crystal Palace. Had Iheanacho’s winner not been such an outstanding goal, Castagne would be getting a little more love. For a full-back, goalscoring doesn’t need to be top of his priority list but after moving into the perfect space for Iheanacho to pass to him, he buried his chance. These Belgians love a precision, power shot!

Castagne is another tick in the smart, economical investment category for the Foxes. Bought in theory as a Chilwell replacement, for less money than we made from Chelsea, he’s settled in very quickly and looks perfectly suited for both our squad and the Premier League. This is a player who’s had a disrupted season because of injury too and he still looks like one of the signings of the season with his price tag in mind. His attitude is pitch perfect and he’ll run all day. Once James Justin is available again, it should mean Castagne is a more permanent fixture down the right rather than needing to cover the left, though clearly we’ll want to work Ricardo into that mix too.

The Belgian feels like the perfect mix between the traditional full-back and what’s expected of a modern full-back. His game looks complete and his strength absolutely lies in what he can offer going forward.

5) Club legends don’t always make for successful managers but perhaps a Kasper Schmeichel as future manager pipe dream is ok to have

It’s no surprise that when Kasper Schmeichel was interviewed he spoke excellently, he always does. He gives the kind of interviews that you wish went on for longer and his insight into various topics always feels refreshing and more importantly, honest. His assessment of the job Brendan has done and what has changed for Kelechi was fascinating. He, like so many others, is not surprised by the Nigerian’s prominence, the benefits of him seeing him in training each day. All talk about how committed and hardworking Kelechi is in training. His goals on the pitch just a reward that’s felt a long time coming.

Kasper has the feel of a player who, when he does retire (hopefully not anytime soon) has a multitude of options available to him. From watching him as a Captain and hearing how he talks, you have to feel coaching and management is one of those. Appointments like Frank Lampard are always a cautionary tale, but would it be so bad to have a pipe dream that one day Kasper could manage us? He’s certainly worked under most of our great managers and will have had the opportunity to learn a lot from each.

Bonus Learn: I was going to steal this section to talk about how we helped, seemingly, make history by having a brief pause to allow players participating in Ramadan to break their fast, which is still great, but instead let’s turn our focus to how lucky we are generally.

It’s been a good two weeks for reminding us that we are fortunate to have owners who value what’s great at football and do genuinely care for the fans and community. A club who are embracing the value of investing in the women’s team too, enabling them to use Premier League level training facilities and now giving them the opportunity to utilise the King Power stadium. A chance to lift their Championship trophy on home turf and it’ll be televised! I love this club.