Jamie Vardy

Brendan Rodgers has Leicester City whirring

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Leicester City is a top Premier League club.

Say it again with me. We’re doing this Good Will Hunting style, until you truly believe the words you are repeating.

Leicester City is a top Premier League club.

Four years after winning the title against astronomical odds in one of the most historic seasons in sports history, Brendan Rodgers has cemented Leicester City as anything but a fluke. This club is for real.

[ MORE: Leicester City tops Aston Villa ]

After three mid-table finished that allowed the club to institute a sustainable model of player acquisition, talent development, and asset maximization, the Foxes are back near the top of the table and look a club that has the ability to secure itself as a leading force in the English top flight.

This summer, the club put the finishing touches on two critical components of the plan, two moments that may prove defining decisions in the club’s history. The first was selling Harry Maguire and replacing him with young Caglar Soyuncu, a move which not only netted the club a massive sum of money, but also cemented Leicester City as a talent development hub capable of producing talent, offloading for a huge profit, and not losing a step on the pitch.

The second was replacing Claude Puel with Brendan Rodgers. Puel, in charge of Leicester City for two years, was caught in between instituting his preferred possessional style of play and changing the culture of the squad, a hesitation which cost the Frenchman his job. Last season, Leicester City was seventh in the league in passes per game but fifth in accurate long-balls per game, a testament to his inability to decide the squad’s identity. This season, Leicester City is fourth in passes per game behind Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool, and fourth in total shots per game, all while sitting ninth in accurate long-balls (for what it’s worth, Liverpool is 1st in that category while Man City is third, largely down to their exorbitant possessional advantages). This team has completed the transformation Puel wanted but never achieved – they are a dominant Premier League side that wants to dominate its opponents.

Even deeper, the numbers agree. Jamie Vardy is scoring at otherworldly levels, especially for a player at 32 years old. His 16 goals lead the league by six, and even with his outrageous finishing ability (he has a +5.47 differential between actual goals scored and expected goals scored, nearly double anyone else – Harry Kane and Teemu Pukki are second at +2.92), he is still second in the league in total xG behind Marcus Rashford.

James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira, and Wilfried Ndidi are all among the top 5 in WhoScored player rating this season, while Vardy sits seventh. Soyuncu ranks sixth by in the league by WhoScored among central defenders in his first full Premier League season at just 23 years old, while his center-back partner Jonny Evans is eighth in his 13th campaign in the English top flight. Pereira is a tackling machine who gets far less screen time than new Manchester United signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka, owner of a reputation for that exact skill which earned him a big-money move. Ndidi, meanwhile, continues to rise in prominence as he leads the Premier League in tackles and ranks third in interceptions.

Sure, Rodgers inherited a fantastic squad, but the list of players falls well short of screaming “second in the table” and the former Liverpool manager has metamorphosed them from budding talents to world-class players. He has mixed young talent with veteran experience flawlessly, making sure to keep title veterans Wes Morgan, Cristian Fuchs, and Marc Albrighton involved despite their declining roles.

The club has also found itself the beneficiary of a few unique circumstances. Most notably, they have avoided significant injury to this point in the season. A large part of that has been Vardy’s international retirement which (at least, for the time being) has kept him fresher than most, whereas double duty has weighed down other top goalscorers in the league. Only Matthew James is currently sidelined for the Foxes who remain one of the healthiest teams in the league. They also don’t have European play to worry about, a proven ingredient for domestic success.

Still, Rodgers is the source of much of their continued improvement. The Foxes have conceded just nine total goals all year, the least of any English top flight side, and are the only team in the league not to have conceded from a set-piece this Premier League season, a testament to their rigid and well-drilled discipline. And they have scored gobs of late goals under the current boss – they scored 10 goals inside the final 15 minutes of his first eight games in charge of the club, and this season they lead the league with five goals inside the final five minutes (even with Manchester City). Against Aston Villa he managed to pair Vardy with Kelechi Iheanacho up front, a prospect that left Puel utterly baffled.

It’s a shame this team isn’t among those competing in Europe this campaign, as they could surely challenge the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals, but they will almost certainly get the chance next season. They get a chance to play with the Premier League big boys soon during the holiday season, with back-to-back matches against Liverpool and Man City just after Christmas Day.

Claude Puel just couldn’t get it right. Vardy said earlier this season that Puel’s training sessions were “too slow” to the point where it was consequently “difficult for us to be fast and aggressive in matches.” That’s not a problem any longer. Brendan Rodgers has this team absolutely soaring at breakneck speeds towards a long-term place among the Premier League’s elite. The Foxes’ transformation from one-hit wonder to sustainable elite-level success should be a case study for other clubs looking to is still in progress, but has reached the final phase.

Eight games in a row they have won now, the most in team history. Brendan Rodgers called Sunday’s win “a historic day for the club,” but the picture is much bigger than that.

