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Five things we learned from Leicester v Newcastle

A performance with a sense of West Ham deja vu

Leicester City v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

1) Another home defeat makes three remaining tough fixtures look that little bit harder (AKA Leicester City doing things the Leicester City way)

Can you learn that much from such a disappointing defeat or do you just buckle down, train harder and move on? For the purpose of our format, we do have a little more to unpack than that.

Remember the annoying Ronan Keating earworm ‘Life is a rollercoaster’? You could probably sub out life for Leicester. Supporting us being akin to riding a rollercoaster isn’t exactly a new revelation. But a 4-2 home defeat to Newcastle with just three games to go is the rollercoaster equivalent of deciding to stay on for consecutive rides and the nauseous feelings that can generate. With three games to go, the race for a top four finish is still in our hands, but it’s not feeling as comfortable.

This match is mostly being compared to Bournemouth last season, but it feels far more in line with the defeat to West Ham last month. Sluggish, seemingly disinterested and tactically found out. Yes, we made a lot of silly, individual mistakes in defence but when trying to impose ourselves at the other end, Steve Bruce’s side had the measure of us for a large portion of the game. When we did start to find our rhythm and look capable, after about seventy minutes, it was too late to close the four goal deficit. Between leaving it late and Martin Dubravka having a pretty great game, you can’t say we deserved more.

When the season concludes and there’s time for reflection, we definitely need to dissect our home record this season. It’s often been our saving grace, but most of our disappointing performances have come at the King Power. This season has felt more normal than the restart with the key exception being there’s still no fans. Just how much of an impact that has made can’t be proven, but there has been a sense of fragility on our own turf.

With Manchester United, Chelsea back to back including the FA Cup and Tottenham to cap off the season, it might be frustrating to have so many people doubting us, but we’ve still got the chance to prove them wrong.

2) If the perfect Leicester team was a delicate game of Jenga, then Jonny Evans is the integral structural piece

Jonny Evans did not look in a good way as he went from hobbling to barely being able to put weight on his foot as the team finished warming up. A cruel blow at this stage of the campaign and while we are over the worst of the injury issues, they just keep on coming albeit more slowly. If the rumours of it being ongoing plantar fasciitis are true, it’ll be interesting to see how we manage his time over the last four games. The key learn is that Fofana and Söyüncü may excite commentators and pundits more, but without Evans, both look their age and a little inexperienced. May we never undervalue Evans again.

Losing a key player less than fifteen minutes before kick-off is clearly not ideal. It essentially changes the plan even if we tried not to let it. Getting our back three to work this season hasn’t always been easy given the three key personnel have rarely been available at the same time. We’d enjoyed a luxurious few games of having the trio together and reaping the benefits. Sure, Evans has been outstanding in recent weeks and clearly vital to put between our younger, growing centre backs but I don’t think many expected the sheer nerves we displayed and quite the level of panic Evans’ absence generated.

It’s a good reminder that if we want to keep playing a back three, we are going to need to bulk up our options in that area. Rodgers opted not to use Daniel Amartey in favour of having Timothy Castagne drop into it. This has been an interesting if somewhat unsuccessful experiment. When it takes Castagne out of so many of our attacking plays, his best attribute, it seems a little counterproductive. If they don’t see Amartey fitting there, our only other real option at present (given injuries) is Christian Fuchs. Sure, it isn’t the exciting position on a transfer shopping list, but another quality centre back wouldn’t go amiss for cover and juggling fixtures.

A focal point after this defeat will be looking at concentration, decision making and communication. Only one of the Newcastle goals had an assist, which is very telling. For not the first time this season, Söyüncü looked too casual on the ball and either didn’t receive any shouts from behind (highly unlikely with our vocal goalkeeper) or just didn’t foresee the oncoming danger. Credit to Newcastle for pouncing on moments like this and making us look very naive.

3) Patience is key for getting Ricardo and Maddison back at their best, but balancing that with what the team needs is proving tough

Compare Ricardo today to where he was up until March 2020 and it’s a little soul destroying to watch how muted he currently is. He was one of the most potent attacking players we had, second only in his position to Trent Alexander-Arnold. Long term injuries have an impact that carries through into recovery a lot longer than we sometimes remember. We have seen flashes of the past Ricardo, but it has been reduced to just that. It must be frustrating for him too. Getting back on the pitch was a huge step, recapturing that lightning in a bottle impact he’d shown is still to come.

Please don’t think that I am suggesting that we won’t get back to that Ricardo, or doubting what he can do in the meantime, but it’s interesting to consider the impact. Right wing is already a position we are missing a bit of magic in. Have been since the departure of one Algerian wizard. Whether it’s an area we strengthen in the summer or not, Ricardo will have the summer and a hopefully more regular pre season under his belt. Hopefully that’s enough.

A similar challenge comes with James Maddison. He hasn’t tried to hide the fact that he’s not yet back to 100%. Getting a player back to that without playing them is nearly impossible, but is it in the best interest of the overall team to keep playing him? Even a half fit Maddison should still be capable of producing a firm shot, or slotting away a free kick so the risk-reward conversation is interesting. On the basis of the first half against Newcastle, and the life that got injected when we brought on Ayoze Perez, perhaps we need to try bringing him from the bench as an impact player instead?

Rodgers has already addressed what is a catch-22 situation for us. With the fixtures we have left, we want and need our best players. But equally we need them to be able to contribute properly. In the last couple of games, the rewards haven’t been there to justify the risk.

4) The usual suspects gave the Foxes some hope

File under things that won’t get the love they deserve, Marc Albrighton’s goal. The Goat doesn’t score a huge amount, but they’re usually pretty special. His effort to open our account for the night was an absolute screamer. The biggest crime being when it only made the score line 4-1, he couldn’t even celebrate. Having been drafted in at the last minute due to the Evans injury, and having put in all of his usual effort levels, it was no less than he deserved.

The same could be said for Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho. They struggled for service in the first half, and it didn’t look entirely like that would change when for a moment we only had one central midfielder in Youri Tielemans after Wilfred Ndidi’s substitution. No Ndidi doesn’t usually go well for us so it wasn’t a huge surprise when Newcastle got their fourth just seconds after that change. Despite this, the work rate and efforts never drop. Vardy’s ball to Albrighton notched him an assist.

Records must be maintained if you’re Kelechi Iheanacho and he didn’t let us down. We looked more likely to score with Perez on the pitch and it was a combination of the two that pulled back a second goal. Although the clock, and some excellent shot-stopping, were always against us.

5) Hell hath no fury like a Kasper Schmeichel scorned

In case you’d somehow missed how disappointing our performance was for seventy minutes, our Captain storming off the pitch was a good reminder. If you were looking for players who didn’t really put a foot wrong all game, Kasper Schmeichel is one on a fairly short list. He was the only reason that the away side didn’t open the scoring even earlier. Imagine he was on the more vocal side of voicing displeasure in the dressing room afterwards.

Schmeichel’s save won’t be remembered given the onslaught thereafter, but it deserves to be. It’s exactly the kind of save we expect and get fairly regularly from the Dane. Body spread and made much larger to deny Saint-Maximin. Something he does so consistently well when left in an isolated position. The relief and hug that he got from Captain in waiting Youri Tielemans said it all. A shame then that it was a somewhat wasted effort considering what followed. He’ll be disappointed that the defense looked so frail.

Bonus Learn: Enough of dwelling on this game, how great was it to have Top back at the King Power? With some fans in attendance for the FA Cup Final and hopefully for our last game of the season, it’s the light at the end of a tunnel.