Leicester City demolished relegated Watford by a score of 5-1 at Vicarage Road. The hosts took an early lead through a Joao Pedro goal that totally wasn’t a Timothy Castagne own-goal. James Maddison and Jamie Vardy scored in quick succession to give City the lead at the half. Harvey Barnes bagged a brace after the break and Vardy added a second for himself to complete the wreckage.
There was only one surprise in manager Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI, but it was a doozy. Kasper Schmeichel saw his run of 149 straight Premier League starts come to an end, with Danny Ward making his first start in the league since arriving from Liverpool four years ago: Ward, Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans (C), James Justin, Youri Tielemans, Nampalys Mendy, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Jamie Vardy.
The match started in perhaps the most Leicester City fashion possible. Watford won a corner on 5’ on the City left. The ball bounced into the box, evaded KDH’s effort to hoof it away, bounced off of Youri’s face, and fell into the path of Joao Pedro, who struck it first time. The ball was going wide, but Castagne was on hand to turn it into the net for the 20th goal the Foxes have conceded from a set-piece this year.
City levelled on 18’ in farcical but strangely familiar fashion. Remember the last match against Watford went the defenders just let a ball go over them, not realising that Madders was between them and the keeper? This time, the pairing of Masina and Kasabele took a slightly more active role, wiping each other out and allowing the ball to fall to Tielemans in front of keeper Ben Foster. Youri took it down and squared it to Maddison, who blasted it into the roof of the net.
16 - James Maddison (16 goals, 10 assists) is the first Leicester player to both score 10+ and assist 10+ goals in a single season in all competitions since Riyad Mahrez in 2017-18, while his 16 goals in 2021-22 is the best goalscoring return of his career. Foxtrot. pic.twitter.com/Upw5JH57iy— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 15, 2022
This feels like a subtweet of a certain England manager...
Leicester had the advantage just three minutes later. Madders had been spraying balls all over the park like Stanley Spadowski on the fire hose, but the goal seemed to have settled his nerves. He spotted Vardy between the central defenders and launched an inch-perfect cross towards the former England man on the edge of the area. For reasons known only to himself, Foster chose to come for it. Vardy nodded it over the keeper and scored what will surely be the longest headed goal of his storied career.
The busiest man for the rest of the half was the City physio. The entire midfield needed treatment, with Maddison being the most concerning of the lot. His knee needed some looking too after a collision in the Watford area. Dewsbury-Hall took a blow to the mouth on the left wing, and while he was receiving treatment, Mendy required a little looking-too as well. All three were able to continue, but it made for a very disjointed half of football.
The gaffer made one change at the break, withdrawing Mendy for Marc Albrighton. It did...something...for the shape but it wasn’t immediately obvious what beyond Sharky taking up a position on the right. Whatever the shape, it paid off immediately. Albrighton’s first touch saw him cross the ball to the back post and find an unmarked Barnes, who turned it into the back of the net to give the Foxes a two-goal advantage.
With ten minutes of the half gone, Rodgers made his second change. Daniel Amartey came on for Evans, with Vardy taking the armband. Apparently, the new looked suited him. Barnes lifted a marvellous ball over the top that took out the entire Hornets’ defence and saw Vardy one-on-one with Foster. The former Stocksbridge Park Steels man kept his nerve and casually passed the ball into the back of the net with the outside of his left boot.
The armband changed hands again as Patson Daka came on for Vardy and Albrighton took over as captain. If I’m spending this much time discussing the substitutions and who is the current captain, you might get the impression that not a great deal of interest was happening on the pitch. That would be a pretty good guess. This being a late-season match between a relegated side and a Leicester team that is only jockeying for position in the middle of the table, there was a certain lack of intensity.
Literally as soon as I wrote that last bit, the visitors turned the ball over in the middle of the park and the break was on. Madders carried the ball forward with four attackers occupying three yellow shirts. Barnes was unmarked on the left, so Maddison found him with a slide-rule ball that allowed the winger to pass the ball inside the far post for the fifth (and final) City goal of the match.
Given the start to the match and the fact that Vicarage Road has seen some...unfortunate...results for City, you would be forgiven for thinking this one was going to be a nightmare for the Foxes. It turns out that having Vardy back in the side and, in the second half, Maddison playing centrally gives us a pretty decent attack. Of course, playing against already-relegated sides back-to-back might have something to do with it as well.
That said, I’d like to focus on something that Vardy brings to this side that he doesn’t get mentioned very often. His attitude and body language on the pitch when things aren’t going well remain aggressive and positive. When we were down and passes were going everywhere but to their intended target, he’d turn around, give a thumbs-up, and then go viciously tackle an opponent. No stares at the offending teammate, no drooped shoulders, just “great idea, let’s keep at it.” Even the look on his face when Maddison took the ball off his toes to score contained nothing but joy. If you think the other players don’t pick up on his example and feed off of it, you must be watching a different match.
Posting this tweet as there’s a reasonable chance it won’t get blocked and NBC’s Twitter account seems to think there’s only one match so no Leicester highlights are available.
The win takes us up to 9th on the table with 48 points from 36 matches, just 3 points behind Wolves with one more match to play. We travel to London to square off against Chelsea on Thursday and then close out the 2021/22 campaign at home against Southampton one week from today.