Barnes scored and played a role in Leicester City’s other two goals as Jamie Vardy bagged his first two goals of 2020 in the win. Marc Albrighton assisted both the Foxes’ goals.
Leicester now has 58 points to hold an eight-point advantage on fifth place, 10 over sixth.
Villa’s 25 points are two behind a trio of teams. The Villans have lost four-straight in league play and sit 19th. They next face Chelsea, Newcastle, Wolves, and Liverpool.
Three things we learned
1. Vardy’s 2020 finally begins: Leicester City star Jamie Vardy had 17 goals on the Premier League season entering Monday’s action, but had not found the back of the goal since a 3-1 loss to Man City on Dec. 21. The goal moves Vardy back ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the race for the Golden Boot. More important, however, is the idea that Vardy could help Leicester firm up its top four credentials.
2. Villa architects of own demise (and VAR didn’t help): There’s no question that Leicester was the better team on the day, but their breakthroughs both came from Villa errors. Reina’s race to meet Albrighton’s delightful long ball to Barnes was ill-conceived and Mings’ unlucky lunge cost Villa any hopes of a comeback. Should it have been a penalty? Probably not, but it’s a low-percentage defensive move anyway.
3. Barnes an easy Man Of The Match: The 22-year-old scored his fifth and sixth league goals to go with six assists, and served the ball that led to Vardy’s penalty while also helping negotiate the counter for Vardy’s second. Barnes also is a willing combatant in his own end, winning the lion’s share of his duels while being credited with three tackles and an interception.
The visitors stormed out of the gates, and an early free kick was slid wide of the goal by Mbwana Samatta.
Premier League clubs like Aston Villa and Brighton Hove & Albion were dumped out of the FA Cup earlier in the day, but top flight sides had no troubles in the late slate as Manchester City, Bournemouth, and Leicester City all progressed to the fourth round of the competition, while Manchester United and Wolverhampton slogged through a scoreless draw that will require a replay at Old Trafford to decide.
Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers both had a few chances, but produced an otherwise cagey match at Monlieux in a 0-0 draw. Sergio Romero made his presence known with a fabulous reflex save on Matt Doherty on an effort that seemed to wrong-foot the Argentina goalkeeper, but he poked out his right hand to palm away the shot. Manchester United had a penalty shout, but Leander Dendoncker‘s tackle of Brandon Williams was waved off by both the on-field referee and by VAR despite replay showing some dubious contact.
Both teams had big chances in the second half. Manchester United nearly went in front with 20 minutes to go but substitute Marcus Rashford‘s effort was blocked by Connor Coady and while the looping deflection got over John Ruddy, it clanged harmlessly away off the crossbar. In the 77th minute Ruben Neves off the bench headed into the back of the net but was correctly ruled out as the effort came first off his head then his arm. Raul Jimenez then hit the post from an incredibly tight angle with nine minutes to go.
Manchester City survived a slight scare to top Port Vale 4-1. The defending Premier League champs scored first, with Oleksandr Zinchenko firing in via a huge deflection off Leon Legge that helped an otherwise speculative long-range effort. Despite the sudden ejection of life for the visitors at the Etihad, Sergio Aguero restored the lead with a tap-in at the far post, and Phil Foden‘s work in the build-up survived a VAR review.
17-year-old Taylor Harwood-Bellis put Man City 3-1 up in the 58th minute that also passed a VAR check, and Foden was the man to cap off the scoreline with City’s fourth goal.
Leicester City benefitted from a weird early own-goal to take the lead on Wigan Athletic, and that provided the springboard for a 2-0 win as Harvey Barnes found the back of the net for some breathing room before halftime. Wigan’s Tom Pearce somehow bungled in a Marc Albrighton cross with what looked like a striker’s finish to put Leicester City 1-0 up 19 minutes in. Barnes doubled the lead before halftime on the counter thanks again to a deflection, this time off Cheyenne Dunkley.
