LEICESTER CITY 4 WEST HAM 1
Match Report by Paul Weston
The atmosphere seemed a little more muted than normal on Wednesday night for the earlier kick off time, both outside and inside the ground. The defeat by Southampton, when most City players had been under par had been a blow. The defeat by Burnley was harder to take as we had created, and missed, lots of chances but still lost to a side which plays fairly limited football.
Of course the revelations about Chilwell’s and Choudhury’s “adventures” would not have been well received by fans. Both had had poor matches against Southampton. The thought in every City fan’s mind was – was this just a blip or a slump in form?
Thankfully there was no light show prior to the match (sorry but, for me, it went on too long and killed the atmosphere) and the post horn sounded loud and true with The Birch challenging the fans to “make a difference”. Brendan Rodgers selected a midfield of Mendy and Tielemans with N’didi back on the sub bench. Somewhat surprisingly, from what gossip I heard, Chilwell retained his place.
As soon as the match started there was a difference from the Southampton match. Passing was one touch, swift and incisive. Players moving in triangles all over the pitch. West Ham were under pressure from the start and their players were struggling to deal with City’s movement with Barnes, Perez and Ricardo showing up well in the early stages.
Vardy, who had not scored for a while, had an early shot saved and West Ham seemed unable to cope with the onslaught. Early on City broke through with a fantastic move started by Barnes, to Ricardo who crossed from the right for Barnes to tap in. It was a close call but VAR ruled just onside.
Mendy sadly had to come off with a knee injury after 30 minutes which was a pity as he had been playing and linking up well. Ndidi was brought on as sub to a great ovation although I am sure Rodgers would have preferred to keep him on the bench for longer.
Matters were to get worse though when, after a clearance, Jamie Vardy collapsed in a heap clutching what looked to be his hamstring. The crowd was stunned into silence and, even though he tried to play on, he had to be substituted by Iheanacho moments later. But how good it was to hear how the crowd roared on Kalechi as he joined the fray. He has turned the corner with great encouragement from Rodgers and his staff.
Despite these injury obstacles City’s performance did not dip and they scored again just before half time when, from a fantastic Barnes run and cross from the left, Ricardo just belted it in. What a goal and the team was rightly cheered off at half time. The 2-0 score line was justly deserved.
West Ham had to improve in the second half and they did. This was helped too by City players’ sloppy start. It was not long before West Ham won a very soft penalty with Haller running out of the penalty area chased by Ndidi. Having seen it again I would have expected VAR to rule no penalty. I am afraid Stockley Park saw it differently and West Ham all of a sudden were back in the game after Noble comprehensively beat Schmeichel with the penalty.
There was then a dodgy 15 minutes when City seemed to lose sight of all the good things they had been doing. West Ham, assisted by Antonio as a substitute, became more aggressive and you started to think an equaliser via a free kick or corner could happen. However, to City players credit, they played themselves back into the match, and started to find gaps in West Ham where they could break forward. Perez and Barnes had good shots and Maddison forced a brilliant save from Randolph.
On a typical break Iheancho was played into the centre, he glided into the penalty box and was hauled down for a very obvious penalty, despite the inevitable VAR delay. In Vardy’s absence we wondered who would take the penalty. I think many would have been surprised that Perez took the ball and even more surprised that he absolutely wellied in the penalty – no messing at all.
This was the turning point and City turned up the pressure more with some glorious moves culminating with another Perez goal from close control from Iheanacho. The match ended up 4-1 which represented the gulf in quality between the sides. On this showing West Ham are in danger of relegation and do not look up for the fight.
There were so many positives arising from the match. The first one was that apparently Vardy’s injury is to his “glute” (otherwise called gluteus maximus for those who want to show off) and therefore recovery time could be quicker. It was also great to see Chilwell back to something near his best and pressing forwards at all times instead of laying the ball back or passing to the opposition.
Ndidi slotted in as if he had not been away. Perez actually won some tackles, stayed upright and had a fine game, Barnes played with more confidence and always seized the chance to beat his man. His “one on one” during the match with Zabaleta was memorable. It looked like Barnes was moving at twice Zabaleta’s pace. Iheanacho again looked the part and was instrumental in two goals. And there is Ricardo – who has to be one of the best right backs around at the moment. He was just brilliant.
Yet another match looms for the City with an FA Cup match against Brentford and little preparation time and then the evenly balanced semi-final against Villa only a few days afterwards. It will be a challenge for Rodgers to juggle the squad through these and come through victorious but at least, after this performance, we now face these matches with optimism.
Leicester: Schmeichel, Ricardo, Evans, Söyüncü, Chilwell, Mendy (Ndidi 34), Pérez, Tielemans, Maddison, Barnes (Morgan 83),Vardy (Iheanacho 43), Subs not used: Justin, Gray, Albrighton, Ward
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation