Leicester City eased past Watford by a score of 4-1, booking their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup. A Youri Tielemans penalty and James Maddison strike gave the Foxes a 2-1 lead at the half. After the break, goals from Harvey Barnes and Marc Albrighton secured the comfortable victory under some uncomfortable circumstances.
The question before the match was “With the injury crisis, how many youth players would make their full debut for the Foxes?” The answer was, to the surprise of many, just one: Lewis Brunt was handed his first senior start: Danny Ward, Marc Albrighton (C), Brunt, Jannik Vestergaard, Vontae Daley-Campbell, Ayoze Perez, Youri Tielemans, Hamza Choudhury, James Maddison, Ademola Lookman, and Harvey Barnes.
I’m not going to try to describe the shape because that would be a fool’s errand, but the chaos of it suited the Foxes. Leicester won an early corner which resulted in Vestergaard being held by Watford defender Francisco Sierralta. Referee Mike Riley pointed to the spot and VAR was satisfied with the call. Tielemans dispatched the spot-kick into the left corner to give City the lead on just 7’.
After a long period of faffing about in the midfield with neither side looking particularly like scoring, Leicester doubled their lead on 23’ with a little bit of brilliance. Albrighton took the ball down the right-wing and found Lookman with a defence-splitting ball. The former Everton man played in Maddison behind the defence with an inch-perfect reverse ball, and Madders made no mistake, lifting it over the keeper to make it 2-0.
Watford got one back almost immediately and, to be perfectly fair, it was an absolute peach of a goal as well. Cucho Hernandez, facing away from goal, played a ball over his shoulder into the path of Ashley Fletcher. Fletcher then tapped it to the onrushing Joao Pedro and he was one on one with Ward. Presumably emulating his hero James Maddison, he lifted the ball over the Wales keeper to halve the lead.
The Foxes got a bit lucky just before half-time. Daley-Campbell, who had picked up a well-deserved yellow just minutes earlier, slipped and fell heavily on Hernandez. Mike Riley had a long, long chat with the academy product and would have been perfectly justified in showing a second yellow, but he decided against it.
Watford should have levelled with their final attack of the half. Fletcher skinned Daley-Campbell on the edge of the area and laid the ball back for Hernandez. Ward got down well to block the initial effort and then gather the rebound. That marked the end of an eventful and mostly satisfying first half.
The gaffer made one change at the half, removing Daley-Campbell and giving Wanya Marcal-Madivadua his first senior appearance. His appearance marked the start of an extremely entertaining run of play which resembled one of those dreaded basketball games Rodgers loves so much. Both sides had chances, neither produced goals, so I’ll spare you the play-by-play.
The Foxes reclaimed their 2-goal advantage on 55’ through in a very Vardy fashion, even though the man himself won’t return to the King Power until March. Madders found Lookman in space and the loanee-who-will-become-a-permanent-Leicester-player-if-we-have-any-sense-at-all laid the ball into the path of the onrushing Barnes. With the defence trailing in his wake, he picked his spot and beat the keeper at the near post. The flag went up, but Barnes had timed his run to perfection and VAR quickly overturned the offside and awarded the goal.
Then it got weird. The lights went out at the King Power as Watford manager and Leicester legend Claudio Ranieri was preparing to make a triple-substitution. The fans tried to light the ground with their cell phones, looking not unlike fans of The Thurston Lava Tube waiting for an encore. It was a pretty surreal ten minutes.
Leave the dad jokes to me, Adam.
Watford were nearly back in it on 70’. A ball over the top found Hernandez behind the defence. He cut it back for Pedro, who knocked it off the bottom of the crossbar and then Vestergaard got down well to block the rebound. It wouldn’t have counted as Hernandez was well offside, but it still made for nervous watching.
On 70’, Rodgers withdrew Ayoze in favour of Kasey McAteer. The Foxes were well on top at this point, with Watford reduced to trying hopeful balls over the top but never really looking like scoring. Leicester, in the meantime, went close a couple of times through Lookman and it seemed only a matter of time before the match would be out of reach.
It was, in fact, only a matter of time. McAteer released Barnes on the left, allowing the winger to run at the defence. He cut it back towards Madders, who let it run to Lookman. His first-time effort was brilliantly saved by Daniel Bachmann, but the keeper could do nothing to keep Albrighton’s follow-up out.
With the match settled, Rodgers withdrew Lookman and gave 16 year-old Will Alves his first senior appearance. There were nine minutes added on thanks to the lights going out, but the level of intensity was that of a friendly as opposed to a frenzied finish. And, importantly, no forced substitutions and no stretchers.
The lineup looked strange, the tactics were inscrutable, but the Foxes were on top for most of the match and well worth the 4-1 victory. No small part of that is down to Watford being a side that look completely out of sorts, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless. Ademola Lookman in particular looks every bit the player who tormented us at Fulham.
How did Lewis Brunt look on his debut? In a word: Comfortable. Even switching from his natural position in midfield to makeshift left-back didn’t rattle him. It was the sort of performance that will have pleased the manager immensely and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the near future.
The victory sees us through to the next round where will face...someone. Too many clubs remain to have any sense of who it might be, but we’ll find out which one it will be on Sunday. We line up against Everton at Goodison Park on Tuesday in Premier League action. After that, we’re off to Lancashire to face Burnley at Turf Moor in one week.
Congratulations to 16 year old Will Alves on his professional Leicester debut today— George (@lcfcgeorgee) January 8, 2022
Plenty more to come in the future I’m sure pic.twitter.com/sAGmBiCHKf
As if I didn’t feel old enough already...