Leicester City beat West Ham United by a score of 2-0 at the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Hammers dominated the run of play, but counter-attack goals from James Maddison in the first half and Harvey Barnes in the second gave the Foxes the full three points in spite a missed penalty from Youri Tielemans.
Manager Brendan Rodgers made a host of changes to the squad that saw off Newport County on Tuesday in the Carabao Cup. Neither Wilfred Ndidi nor Jonny Evans reclaimed their starting roles as the gaffer kept faith with the players involved in the recent run of good form: Danny Ward, Timothy Castagne, Daniel Amartey, Wout Faes, Luke Thomas, Youri Tielemans (C), Boubakary Soumare, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Patson Daka.
The hosts started on the front foot, pressing the Foxes’ defence and making life difficult for the back four. The commentators spoke at length about how important it was for West Ham not to defend deeply and allow their opponents to work the ball forward. Allow me to editorialise here: As anyone who’s ever watched City play can attest, defending deep and allowing us to see a lot of the ball is an incredibly effective way to prevent the Foxes from scoring. Allowing us to attack on the break, on the other hand, is risky.
In case there was an ambiguity here, I was attempting to employ the literary device of “foreshadowing” there.
The Foxes took the lead on just 8’. Leicester broke the Hammers’ press as Soumare did well to hold up the ball in midfield and then send Barnes scampering free on the left. He cut it back for Dewsbury-Hall, who found Daka in the area. The Zambia man could have taken the shot first-time, but he slipped it to Madders on the right who smashed it into the top of the net from ten yards out.
The England midfielder’s match only lasted another fifteen minutes. After taking a corner, Madders went down clutching his right leg. The physio came out to assess the situation and signalled to the gaffer that he’d need to make a change. Dennis Praet was summoned from the bench and a frustrated Maddison went straight down the tunnel.
Ward was called into action for the first time on 25’ minutes. Gianluca Scamacca tried to find Said Benrahma with a diagonal ball. Amartey got a toe to it, but Benrahma did well to spin and fire a low shot towards the far corner that Ward did well to parry.
This marked the beginning of an extended period of pressure by the hosts. The Foxes struggled to get near the ball and couldn’t hold on to it when they did. The Hammers had several great opportunities and finally found the back of the net with Jarrod Bowen cut the ball back for Tomás Soucek, who slotted past Ward. Bowen was yards offside in the buildup, but the flag didn’t go up until the ball was in the net because that’s how football is played these days.
At the other end, Daka got in behind the Hammers' defence, forcing Craig Dawson into a rash challenge. The referee let play continue, but it was only a matter of time as the replay showed that the defender had gone straight through Daka’s ankle. VAR suggested that the referee might want to take another look. He did, recognised the error of his initial call, and awarded the penalty. Tielemans’ effort was a decent one, but Lukasz Fabianski guessed correctly and turned the ball around the post.
That was it for the half. Leicester should have had a 2-0 lead, but also, we could easily have been behind (hey xG, back me up on this one). All in all, I think Leicester supporters should be pretty happy with the scoreline.
There were no changes in personnel at the half, meaning no change in the run of play. West Ham were very much on top, spending ages in the Leicester half and putting the defence under pressure regardless of which side had the ball. Ward was largely uninvolved, but that was more due to some poor finishing and some great last-ditch defending by Faes than anything else.
On 55’, Tielemans was withdrawn in favour of Ndidi in an attempt to...OK, I’ll be honest, I’m not completely clear what tactical purpose the substitution was meant to serve beyond “giving Youri a little break before the World Cup.” Wilf’s first action was to pick up a yellow for a late lunge. “Late” was Leicester’s leitmotif at this point as the men in the claret and blue seemed to have found a gear that wasn’t available to the Foxes.
Just before the 70’ mark, Rodgers seemed to have noticed that his side were being overrun in every area of the pitch. He made a triple substitution, introducing Jamie Vardy, Ayoze Perez, and Nampalys Mendy for Daka, Dewsbury-Hall, and Soumare. It nearly led to a doubling of the lead, as Vardy saw a close-range shot well saved. The rebound found Barnes, who picked out Mendy in acres of space in the area. The Senegal man lined up his shot and somehow screwed it 15 yards wide under no pressure at all.
No matter though, as the Foxes put the match to bed just five minutes later. City broke from a turnover, with Ayoze bringing the ball down the centre. He laid a perfect, no-look reverse ball into the path of Barnes. Fabianski committed himself early, allowing the winger to slot the ball underneath him and double the Leicester advantage.
The Hammers continued to pour forward, but their hearts didn’t seem to be in it. The London Stadium emptied as the clock approached 90’. Scamacca tried to turn and shoot, but his tame effort was easily smothered by Ward. The four minutes of stoppage time were as uneventful as you’d have hoped, and the Foxes were leaving London with three points in the bag.
The scoreline may not show it, but we were under more pressure today than we’ve seen in a long time. West Ham took 18 shots and had 54% of the possession and, watching the match, I feel like the statistics undersell the reality. The back line did a lot of last-ditch defending and they got almost everything right, which was fortunate, as they needed to.
It’s no surprise that Leicester’s struggles began the moment Madders came off. Here’s hoping the injury is a minor one and he’s able to go and win the World Cup before returning to Leicester. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, on current form, he may be the best player at Gareth Southgate’s disposal.
Maddison is showered, dressed and on the bench sat next to Alex Smithies and he seems in good spirits, so may not be as dramatic as it seemed. #LCFC— Rob Tanner (@RobTannerLCFC) November 12, 2022
This is all I want for Christmas. Well, this and a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 rev 3.3. I’m a man of simple tastes.
The victory gives the Foxes 17 points from 15 matches, which puts us on one pace for 40+ points for the first time in a long, long time. We’re now 12th on the table, four points off the relegation zone and four points off European football. It’s been quite the turnaround. Next up is our Carabao Cup 4th round match at MK Dons. We return to Premier League action on Boxing Day, hosting Newcastle United.