“Leicester City is a top Premier League club.” Say it again until you believe the words you are reciting. Know that they are true.

Vardy, Iheanacho power 4-star Foxes past Villa

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Kelechi Iheanacho again collected a goal and an assist and Jamie Vardy scored twice as Leicester City punished Aston Villa in an entertaining 4-1 at Villa Park on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jonny Evans also scored for the Foxes, who maintain their place eight points behind leaders Liverpool.

Jack Grealish scored for Aston Villa, which stays ahead of 18th place on Southampton on goal differential.

Leicester City hosts Liverpool on Boxing Day, a date to circle on the calendar.


Three things we learned

1. Iheanacho emergence a new wrinkle: Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho was always lurking as a possible star during his time at Man City, but couldn’t break through and transferred to the King Power Stadium. Life hadn’t been easy at his new home, but a goal and an assist in consecutive Premier League fixtures can make a difference as Leicester hopes to challenge Liverpool. Resting Jamie Vardy on occasion without a big drop-off would be a potentially monumental development.

2. Vardy’s party a record bash: The 15th and 16th goals of Vardy’s PL run put him on pace for 38. That would be six better than Mohamed Salah‘s 38-game record and four better than the 42-game mark shared by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole. Even when he makes mistakes, he finishes.

3. Hobbled Mings a big worry: Villa star center back Tyrone Mings pulled up with an injury but attempted to fight through it. Full credit to him, as he’s been the easy star of the newly-promoted side’s start to life in the Premier League, but an absence or step back from the block and clearance machine will be a major blow to Dean Smith‘s side.

Man of the Match: It’s between Vardy and Iheanacho — James Maddison was also good — and we’ll choose Vardy because we gave it to Iheanacho at midweek.


Kelechi Iheanacho slipped Vardy through on goal, and the Foxes striker nearly blew his chance despite dribbling the keeper.

Ezri Konsa would’ve liked to challenge Vardy following the unusual mis-touch, but the defender was felled by his own sliding keeper.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

After Anwar El Ghazi just missed a promising bid to equalize, Villa’s Bjorn Engels slid to break up a Vardy pass to a wide open Iheanacho.

The Nigerian got his goal in the 41st, a James Maddison cross deflected goal ward and off his leg for 2-0.

Grealish bounced a shot through traffic and inside the far post after Vardy couldn’t clear a corner kick.

Leicester needed less than four second half minutes to restore its two-goal advantage, the unmarked Evans perfectly placing a back post header across goal off a corner kick.

Premier League Preview: Everton v. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea sit 4th, with 29 points
  • Everton sit 18th, with 11 points
  • Last meeting: Everton 2-0 Chelsea

Everton’s start to the 2019-20 Premier League season has been beyond woeful (4W-2D-9L in 15 games) for any club, let alone one that had dreams of breaking into the top-six this season, resulting in manager Marco Silva losing his job on Thursday. Now, fewer than 48 hours later, the Toffees have to pick themselves back up and face a top-four side for the third straight game when Chelsea visit Goodison Park on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Having lost three straight PL games, including defeats to second-place Leicester City and leaders Liverpool this week alone, the next few weeks will go a long way toward seeing Everton leave the relegation zone in the rearview mirror or sink deeper and deeper into the muck of a season-long relegation battle. A piece of potentially positive news for Everton ahead of Saturday’s game: they are currently three games unbeaten against Chelsea (1W-2D-0L).

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

As for the Blues, this could turn out to be a decisive week in their season. After losing to West Ham United last weekend, Frank Lampard‘s side bounced back with a win over Aston Villa on Wednesday. Then came the best news of all on Friday: Chelsea’s transfer ban has been cut in half and they will be able to sign players in January, meaning their young, thin squad can be bolstered as the look to solidify their Champions League place for next season.

With a floundering side like Everton next up on the fixtures list, the chance to move further clear of the Champions League chasing pack is perfectly ripe. Tammy Abraham (hip) returned for the game against Villa and scored the opening goal to take is season’s tally to 11 (second, behind Jamie Vardy). The 22-year-old has benefited more than anyone from what turned out to be Chelsea’s one-window transfer ban, doing more than enough to secure his place for the second half of the season, no matter what business they do in January.

Injuries/suspensions

Everton: OUT – Andre Gomes (ankle), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Fabian Delph (hamstring), Cuco Martina (knee)

Chelsea: OUT – Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Antonio Rudiger (groin)


Projected lineups

Everton: Pickford — Sidibe, Keane, Mina, Digne — Schneiderlin, Davies, Sigurdsson — Iwobi, Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison

Chelsea: Kepa — James, Christensen, Zouma, Azpilicueta — Kante, Kovacic, Willian, Mount, Pulisic — Abraham


What they’re saying

Interim Everton boss Duncan Ferguson: “I’m a coach at the moment so I don’t think that is something I am considering at this time. It is my dream to be Everton manager but I am also realistic. Who wouldn’t want to be manager of Everton? There will be many top managers who want this job.”