Philip Billing volleyed home a whipped Diego Rico cross to give the Cherries the early lead eight minutes in, and they finished with a storming 4-0 victory after it was all said and done. Callum Wilson put the game away on 67 minutes after a Luton defensive mistake as the hosts had no issues at Dean Court, with Billing grabbing a second and Dominic Solanke putting the cherry on top.
In an all-League One matchup, Portsmouth got a pair of goals from James Bolton and Marcus Myers-Harness in a five-minute span to down Fleetwood Town 2-1 on the road.
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.
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 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.
Leicester City sits second place in the Premier League table in mid-November, eight points back of a historic Liverpool position.
Since winning the title, Leicester City has finished 12th, 9th, and 9th and suddenly are challenging for a Champions League place yet again. The simple fact that the Foxes have managed to sustain considerable top-flight success over the course of the last six seasons might be even more impressive than their lightning-in-a-bottle title run.
While there are a few holdovers from the title-winning campaign, like goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and striker Jamie Vardy who stand out among the crowd, there has understandably been considerable turnover from that title team. Midfielders N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater were sold for significant sums of money, as was winger Riyad Mahrez. Both members of the center-back partnership Wes Morgan and Robert Huth put together are 35 years old (Morgan is still with the club but has logged just 28 Premier League minutes thus far).
So, naturally, we thought it fitting to compare the two sides. In another universe where Liverpool doesn’t dominate the Premier League landscape in record-breaking fashion, could this current Leicester challenge for a title? The only way to find out is to pit them against the squad that did. Here we go.
GOALKEEPER – Kasper Schmeichel (15/16) vs. Kasper Schmeichel (19/20)
Now 33 years old, Kasper Schmeichel has become one of the faces of Leicester City. Fans adore his leadership and calming presence, and respect his dedication to the club. But how does he stack up now against the likes of his younger self? With five clean sheets in 12 appearances under Brendan Rodgers this season, Schmeichel is up to his old tricks. Among qualifying goalkeepers, Schmeichel ranks second in the league in overall score according to SofaScore’s rating system, and has has managed to do so without facing a ton of shots – Leicester City has conceded the fourth-fewest xGA according to UnderStat.com.
So how does that stack up to the legendary title-winning season of 2015/16? That year, Schmeichel recorded 15 clean sheets in 38 league appearances, one behind Petr Cech‘s 16 for the league lead. He had the fourth-highest saves per goal conceded total in the league at 2.8, behind just Cech and a pair of goalkeepers with higher volume in Vito Mannone and Fraser Forster.
VERDICT: DRAW – Schmeichel is up to his old tricks, and has kept his level of play high through the years. Leicester City still has a rock between the sticks.
Wes Morgan and Robert Huth built an unlikely center-back partnership at Leicester City. A former Chelsea youth product, Huth was on his fourth club after spending six years at Stoke City toiling in the middle of the Premier League table. Morgan, meanwhile, had been a career Championship player, with the previous campaign his first in the top flight. Together, they logged a massive 6,570 Premier League minutes en route to a defensive performance that saw them concede just 36 goals in 38 games, one off the league’s stingiest defensive output. By April, the two led the top-four defenders in blocks, and both appeared in the WhoScored’s top 15 for center-back ratings at season’s end.
Today, an equally unlikely circumstance has led Leicester City to the league’s best defense. 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu has developed into one of the best young center-back prospects in the league next to experienced former Manchester United defender Jonny Evans. Thanks to that pair, Leicester City is one of just two teams to have conceded a single-digit goal total through 12 matches alongside Sheffield United. Soyuncu ranks 3rd in WhoScored rating among CB’s with at least 7 appearances, while Evans is 11th, and the former is a beast in the air and pressures with accuracy. Also, he can dribble?
We were done, but this one was too weird not to do.
