Leicester City beat Aston Villa 4-1, making it eight consecutive top-flight wins for the first time in the club’s history.
This was a difficult scalp, especially when considering the undoubted qualities they posses in their midfield. Jack Grealish had another good Premier League game for Villa, but he was ultimately outplayed by his attacking counterpart, James Maddison.
Putting aside individual battles, the fixture fell in the middle of the congested winter period and thus saw alterations and changes for both teams.
Brendan Rodgers opted for a change in personnel and formation, binning the trusted 4-1-4-1 formation for a diamond 4-4-2 that actually plays like a narrow 4-1-2-1-2. The formation change was partly due to quality of the hosts’. Rodgers wanted to neutralise their presence.
The lack of a wide midfielder role meant both Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes were sacrificed, and considering his Man of the Match display in his last outing, Barnes can feel particularly hard done by. To replace them, Dennis Praet became the fourth central midfielder on the pitch for the Foxes.
He joined fellow Belgian Youri Tielemans as the in a 4-1-2-1-2. They had assurance behind them in Wilfred Ndidi, and creativity in front with James Maddison leading the diamond.
After a match-winning performance against Everton, Kelechi Iheanacho was brought in to partner Jamie Vardy. Playing as part of a front-two is something that Vardy is not used to but it was a partnership he thrived in.
The opening stages were end-to-end. A stretched game favoured the home side. Stopping Leicester from building attacks was a key component of Dean Smith’s plan. As the first half progressed, however, Leicester’s control of the game grew.
It was the front-line that combined for the first goal. Iheanacho the provider, the ever-consistent Vardy the scorer.
Iheanacho often drifted wide or dropped short to receive the ball, allowing Vardy to hold his high position. It was this movement that opened up Villa’s defence on multiple occasions – the opening goal being one of those.
Iheanacho’s play on the ball is quite admirable. He’s confident and direct, and when given the space, will drive towards the opposition’s goal. This undisguised, attacking movement helps Vardy time his runs behind the opponent defenders.
For the opening goal, Vardy started his movement behind the Villa defenders as soon as he saw Iheanacho turn towards goal and beat his man. It’s similar to the way Maddison likes to play on the counter: a quick transition of the ball and using the pace of the attacking players to punish the opposition.
The provider of the first became the scorer of the second, as Iheanacho beat Ezri Konsa to Maddison’s cross to turn it in at the front post. The build-up for the second bore more resemblance to the style Rodgers has implemented in his time at the club.
The link-up play around the Villa box between Tielemans and Ben Chilwell found its way to Maddison, who got rid of his marker and drifted into an advanced left-midfield position – a positional rotation that a narrow formation can facilitate – before drilling a low cross into Iheanacho.
The Foxes looked susceptible in the latter stages of the first-half, and on the stroke of half-time, saw their lead halved by a deflected strike from Grealish.
A two goal margin was restored in fine fashion just after the break. Another well-worked set-piece routine – a trait Leicester are becoming renowned for – found Jonny Evans, who made no mistake with his bullet-header.
The creativity on the training ground is riveting to watch, every set-piece feels fresh and different, whilst also being incredible dangerous. It is also impressive that Leicester haven’t conceded a goal from set-pieces all season. It’s one of the side’s greatest assets.
The game was put to bed by, you guessed it, Vardy. Praet – who was magnificent all game – played a simple ball over the top of the sleeping Villa defence and Vardy did the rest.
A difficult away game, played out by a slightly changes formation and XI, ended in the same way the previous seven have: a win. Currently, Rodgers can’t seem to get anything wrong.