Leicester City welcomed West Ham United to the King Power Stadium on Wednesday evening in a match that was a part of the 24th round of the year’s Premier League campaign.
The Foxes came into the game sitting with 45 points from the previous 23 games, and if there had formerly been hope they would be competing for the title, at the moment it seems Champions League qualification for next season will do just fine — a feat they’re on course to achieve right now.
On the other hand, having sacked Manuel Pellegrini from the dugout and re-employed David Moyes, all West Ham can hope for is Premier League survival with 23 points — the like Bournemouth and Watford who top the relegation zone, though with two games in hand on both the Cherries and the Hornets.
On the other hand, Wilfred Ndidi was back from a knee injury, but he wasn’t ready for the full 90 minutes, so he started on the bench.
Ben Chilwell returned to the side after being left out last time to take up his position on the left defensive flank, with Ricardo Pereira on the right along with the usual pair of Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu in the middle. Nampalys Mendy was the deepest one in midfield, only behind Youri Tielemans and James Maddison. Jamie Vardy led the line upfront, flanked by Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes.
Pellegrini and the Hammers couldn’t count on goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, defender Ryan Fredericks, midfielder Jack Wilshere, wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson. Midfielder Michail Antonio was a question mark, but he eventually made the seat.
Their midfield was flat, comprising four players — Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Arthur Masuaku. Sebastian Haller was joined by Manuel Lanzini in assault.
Leicester immediately took control of the ball and proceeded to attack. They held the ball successfully in the opposition half and looked for gaps in the opposition lines they could possibly exploit.
The home team worked up a nice move after three minutes which ended with Vardy taking a shot from just inside the box, but the former England striker was losing balance as he struck the ball and it was easy for Randolph to deal with it. Nonetheless, the early chance raised the spirits of Rodgers’ men and they increased the pressure on the visitors’ defence, but the Hammers were showing no signs of slackness in the back.
After a large number of attacks from the Foxes, West Ham eventually moved forward in the 15th minute and Barnes was forced to aid in defending by thwarting a Sondgrass effort inside the box.
A nicely organized attack down the right ended with Ricardo whipping a low ball across the six-yard box towards Barnes on the far post, and the young winger made no mistake from close range. VAR assessed the goal for possible offside, but there was no reason to rule it out.
Problems dropped for Moyes straight away as Snodgrass went down holding his knee, but after some medical assistance he came back on, albeit with a painful expression on his face. A couple of minutes later the same happened with Leicester’s Mendy, but with a rather different outcome. He couldn’t continue, and Ndidi made his comeback somewhat sooner than Rodgers would have planned.
The match soon threatened to become a nightmare for the Foxes. The King Power Stadium fell completely silent as Vardy went down, holding his hamstring after he had made a clearance. The experienced striker attempted to go back to the pitch, but it was more courageous than clever, and Kelechi Iheanacho replaced him over a minute.
Unperturbed by this piece of rotten luck, Leicester continued playing as if nothing had happened. They moved the ball forward quickly, and at the 44th minute Pereira again broke down the right and tried to locate Ndidi at the far post, but Ogbona was there to intercept the cross this time.
Because of all the injuries, there were four added minutes in the first half and the Hammers sought to create their efforts noted at the time, but Leicester’s defending was impeccable and they struck back in the very last seconds. The attack was sudden and it came down the left as Barnes broke through and returned the assist to Ricardo who smashed past Randolph from just inside the box.
Moyes sensed that he had to shift a few things around if his team were going to get back into the game, and after the rest, Michail Antonio and Pablo Fornals substituted Snodgrass and Masuaku. Antonio was now upfront with Haller, and Lanzini dropped into midfield.
Antonio threatened quite seriously within a moment, but his powerful drive from a relatively tight angle just missed the far post.
Four minutes later, referee David Coote blew the whistle and awarded West Ham a penalty after a clash between Ndidi and Haller left the Hammers’ striker on the ground. VAR assessed the decision and confirmed it. Noble was very level-headed in the spot.
Tielemans came really close with a volley from the edge of the box which missed the target barely by an inch.
This game was destined to be marked by injuries over anything else. Soon after Tielemans’ shot, Ogbonna remained down after landing awkwardly as he contested with Iheanacho from the atmosphere, but the Hammers’ defender was eventually able to continue.
On the hour-mark, West Ham took a corner and a desperate scramble ensued inside Schmeichel’s six-yard space, but the Danish’keeper was able to stop Antonio’s clever back-flick from going over the line before catching the ball right in front of Lanzini. Leicester hit back fast and Iheanacho tried to shoot from less than 10 yards, but Ogbonna was there to produce a vital block. A fluid move from the Foxes followed which Rice decided to stop by clipping Maddison from behind in a rather cynical fashion.
West Ham dominated the next few minutes, forcing the home team well back, keeping the ball constantly in the opposition half and winning a few corners, the last of which ended with Ogbonna heading over the bar from four or five yards.
Then it was Leicester’s turn. Iheanacho broke down the right and pulled it back into the box to the incoming Perez who forced an excellent save from Randolph. Perez then tried to turn provider for Barnes in a very similar situation, but Barnes’ shot was deflected off target. A couple of minutes later, Maddison discovered the very top corner from around 20 yards, but Randolph was fantastic again as he flew through the air and tipped it over the bar. The goalkeeper thwarted Maddison in the next attack as well, this time as the Leicester midfielder tried to square the ball towards Iheanacho on the far post.
West Ham moved forward in numbers but it turned into their undoing immediately. Iheanacho broke on the counterattack and glided past a few opponents before going to ground after contact with Ogbonna. The referee gave Leicester a penalty this time, and in the absence of Vardy, Perez stepped up and slammed past Randolph.
After they had halved the deficit earlier, it seemed that the visitors stood a chance of getting something out of the game, but now there wasn’t much hope for it. Rodgers moved to make as sure as possible by withdrawing Barnes and sending the experienced defender Wes Morgan into the fray.
The Foxes had another great chance in the 84th minute, but Randolph denied Chilwell this time with another fine save. But four minutes later, there was nothing that the excellent shot-stopper can do. It was Ricardo who delivered the ball into the box in the right, and Iheanacho eventually set up Perez for the Spaniard’s second on the night as he slammed into the bottom corner from around 12 yards.
It was far too late, but West Ham tried to push for a second goal in the final minutes, but even then they seemed more likely to concede from a counterattack than to score.
When all said and done, the final score reflects the contest that was seen on the pitch. There were moments when the Hammers looked after inducing their hosts a couple of issues, but these moments were few and far between. The penalty which Noble transformed came from an arguably reckless challenge by Ndidi when there was no real threat for Schmeichel’s goal.
The Foxes affirmed their quality in this game despite losing their main attacker in the first half. They stay in third place, now with 48 points, eight more than Chelsea in fourth and 14 over Manchester United in fifth. It definitely looks like we’ll be seeing them in UEFA’s elite club competition in 2020/21.
As for West Ham, they stay as they were — 17th with 23 points to their name. They will have to look beyond this game (probably another one as well) to see where they may find some more to assist them in their battle against relegation.
LEICESTER CITY: Schmeichel 7, Evans 7, Soyuncu 7, Ricardo 7.5, Chilwell 7, Mendy 7 (34′ Ndidi 6.5), Tielemans 7, Maddison 7.5, Perez 7, Barnes 7 (83′ Morgan N/A), Vardy 6.5 (44′ Iheanacho 6)
YELLOW CARDS: Schmeichel 50′, Ogbonna 79′.
DATE & VENUE: January 22, 2020, King Power Stadium, Leicester.