VERDICT: SOYUNCU/EVANS – While Wes Morgan and Robert Huth will live in club lore, the longevity potential for Soyuncu/Evans and their underlying statistics prove they are far more than a one-hit-wonder and can be a massive asset for this club moving forward.
One of the more under-heralded fan favorites of the 2015/16 title team, Christian Fuchs is another that will live on in club lore. He was energetic and a lively presence in the dressing room. Along with his full-back partner Danny Simpson, both players were seemingly on the decline before coming to Leicester – Fuchs had made 16 and 25 league appearances in his final two season at Schalke before being shipped out, while Simpson had lost his starting place at Newcastle two years prior and spent a season in the Championship with QPR before Leicester City gave him another shot at the Premier League. Somehow, things clicked under Claudio Ranieri and the two took off, providing both defensive cover and overlapping contributions moving forward.
With Fuchs a bit-part player and Simpson off at Huddersfield Town, they have been replaced by two of the best full-backs in the Premier League. Ricardo Pereira was the second-best right-back in the league behind Trent Alexander-Arnold last season according to WhoScored, while Ben Chilwell has earned a regular spot on the England national team.
VERDICT: Pereira/Chilwell – Fuchs is an absolute fan-favorite and Simpson’s revival was stunning to behold, but like the current center-back pairing Pereira and Chilwell have the longevity to serve the club for years or become valuable assets, and the two have already earned personal accolades the previous duo would not have achieved.
DEFENSIVE MID – N’Golo Kante (15/16) vs. Wilfred Ndidi (19/20)
This is one of the most fascinating player comparisons in recent soccer memory. N’Golo Kante’s rise to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, earning PFA Player of the Year in 2016/17 and finishing 8th on the Ballon d’Or list for 2017. Kante was the most important player on the title-winning squad – quite simply, Leicester City doesn’t win the title without Kante leading the league in tackles per 90 (4.7) and interceptions per 90 (4.2). His ability to halt opponent counters in their tracks was mind-numbing.
And yet, Leicester City’s only gone and produced his clone.
Wilfred Ndidi leads the league in interceptions per 90 minutes and is second in tackles behind tackle machine Aaron Wan-Bissaka. At just 23 years old, the Foxes are staring another N’Golo Kante in the face, a player who many believed – rightly so – was a once-in-a-generation type midfield product.
VERDICT: N’Golo Kante – while Ndidi is a massively promising player who is producing another season like Kante’s in 15/16, it will be hard to top one of the most legendary performances of the past decade, one backed up by Kante’s rise to stardom over the past few years.
CENTER MID – Danny Drinkwater (15/16) vs. Youri Tielemans (19/20)
Danny Drinkwater has flopped since his move to Chelsea, but don’t let that cloud your memory of his performance as N’Golo Kante’s midfield partner. Drinkwater was massively important to Leicester City during the title run, scoring two goals in 35 league appearances and assisting seven more, providing a dynamic presence in midfield to both calmly hold possession and provide dangerous moves forward. Still, admittedly being next to Kante made Drinkwater look better, and that proved true through the rest of his career.
Tielemans, on the other hand, is putting up numbers of his own that prove he’s his own player outside of any lift he gets from being slotted next to Ndidi and James Maddison. His passing percentage is way up from his days at Anderlecht and Monaco, and while he still struggles with turning the ball over on occasion, his heavy volume (55 passes per 90, 13th among non-defenders) and key passes (1.8 per 90, 17th in the league) suggest Tielemans has settled into an important role with the club.
VERDICT: Tielemans – While Danny Drinkwater was important to Leicester City’s run, his peripherals suggested Chelsea probably should have been more careful with its money. Tielemans has made significant strides since his disastrous time at Monaco and has become an important cog in midfield.
