What a difference a week makes

Leicester City 5 v 0 Sheffield United

Report by Stuart Dawkins

Before Christmas, I had high hopes for Leicester in the Europa League.  Into the New Year, the stresses of playing two matches per week were clearly having their toll on injuries and fatigue and it was probably a blessing when they were unexpectedly knocked out by Slavia Prague.  Whilst City had put in dogged performances in the two Premier League games last week, they still seemed to lack some of their early-season vigour.  So, how would they perform after their first full week off for a while?

Sheffield United had, of course, had a more traumatic week.  There are few advantages to having to watch matches on television rather than in the stadium, but one of these is to get match-related stats fed to you as the game goes on.  Yes, United are having a season of unsuccessful results, but the various facts about what they had achieved under Chris Wilder’s management were truly impressive.  Would his seemingly unpopular sacking, at a time when surely their fate is sealed for this season, result in a new-manager bounce?

One look at the score-line gives an answer to both of these questions, although by the end of the match, five-nil flattered United, not City.

Rodgers is, along with so many managers, dealing with injuries to key players and having to juggle resources from game to game.  For this match, it was good to see Evans start, with Pérez also back fit enough to play.  The choice of a back three surprised many, but it allowed all five of Leicester’s main defenders to play – the first time for some time – it also meant that Vardy and Iheanacho could both play.  More of that pair shortly …

City dominated things from the start, although as has been the case quite often this season, they were playing with maybe just 85% of their usual energy early in the game.  Sheffield barely had meaningful possession, yet City had few clear chances.  Vardy shot speculatively wide, Pérez had a deft near-post header well saved onto the post by Ramsdale and there were a number of shots blocked, including a close-range effort by Vardy which one might have expected him to score.

Sheffield managed to get one cross into the box in the first half, and there were no pink-clad players anywhere near it (yes, pink with grey shorts … whilst City’s pink shirts quickly became a popular fashion item back when crowds were allowed in grounds, I do not think Sheffield’s version will prove to be as popular with their fans).

Was it to be another half of City control but nothing to show for it?  It increasingly looked that way, until the team’s four most-creative influences suddenly flicked their ‘On’ switches at the same time.  Tielemans made another ‘no looker’ pass in midfield, this one short to Pérez, he angled his pass to the inside-left channel perfectly, Vardy crossed the ball along the six-yard line and an unmarked Iheanacho tapped it in for a goal.  It was a top-class piece of play and made the score line look at least a bit more like the match itself.

It was still only one-nil at half time.  Rodgers replaced Pereira with Albrighton, but City’s shape remained unchanged.

The second half developed into a master class of how to tear apart a defence and midfield lacking any confidence or real resilience.  Iheanacho was impressive both in line with Vardy and playing just behind him.  Tielemans controlled things well.  Ndidi looked unbeatable.  Fofana cleared up a few long balls and also, under the formation chosen for City, was able to bring the ball forwards many times to provide another outlet. 

Iheanacho set Vardy up for a couple of chances.  A short-range effort was headed clear from his own goal-line by Basham, whilst Vardy shot another straight at the keeper.

A Fofana headed clearance from a rare United attack led to City’s second goal.  The ball seemed safely with a Sheffield defender deep in City’s half, but Albrighton simply took the ball from him, passed to Pérez who tapped it forwards to shoot and score from 20-yards.

Tielemans was the next to provide the killer pass, Vardy again the provider from the inside-left spot and Iheanacho again finishing unmarked a slightly more difficult chance than his first.

City cut through Sheffield at will and it was clear more goals would be scored.  Iheanacho picked the ball up 40-yards from goal.  He seemed to have an age to decide what to do, and finally decide to put a 25-yard shot into the goal, beating Ramsdale on his near post for his first ever Premier League hat-trick to make it four-nil.

Vardy had been superb; his only weakness being missing a few chances that an on-from Vardy would surely have scored.  He was pivotal in the fifth goal, again breaking down the left; it was unclear whether his close-range effort was a shot or a strong cross for Iheanacho for another tap-in – probably the former.  Either way, Ampadu had to try and deal with it, and all he could do was deflect it into his own net for Leicester’s fifth.

Rodgers took the opportunity to give Leshabela his first team debut for the final ten minutes, replacing Pérez.  Pérez had played well, including his pivotal role in the first goal and scoring of the second.  He seemed to be allowed – either by Rodgers’ instructions or by the lack of threat provided by the opposition – to roam at will just behind the attackers.  He played the role well and even included a few crunching tackles which were not part of his repertoire when he first joined Leicester.

The biggest surprise was that City did not score more.  They had chance upon chance and almost everything they tried seemed to work – except for the final finish.

The final whistle came as a blessing for the visiting side and marked an excellent return to form for Leicester.

Last season Sheffield United were often a delight to watch.  They had a clear game plan, their speed of passing was phenomenal, and they won almost every 50:50 ball, whoever they were playing against.  In this match, they were poor – indeed, I thought in the second half they looked worse even than Southampton’s nine-nil team had been.  They created one shot on goal all match.  They were caught in possession countless times.  They left spaces in defence and midfield that allowed City to run riot.  They looked like a team with no idea what they were trying to do, nor how to do it.  The fact that this was the Club’s worst defeat for a couple of decades was a telling counterpoint to the sacking of the man who had led them for the last five of those years.

The poor quality of the opposition helped Leicester to play the way they did, of course.  But the way the team took to its unusual formation was impressive.  The stats for goals scored by Vardy or Iheanacho when they play together are now up at the goal-a-game level.  Iheanacho is looking a real threat each time he plays currently.  Vardy may have temporarily lost his scoring boots, but he remains one of the most potent left-sided creators in the League in any case. 

There are tougher threats to face for City in the coming weeks, but they certainly made the most of their rest week this time!

Leicester City
Schmeichel, Fofana. Evans, Söyüncü, Ricardo Pereira, Ndidi, Tielemans, Castagne, Pérez, Iheanacho, Vardy

Albrighton, Ward, Amartey, Choudhury, Mendy, Fuchs, Thomas, Leshabela, Daley-Campbell

Sheffield United
Ramsdale, Basham, Ampadu, Bryan, Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, Burke, Sharp

McBurnie, Mousset, Lowe, Jagielka, Foderingham, Bogle, Osborn, Brewster, Ndiaye

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