Frank Lampard, on the new-manager bounce: “[Marco] Silva tried everything for the club and I’m sure that he will go on to manage well elsewhere. They might have an extra energy tomorrow as they rally.”


Prediction

Chelsea have far too much balance between defense and attack to hand Everton the glaring opportunities they will need to beat a genuine top-four side. That said, there’s far too much talent in that squad to continue to get beaten every time out, and perhaps seeing someone else take the blame will lift the burden off them and allow them to perform. Everton 2-2 Chelsea.

Red-hot Vardy leads Leicester past Watford

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Leicester City secured a seventh-straight Premier League win to remain in second place in the table, as Jamie Vardy‘s penalty kick and James Maddison‘s late goal beat Watford at the King Power Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Vardy smacked home a penalty kick in the second half to keep the Foxes fine run going as Brendan Rodgers‘ side remain eight points off league leaders Liverpool, with Maddison putting the seal on a deserved win.

With the win Leicester have 35 points, while Watford remain bottom on eight points.

3 things we learned

1. Jamie Vardy is on fire: He was at it again as he set up Ayoze Perez in the first half, should have won a penalty kick and scored a penalty of his own to win it. Vardy has now scored in seven straight games to take his tally to this season to 13, and Watford were terrified of his runs on the last shoulder of their defense.

2. Watford solid, but unspectacular: Hayden Mullins, the caretaker boss of Watford, set his team up to be solid and they were, but going forward they showed little to suggest they can get themselves out of trouble. Troy Deeney started up top but had little support and Watford can take solace that they held their own at Leicester. They need to do more than that to push themselves off the bottom of the table.

3. Foxes grinding it out: This wasn’t vintage Leicester. Far from it. But just like they did against Everton last time out, they dug deep, kept working and did what they had to do to get all three points. They remain in the title race and although their silky attacking play got them there, dogged defensive displays will keep them there.

Man of the Match: Jamie Vardy – England fans will want him to return to international action and Vardy was a menace all game long. He is a player reborn and aside from his pace and finishing, he continues to create chances for his teammates. A superb overall display.


The Foxes almost took the lead early on as Jamie Vardy was played in down the wing and picked out Ayoze Perez but the Spaniard slid as he slammed over from 12 yards out. The offside flag had gone up but the replays showed Vardy was onside and the goal would have stood if Perez had finished.

Perez then fluffed his lines again soon after as the Spaniard was finding some gaps in the Watford defense.

Harvey Barnes then had a decent chance for Leicester as he was found on the edge of the box but he slammed his effort into the side-netting at the near post.

To their credit Watford dug deep as caretaker boss Hayden Mullins set his team up in a solid defensive unit and Leicester struggled to break them down. The Hornets did become more adventurous as the game wore on and gave a very good account of themselves in the first half.

Barnes was denied by Ben Foster just before the break as the Foxes continued to knock at the door. Vardy then went down in the box and was booked for diving but VAR checked the call and although it looked like Adrian Mariappa caught him, no penalty was awarded.

Leicester continued to push Watford back and had penalty shouts, one of which was given after Adam Masina was adjudged to have fouled Jonny Evans.

VAR was used and the penalty was given as Vardy slotted home to keep his run going of scoring in each of his last seven games, with nine goals in that run, as the Foxes dominated.

Caglar Soyuncu went close and Vardy then dinked over Foster but somehow Watford’s Masina cleared on the line.

Watford pushed for a late equalizer but were then caught by Maddison who sealed the win in style.

AT HALF: Dele conjures clever equalizer for Spurs; Saints up 2

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Six Wednesday matches are underway, with all but one at the break.

That hasn’t stopped the sixth from getting in on the action, as Divock Origi has undressed Jordan Pickford after a delightful pass from Sadio Mane on the counter attack.

Chelsea 1-1 Aston Villa – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Tammy Abraham scored against his former club, who got a 41st minute answer through Trezeguet.

Wolves 1-0 West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Leander Dendoncker is the man on the score sheet, as Wolves seek sole possession of fifth place.

Manchester United 1-1 Tottenham – NBCSN [STREAM]

Marcus Rashford scored a goal and forced an outrageous save out of Paulo Gazzaniga minutes later, but the highlight of the day is this clever goal from Dele Alli.

Southampton 2-0 Norwich City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Danny Ings — who else? — continues to keep Saints’ hopes afloat, scoring another big goal at St. Mary’s. Ryan Bertrand‘s added one, as Southampton is flying against the grounded Canaries.

Leicester City 0-0 Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Interim boss Hayden Mullins has the Hornets alive against the dangerous Foxes, who saw Jamie Vardy booked for diving.

Liverpool 1-0 Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Just underway in the Merseyside Derby, and Origi has already found the score sheet.