ATTACKING MID/WINGER – Riyad Mahrez/Marc Albrighton vs. James Maddison/Ayoze Perez (19/20)
Riyad Mahrez’s road to becoming Leicester City’s record sale was at times a bumpy tale, but there were no higher highs than he had in the 2015/16 title run. The Algerian international became a Premier League sensation with his 17 goals and 10 assists, doing it all for the Leicester City attack. He produced an xG of 11.88 for himself, with a silly goal conversion rate on top of that. In addition, he set his teammates up for a nearly equal 11.45 xA total, picking up 20 big chances created and dribbling successfully at a rate of 3.5 per 90 minutes. By contrast, Mahrez’s wing partner Marc Albrighton is a mostly forgettable player for casual fans, but he was massively important in other ways. Playing in every single Premier League match that season, Albrighton helped keep the shape and offered a more rigid foil to Mahrez’s marauding, with Fuchs overlapping on the left.
This season, James Maddison is the standout attacking player for the Foxes, with the 22-year-old developing into a key contributor up front. The youngster is eighth in the league in key passes per 90 minutes, and he himself is ripping off over three shots a game, with four league goals already to his name. Still, Maddison could be creating more – with 23 shot assists on the season so far, only two have qualified as “big chances” according to SofaScore. Ayoze Perez has not quite brought the explosiveness we saw in his Newcastle days over to the King Power Stadium, but his three-goal haul is also proving important early on.
VERDICT: Mahrez/Albrighton – while this duo was sorely one-sided, the season Riyad Mahrez had for Leicester City that title-winning campaign was an attacking display for the ages. Maddison is an extremely solid future asset contributing at a high level for such a young age, but he still has distance to cover to reach the heights of Mahrez that fateful year, who finished as the highest rated player in the entire league according to WhoScored.com.
STRIKER – Jamie Vardy (15/16) vs. Jamie Vardy (19/20)
Alongside Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy is the face of Leicester City. His out-of-nothing story makes him special to Leicester City fans, and his goalscoring prowess has been critical to the club ever since they were promoted to the Premier League. Vardy has made a career of scoring out of nothing – his top-flight career has seen him score 91 goals, a massive +11.5 differential over his 79.5 career xG.
Yet, a closer look provides a fascinating underscore of the evolution of the 32-year-old’s career. This season, in just 12 matches, Vardy has bagged 11 goals on an xG of just 5.19, meaning nearly 6 of that +11 career differential has come just this campaign. The Foxes striker is taking just two shots per 90 minutes, and yet has scored on nearly half of them – absolutely astronomical conversion numbers that are surely unsustainable, even if Vardy’s career has been built on exceptional finishing.
While those numbers are surely inflated by the relatively small sample size of 12 matches this year, they aren’t all that different from the title-winning season. That campaign, Vardy took 115 shots – 3.28 per game – and scored on 24 of them, and his 0.19 xG per shot is quite close to the 0.21 he is putting up this season. Most interesting, he scored 18 of those 24 goals with his right foot, a variance which has evened out this season as Vardy becomes more competent with his off side – four goals with his right, four with his left, and two with his head.
VERDICT: 15/16 Vardy – This season’s Jamie Vardy just isn’t shooting at the volume you’d expect from a striker of his finishing caliber, and he needs to find a higher volume if he wants to keep up the ridiculous goal conversion rate that will surely regress towards the mean.
It is impossible to discuss the epic season Leicester City had in 2015/16 without talking about Leonard Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki, who combined came off the bench 30 times in league play and were often called upon to rescue points. Andy King became a club icon as a Leicester City youth product who fans took a liking to, brought off the bench 16 times himself to close a game down.
Brendan Rodgers has Demari Gray and Harvey Barnes at his disposal to inject life into a game, while Hamza Choudhury is a talented young player who has shown flashes of being able to do the job himself should anything happen to Ndidi. Still, Grey – who was a member of that title-winning squad – has not become the star many thought he would a few years ago and Barnes is still showing his age at 21 years old. The group has yet to become true super-subs and Rodgers has been somewhat forced to run with his main group – five players have played every minute of this Premier League campaign so far (Schmeichel, Soyuncu, Evans, Vardy, Pereira) while another (Tielemans) is has seen just seven minutes of rest.
