Leicester City made it 3 defeats from 3 matches in the festive period, falling to Fulham by a score of 1-0 at the King Power on Tuesday. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored an early goal with more than a little help from the City defence. The Foxes were dominant in the second half but couldn’t find a way past Bernd Leno in the Cottagers’ goal.
We not scoring today are we— Leicester Fan TV Tom (@Tom_LFTV) January 3, 2023
Tom posted this early enough for it to count as a “spoiler.”
As if the Foxes needed more injury woes, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall suffered a knock during the warm-ups, forcing a late change to the starting XI: Danny Ward, Timothy Castagne, Daniel Amartey, Wout Faes, Luke Thomas, Wilfred Ndidi, Youri Tielemans, Boubakary Soumare, Ayoze Perez, Harvey Barnes, and Jamie Vardy.
The visitors were the first out of the gate, finding joy down the Leicester right but failing to hit the target with any of their early attempts. It took all of six minutes for City to add to their tally, as Soumare required treatment and had to come off. Marc Albrighton was summoned to take up a position on the right with Ayoze moving into a more central role.
On the quarter hour, the Cottagers took a deserved lead due to some lax defending by the Foxes’ back four. Amartey’s pass to Ndidi was picked off and fell to Willian in midfield. The Brazilian carried the ball to the edge of the area and picked out Aleksandar Mitrovic running between Faes and Thomas. The Serbia man’s first touch brought the ball down, allowing him to lash the ball across the stranded Ward and into the back of the net.
Going behind spurred the Foxes into action, and City should have been level just five minutes later. A through ball from Albrighton found Tielemans in space on the right. He crossed the ball to the far post to find the arriving Ayoze, but the former Newcastle man blasted a volley over from three yards out. It wasn’t a sitter by any means, but you’d have hoped he would hit the target.
This marked a period of something not quite rising to the level of dominance for the Foxes. Vardy was finding space behind the defence in the wide spaces, allowing other players to pour into space in the centre. There weren’t any big chances, but there were a handful of smaller ones that might have turned into something with a better final ball. Well, OK, a “better final ball” would suggest a goal, wouldn’t it? I suppose, technically, I mean the penultimate ball, but you know what I mean.
Anyway, it was a sloppy, sloppy 45 minutes which is the sort of thing that often leads to yours truly going off on tangents as there was little of interest happening on the pitch. The numbers at the half were largely even, aside from the one that mattered, and there was more than a smattering of “boos” as the City players left the pitch.
Apparently satisfied with the run of play, neither manager made a change at the half. It was Leicester who were on the front foot from the opening whistle. A brilliant, curled pass from Thomas found Barnes behind the entire back line with only keeper Bernd Leno to beat. The winger tried to lift the ball over the onrushing keeper, but the former Arsenal man stayed on his feet and smothered the shot.
Leno again came to the rescue when Ayoze sent Vardy scampering behind the defence. The striker’s low drive towards the near post was turned away by the keeper’s feet. You can’t blame him for taking the shot, but picking out Barnes at the far post would probably have been the better (and more productive) option.
Things got spicy after that. Referee Darren Bond had a relatively quiet first half, but he saw fit to issue three yellow cards in just 90 seconds early in the period. The first was a bit controversial, as Bond blew his whistle when Tosin Adarabioyo clattered into Ayoze in midfield in spite of the ball falling to Tielemans in acres of space.* Bond seemed a little over his head in the second half, although I wouldn’t say that he favoured one team or another. He wound up issuing 8 yellow cards after halftime, which strikes me as indicative of a referee struggling to maintain control of the match.
There’s “throwing the dice” and then there’s “whatever it was the Rodgers did on 70 minutes,” as he introduced Nampalys Mendy and Kelechi Iheanacho in favour of Ndidi and Thomas. I’m going to presume that the shape was something along the lines of a 3-3-4 or something.
It was all Leicester at this point. Leno did extremely well to turn Ayoze’s shot around the post when it looked as though it was going to sneak inside the far post. Mitrovic was forced to foul Barnes following the resulting corner, giving the Foxes a free kick just outside the area, but Tielemans could only find the wall. The ball fell to Tielemans again from the next corner, but the captain’s drive came off the crossbar with Leno well beaten.
Substitute Harry Wilson should have settled it as the match crept into seven minutes of injury time. Mitrovic set him away one on one with Ward behind the Leicester centre-halfs who were pressing high up the pitch. The former Liverpool man lifted it over Ward, but it dribbled wide of the post.
The Foxes managed one more shot, a tentative effort from Ayoze on his left foot that sailed into the crowd. The whistle blew and City were booed off the pitch by their own supporters, bringing the curtain down on the first 3-defeat festive period for Leicester in the Premier League.
I’m running out of things to say about this team (not that this will stop me, of course). This is a match we should have won. Fulham were second-best the entire second half, but we couldn’t hit the back of the net. Some of it was poor finishing, some of it was good goalkeeping, and there was some dumb luck involved as well. I won’t say that we were dominant, but it was easily our best performance since the break.
Soyunchu giving the back room staff big cuddles at the end seemingly goodbyes all round— Ian Stringer (@StringerSport) January 3, 2023
Riddle me this, Batman: When is a defender not good enough to player for Brendan Rodgers and Leicester City, but good enough to play for Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid?
City have now played 18 matches and secured 17 points. We remain 13th on the table, but I’m certain I don’t have to tell you that averaging less than a point per match is a recipe for relegation. We don’t play again in the league until the 14th as we have two cup matches up next. On Saturday, we kick off our FA Cup run away to Gillingham, and then match up against Newcastle in a League Cup quarter-final at St. James’ Park.
* Allow me to get philosophical here for a moment. I’ve become less and less shy about discussing the referee’s performance during matches as time wears on. I don’t want to get into the habit of blaming the officiating for a poor performance, but the referee is part of the match. When they make calls that impact the match, I don’t see how you can leave them out of the report. Like it or not, they’re part of the story and it felt dishonest to pretend otherwise.