Leicester City dropped all three points in their Boxing Day fixture against Newcastle United by a score of 3-0 at the King Power. All three goals came in the first half via goals from Chris Wood, Miguel Almiron, and Joelinton. City dominated possession, but in the most Puelesque way possible, and never seriously threatened to score.
Manager Brendan Rodgers had the luxury of including almost all of his players who participated in the World Cup this month, with only James Maddison absent from the squad. The starting XI: Danny Ward, Timothy Castagne, Daniel Amartey, Wout Faes, Luke Thomas, Youri Tielemans (C), Boubakary Soumare, Dennis Praet, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Harvey Barnes, and Patson Daka.
The league’s most in-form defence (and yes, coming into the match, Amartey and Faes were exactly that) were breached in only four minutes. Amartey lunged at Joelinton, who was already past him on the edge of the area, and stuck his boot directly into the Brazilian’s ankle. The referee blew the whistle and pointed to the spot, which was fair, as it was a penalty all day. Former Fox Chris Wood stepped up and blasted it down the middle, giving the visitors the early lead.
That was the first lead goal the back four featuring Faes and Amartey had surrendered a goal in the Premier League. The second came all of two minutes later. Miguel Almiron collected the ball on the Foxes’ left, turned inside and touched the ball to Bruno Guimarães, and continued his run to collect the return ball. He burst past the static Soumare and finished neatly, giving Ward no chance. Six minutes gone and City with a mountain to climb.
I don’t think either set of fans would have minded given how the last 75 played out.
If you’re a pessimist, the question at this point was less “would it get worse?” and more “how will it get worse?” The answer arrived on 17’ as Praet challenged Joelinton for a high ball and took a knee to the ribcage for his efforts. The Belgium midfielder was unable to continue, so Ayoze Perez was summoned from the increasingly-thin bench.
Leicester were achingly close to getting one back on 25’. Dewsbury-Hall spotted Daka’s run behind the defence with a beautiful through ball. Keeper Nick Pope rushed out and, while he couldn’t beat the Zambian to the ball, he did get a hand to the shot and slowed it enough for the defenders to clear it off the line.
The Magpies made it a three-goal advantage on the half-hour mark. This time it was a corner, neatly undoing Leicester's last bit of progress over the last couple of months. The cross came in towards Joelinton, who just jumped over Soumare and nodded it home unchallenged.
The rest of the half was an exercise in frustration as the Leicester players were visibly displeased with each other and the back line continued to look suspect. Players started trying to thread perfect passes or do too much on defence and we were fortunate to get to the half-time whistle down by only three goals.
The gaffer made one change at the half, withdrawing Daka for Jamie Vardy. I’m going to hope this is a comment that looks ridiculous in hindsight, but the Zambia man was Leicester’s most-energetic player in the first half and taking him off was a bit of a puzzler to this writer.
The Foxes looked better over the next quarter-hour, but not nearly enough to get back into the match. The best chance came when Vardy knocked a deflected cross down to Barnes. Sven Botman reached in and pushed the ball off of the Leicester winger and off of Dan Burn. The ball tricked off the defender and just wide of the post. For some reason, VAR didn’t even check a fairly obvious handball, but if I’m being honest, 3-1 isn’t a great deal better than 3-0.
With 20 minutes to play, Rodgers made a double substitution, introducing Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho for Barnes and Soumare. We looked improved in that Iheanacho made himself available and was eager to take shots, but getting them on target was a bridge too far for the Nigerian.
In fact, a scuffed effort from Dewsbury-Hall on 82’ was the first effort on frame for the Foxes. Ndidi tried to do a Youri with a volley from distance and did shockingly well, but Pope collected it. That was about it.
That was depressing. All of the fragile progress we’d made over the last two months evaporated when we squared off against a good team. The defensive pairing of Amartey and Faes, backed by Ward and screened by Soumare, simply wasn’t up to the task. The strategy of “only playing against poor sides” worked well in October and November, but it isn’t sustainable.
At least we got a good Peep Show reference.
Maybe I’ll think of something good to say about this match tomorrow, but nothing comes to mind now. The defeat leaves us on 17 points from 16 matches and 13th on the table for the time being. We travel to Anfield on the 30th to take on Liverpool and then close out the festive period at home to Fulham on the 3rd of January.