VERDICT: 2015/16 – It felt like every time Ranieri called upon the cavalry, they would deliver in the given situation. Gray has yet to develop into the player many believed he would years ago, and Barnes is still a raw product.
But then Milner scored from the penalty spot to stretch Liverpool’s club-record winning streak to 17 league games and eight from eight this season.
Liverpool stay top of the table on 24 points, while Leicester have 14 points.
3 things we learned
1. Liverpool’s luck continues: The Reds haven’t got going this season, and they’ve won all of their opening eight games. It looked like Klopp’s side were finally going to run out of luck on Saturday, as Leicester caught them cold late on but Mane then won a penalty kick. In wins against Southampton, Sheffield United, Chelsea and now Leicester they were lucky to get over the line. In truth, Liverpool haven’t got out of second gear this season. Klopp won’t care. They’re top.
2. Leicester prove top four credentials: It was far from a great display from the Foxes but they were resilient and showed they can grab points against the big boys. They will need to do that if they’re going to finish in the top four, not least the top six. Brendan Rodgers’ side put in a mature display and did him proud on his return to Anfield. This wasn’t a swashbuckling Leicester display, but it was steady and solid, and they were unlucky not to grab a point.
3. Matip missed: Dejan Lovren came into the starting lineup and he looked shaky and Liverpool really missed Joel Matip. The towering center back is out injured and has Joe Gomez struggled recently, meaning Lovren will have to get up to speed quickly for Liverpool. In the end Matip’s absence didn’t cost Liverpool, but they did look a little less solid.
Man of the Match: Sadio Mane – Took his goal really well and dug deep to do plenty of defensive work on both flanks. He continues to stand tall for Liverpool and won the late penalty kick.
Early on Liverpool did all the pressing as Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu held things together for the Foxes at the back.
A cross from the right caused Liverpool’s defense some issues as Dejan Lovren tried to clear but sent a looping header towards his own goal.
As the first half wore on Leicester batled their way into the game as Ben Chilwell was causing Sadio Mane plenty of problems down the Foxes left flank.
Firmino then missed a great chance as Trent Alexander-Arnold whipped in a lovely ball from the right. At the other end Adrian produced a fine save from Soyuncu’s header after James Maddison whipped in a superb free kick.
Then Liverpool took the lead right on half time. James Milner’s superb long ball found Mane on the break and the Senegalese winger raced clear and finished calmly to make it 1-0.
Just after the goal Firmino pulled the ball back to Mane and his effort was straight at Kasper Schmeichel when he should have doubled Liverpool’s lead.
Schmeichel produced a fine save at the start of the second half as Alexander-Arnold’s cross found Salah and his flick was pushed away by Leicester’s goalkeeper.
Jonny Evans then cleared but the ball hit Mane and almost rebounded in as Liverpool kicked on in the second half. Leicester steadied themselves and started to cause a few problems in attack with half time sub Marc Albrighton a box of tricks. Ricardo Pereira‘s cross from the right was cleared by Alexander-Arnold as that sprung the game into life.
Firmino’s effort squirmed just wide and then Albrighton set Jamie Vardy free but he squandered a great chance at the Kop end. Andrew Robertson then had a great chance but Schmeichel saved well. Dennis Praet then flashed a shot just wide for Leicester as the game finished in an end-to-end fashion, and the Foxes grabbed a late equalizer.
Substitute Ayoze Perez wriggled free and played in Maddison, who had been quiet all game long, and the Englishman finished low past Adrian.
Virgil Van Dijk could have won it for Liverpool late on but he fluffed his lines as he nodded Robertson’s cross over, but just when it looked like the Reds would drop their first points of the season the winner arrived.
Mane was brought down by Albrighton in the box and Milner kept his cool to make it eight wins from eight as Liverpool remain perfect.