It was never going to be a classic – Newcastle’s involvement put an end to any idea of it – but Leicester’s trip to St James’ Park on Sunday was important.
This was the Fox’s best chance to get three points for a while. Over the next month, their dating list makes reading grim. After facing a resurgent Stoke City in the FA Cup, Leicester will face Southampton, Chelsea and Everton, before ending a difficult January with a trip to Elland Road to face Leeds.
At least Newcastle’s game portents couldn’t have been much better. The Foxes had reported three points at home in each of their last four trips to the Magpies, and their away record this season is the best in the Premier League.
This season’s developments have also suggested that Leicester have no reason to fear Newcastle’s infamous low block. Once they’ve got their Achilles heel, victories over Burnley and Sheffield United, as well as their near-flawless Europa League record, suggest the Foxes are slowly becoming more comfortable scoring victories against sides who like to defend in depth.
Despite all these reasons for optimism, Leicester’s first half display lacked inventiveness and cunning. After James Maddison shot wide in the opening rally, Leicester’s ample possession bore little chance.
Jamie Vardy took a few warning shots, putting the ball in the net at one point, but even he struggled, poorly timing his runs and being flagged offside twice. Maddison’s three corners also went nowhere, extending his team’s remarkable record of not scoring a single set this season.
At the end of the first half, despite holding 60%, Leicester seemed far from breaking Newcastle.
At the break, the foxes appeared to be getting a well-deserved shot in the arm. Whether it was due to one of Vardy’s evil alcopop-based creations showing in the dressing room or the player simply remembering his list of upcoming matches, Rodgers’ loads have been a lot. improved after the break.
Creating more overloads in wide areas than in the first half and moving the ball positively to midfield, it only took them 10 minutes to get their reward. The move started with Harvey Barnes leading the ball fiercely in transition. He finally unloaded at Vardy who skillfully cut into the box, before returning the ball to Maddison’s advance. He then produced a powerful strike, which was also precise enough to justify his celebration in target.
Leicester continued to build on their advantage in the second half, doubling their lead with twenty minutes remaining. The second goal was also converted just seconds after a renewal from Newcastle, again demonstrating the Foxes’ world-class counter-attacking ability.
This time, Youri Tielemans was in the center of things, completing the tackle that started the movement, and then finishing it in a scintillating way. Responding to Marc Albrighton’s cut without interrupting his stride, Tielemans threw a curling strike past Karl Darlow.
Andy Carroll’s late goal – again scored from a save, which is emerging as a worrying trend for Leicester – resulted in some nervous final minutes, but the 17-minute double salute in the second half is said to be ultimately sufficient.
This result could be decisive in the season of Leicester. With such a tough string of games to come, their top four titles will be under scrutiny in January. Getting things off to a good start at St James’ Park will make Rodgers a very happy man.