Following back-to-back defeats in the Premier League, Leicester City got back to winning ways against West Ham United.
Brendan Rodgers had suggested that he would tinker with his line-ups during the festive period, and he did walk the walk. Nine changes out of a possible eleven saw only Jonny Evans and Kasper Schmeichel retain their place in the starting XI.
A considerably weakened Leicester managed to dominate the game and eventually win the game, 2-1.
Kelechi Iheanacho was one of the benefitting parties after Jamie Vardy was rested as he bagged his fifth goal of the season in only his sixth appearance.
The Nigerian’s adaptability is probably his strongest asset. He is able to drop into the half-space that James Maddison likes to operate in, but with a different impetus. His power and pace in possession allows for direct progressions of the ball, rather than the defence-splitting pass that Maddison opts for.
Their approaches differ for a couple of reasons. When Maddison collects the ball in half-spaces, he has an advanced runner in Vardy looking to beat the opposition’s defensive line, whereas normally, Iheanacho is collecting the ball as the Foxes’ most advanced player.
Demarai Gray and Ayoze Perez, provided Iheanacho with overlapping runs through the middle, which resulted in Gray’s winner.
Aside from wholesale personnel changes, the biggest difference for Leicester was the intensity in the press. It’s difficult to maintain a high-intensity press against Manchester City and Liverpool, when any player in either side’s starting XI has the ability to pass through the press. With West Ham, it was different.
The additions of Marc Albrighton and Hamza Choudhury facilitated Leicester’s high-octane press, as both players’ work rate optimises the team’s ability to initiate a press in advanced areas of the pitch.
During the early exchanges, the hosts were pressed into dispossession of the ball a number of times in their own half. West Ham played two attack-minded full-backs and a double pivot at the heart of the midfield. Catching them in transition gave the wingers more space, as Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku (the full-backs), with both of them well up the pitch, and that’s where a majority of the opportunities to break came from.
When you combine Leicester’s counter-attacking potential with the fluidity of the front-line, the difference between the two sides becomes increasingly obvious.
There was also an impressive performance from James Justin – who earned himself a place in Alan Shearer’s Team of the Week. Playing against an explosive winger such as Felipe Anderson should have limited his creative output, but it was quite the opposite.
Apart from playing his part in the first goal, Justin’s display also had the maturity of a veteran. He was not only confident enough to pick his head up before navigating a pass or advancing down the wing but also, he was defensively conscious of his duties. Safe to say, it was this balance that underlined Leicester’s overall display.
The three points were massive in the context of the season. The dream of another Premier League title dwindles with every passing fixture, but the likelihood of UEFA Champions League football becomes increasingly real.