Kelechi Iheanacho

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.

Marco Silva says all he can do is plug along at Everton

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Everton manager Marco Silva says that speculation around his job status is left to those who have opinions, and all he can do is continue to press forward at Goodison Park.

The Toffees slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Sunday thanks to a late Kelechi Iheanacho goal, dropping them to 17th in the Premier League table. Silva has been unable to achieve sustained results, with points gained in consecutive matches just twice this entire season, including once since the opening pair of games.

When asked if he will still be in charge for Wednesday’s Merseyside derby, Silva said, “Like I’ve said before many many times, I’m not the person to speak about that. I know what I’m doing. I know what is my job. Tomorrow will be another day for me to prepare another training session.”

Silva called the defeat “a very harsh result,” claiming “the first 65 minutes we were the best team on the pitch.” Everton led through Richarlison‘s first-half opener until Jamie Vardy leveled the scoreline on 68 minutes.

“I have no doubts that I have the players’ backing,” Silva said. “No one can say nothing about the attitude of my players. They showed a reaction.”

Everton has struggled to cling to draws this season, with just two level scorelines on the year and three one-goal losses.

‘Call me Mr. VAR’ says Iheanacho; Vardy on title talk

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Kelechi Iheanacho has now scored the first VAR-awarded goal in England as well as the latest, a 2-1 match-winner against Everton.

Having bagged a goal via Video Assistant Referee review in the League Cup, Iheanacho nabbed a more consequential one on Sunday when his stoppage time run past the Everton back line was initially ruled offside before becoming the match-winning goal.

[ MORE: Rodgers on Arsenal links ]

“You can call me Mr. VAR,” he quipped. “I knew it was a goal. I was onside. Happy that VAR gave me it.”

Iheanacho is the name on everyone’s lips after he subbed into the match and set-up Jamie Vardy‘s equalizer before producing the aforementioned winner that sent Leicester into sole possession of second place in the Premier League.

It was his first top flight goal since Sept. 22, 2018 when he had a goal and an assist against Huddersfield Town. Vardy says the reward is just.

“We were having a few chances but they were coming from a bit further out. Kelechi caused a few more problems for the defenders, he got us into space and he got the winner which he deserves. He thoroughly deserves this.”

Vardy was asked whether Leicester can imagine itself a title contender.

“We’ve not been speaking about that, we’re taking each game as it comes,” he said. “The first thing is to get each game out the way and get the three points. We have to enjoy this and go again on Wednesday night. We have lots of attacking threat and we’re putting it all together. We’ll just carry on doing what we’re doing.”

Leicester has Watford, Aston Villa, and Norwich City before meeting Man City and Liverpool back-to-back.

Super sub Iheanacho gives Leicester stoppage time win

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Leicester City came from behind to become the second Premier League team to break the 30-point barrier following a 2-1 defeat of Everton at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

Kelechi Iheanacho had a stoppage time goal awarded by VAR after he assisted Jamie Vardy‘s league-leading 13th goal earlier in the second half.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Second place Leicester remains 8 points back of Liverpool, while 17th place Everton remains two points clear of the Bottom Three.

The last second capitulation may be the last straw for Marco Silva, whose Toffees looked set to get a fine point.


Three things we learned

1. Iheanacho stars off the bench: It’s been a tough run for the Nigerian at Everton since a high-profile move from Manchester City, but Brendan Rodgers called Iheanacho’s number at the right time. He set up Vardy’s equalizer before scoring deep in stoppage only to see the linesman’s flag up. But VAR showed Yerry Mina‘s knee kept Iheanacho’s shoulder onside by millimeters, and Iheanacho was able to celebrate a second time.

2. Richarlison unmarkable when at his best: When Richarlison is firing, there are few more powerful forces in the Premier League. The big man commanded the area on Sunday, not just with his opening goal but with another header off a corner that went wide of the goal and a terrific bit of strength and speed in working Caglas Soyuncu to produce an early second half chance for Gylfi Sigurdsson. His season total is up to six goals and two assists in 17 matches.

3. Vardy keeps firing: The veteran English striker extended his Premier League goals lead to 13 when he bundled in Iheanacho’s cross to give him eight goals and two assists in his last six matches. It’s an incredible run for Vardy, who nearly assisted a James Maddison goal moments after his marker.

Man of the Match: Wilfred Ndidi was everywhere, even shuttling the ball to Iheanacho in the run-up to Vardy’s equalizer. He passed well, and won balls left, right, and center. With apologies to Richarlison, the honor goes to the Nigerian.


Lucas Digne crossed to produce an eighth minute chance for Djibril Sidibe, but the Frenchman blazed his shot just over the bar.

At the other end, a falling Ayoze Perez dribbled a shot to Jordan Pickford.

It was almost all Leicester, so of course Everton went ahead in the 23rd minute. Alex Iwobi played a marauding Sidibe down the right side for a cross that Richarlison powered home with a header.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Ben Chilwell won a penalty off Mason Holgate in the 34th minute, and VAR had a long look after the Englishman hit the deck despite no contact. The penalty call was withdrawn.

The second half saw Richarlison beat Soyuncu, a rare feat, to cut back for Sigurdsson. The Icelandic star had his shot partially deflected for a corner.

Wilfred Ndidi sent Ricardo Pereira on goal, but Pickford made a fine low save to keep it 1-0.

Holgate froze Ndidi when he took down a cross and switched to his right foot, but his drive was blocked.

Vardy made it 1-1 in the 68th minute with a goal in his sixth-straight appearance, racing to the back post to meet substitute Kelechi Iheanacho’s pass through the 18 past Holgate.

He’d then produce an assist-worthy pass to Maddison before craning his neck to put a header just over the bar. Leicester City were knocking at the the door.

Richarlison set up substitute Moise Kean for an 80th minute arrow that flew into the outside of the side netting.

Iheanacho scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time, and VAR defied the linesman to give him his first Premier League goal in a year.