Leicester City

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.

Rodgers: ‘Historic day’ as Leicester City extends win streak

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Of course it’s early, but it looks like Leicester City is the Premier League’s lone bright hope of challenging Liverpool for the title.

And yeah, that’s a big deal, even after the Foxes claimed the most inexplicable title in top flight history just four seasons ago.

[ RECAP: Villa 1-4 Leicester City ]

But the Foxes remain leery about embracing their title credentials, even after setting a club record by winning their eight-straight via a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday.

“I thought they were amazing,” said Brendan Rodgers. “It is a historical day for the club and the performance warranted that. It really does mean something special, it puts the team in the history books of Leicester City.”

Okay, but… just a little bit about the title fight, Brendan? No?

Perhaps goal scoring defender Jonny Evans would take the bait.

“We are up there and it shows we are playing well. Our performance was good, against one of the best Villa teams I faced in years. It shows we are capable of coming away and getting results. It is nice people are talking about us, we’re enjoying it and there’s great spirit in the club.”

Leicester is eight points back of first, the only team within 10 points of Liverpool. Man City is 14 back and Chelsea 17.

The Foxes host Norwich City before its next stretch of proving ground arrives via a League Cup quarterfinal at Everton prefaces league matches versus Man City and Liverpool.

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.

Watch Live: Leicester-Villa, Newcastle-Saints, Norwich-Blades

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP
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Suddenly, Leicester City is the best bet to beat long odds and catch outstanding Liverpool, and the Foxes will look to keep pace by winning at Aston Villa in one of three Premier League games take place at 9 a.m. ET on Sunday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Elsewhere, Newcastle and Southampton are eyeing varying degrees of safety when they meet at St. James’ Park, while newly-promoted sides Norwich City and Sheffield United meet at Carrow Road.

It’s all a prelude to Wolves’ chance to go three points shy of the Top Four following a visit to Brighton and Hove Albion at 11:30 a.m. ET.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for the three games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


9 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Newcastle United v. Southampton  – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Norwich City v. Sheffield United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Brighton and Hove Albion v. Wolves — NBCSN [STREAM]

PL Sunday preview: Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield Utd, Wolves in action

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There will be no shortage of action and subplots during Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures, as Aston Villa host in-form Leicester City; Newcastle look to continue their winning ways against an improving Southampton side; Norwich City look for a way out of the relegation zone as they take on Sheffield United; and Wolverhampton Wanderers aim to continue their spectacular, unbeaten run against Brighton.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Aston Villa vs. Leicester City — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

December is upon us, and the team putting some form of pressure on top-of-the-table Liverpool is second-best Leicester City. Who would have thought?

In similar fashion to what the masses thought of the Foxes prior to the start of the 2015/16 season, the answer is that not many were sold on the notion that Brendan Rodgers and his team were going to be a flat-out success this season, especially after dealing out Harry Maguire to Manchester United.

Whether the onlookers believed or didn’t believe is a conversation that surely doesn’t bother the majority associated with the once-Premier League champions. The Foxes are on a seven-game winning streak and Rodgers was rewarded for his accomplishments thus far, signing a new contract on Friday that keeps him at the helm until 2025.

Aston Villa’s Dean Smith recognized that his opponents on Sunday are in stellar shape but also cautioned that playing his team at Villa Park will not be a walk in the park, despite only being a point above the red line.

“They are on a fantastic run of form but there aren’t many teams who will come away from Villa Park and think they’ve had an easy game,” Dean Smith said.

It’s not the blockbuster game that will freeze the soccer community, but from the sounds of it, Leicester’s visit to Birmingham will be an authentic battle between two teams that are on the opposite sides of the spectrum.

INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Keinan Davis (hamstring), Jed Steer (achilles)| Leicester City — OUT: Matty James (calf) 

Newcastle vs. Southampton — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Southampton haven’t won three consecutive league matches since May of 2016.

That can change on Sunday at St. James Park, mostly if Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s gamble of starting the same lineup for a third straight game over the span of eight days pays off. But just as it can pay off, it can certainly backfire at the hands of a slowly-but-surely improving Newcastle side.

“It’s a huge month for us,” Steve Bruce said about his Magpies ahead of the match. “It’s season defining, I think it is for every team because there are so many games.

“I have always said that a few results along the way helps everybody, so we’ve given ourselves a nice platform going into the busy Christmas period.

“The spirit among the players, and their attitude and the way they are playing has delighted me.”

That said, as expected, Hasenhuttl likes his side’s chances after demonstrating to him that they’re more than willing to follow order and fight for the crest at all costs.

“In the last three games… the team [has been] playing much more committed,” he said. “When we play like this we create chances, we don’t give the opponents chances, we are defending higher and then keep the opponent far away from our goal and this is more our style we want to play.”

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Lascelles (Knee), Ritchie (ankle) | Southampton — OUT: Armstrong (calf)

Norwich City vs. Sheffield United — 9:00 a.m ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Just a couple of months ago, Daniel Farke and his players were touching the clouds.

A 3-2 win against the defending champions Manchester City was the root cause of that state of hysteria that is now nowhere to be found. With one win in their last 10 matches, the Canaries have been grounded and more. In fact, Farke’s rhetoric on his team and their future in the league says it all.

“We are a newly-promoted side who have not spent any money, so in each and every second at this level we must be at our best,” he said leading up to Sunday’s match. “We told everyone before the season this would be a difficult challenge.”

Promoted with them last season, Sheffield United, too, didn’t let lavish spendings over the summer do the talking. But even then, Chris Wilder‘s men have done a lot with a little, putting together formidable, team-oriented performances. The Blades have surprised many with their 19 points after 15 matches.

Sunday presents itself as a game in which Sheffield has the upper hand, but Wilder knows Norwich far too well. In fact, it’s a team they were constantly chasing in England’s second division this time last year.

“They were the outstanding team in the Championship last season,” he said. “I was delighted to get as close as we did to them.”

INJURIES: Norwich City — OUT: Hanley (groin), Drmic (hamstring), Timm Klose (knee) | Sheffield United — OUT: None

Brighton Hove and Albion vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers  — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Very few teams in the league have overcome adversity this season like Wolves.

A team that surprised many last season, started the season off in a way that was unlike anything Nuno Espirito Santo had put forward before: a sluggish, disjointed brand of play. Wolves have been participating in European competition for the first time since 1980, however, and have 28 games under their belts this season.

Riding a 10-game unbeaten streak (the best active streak in the league), Espirito Santo decided to give his players a rare Thursday off from all training ahead of Sunday’s showdown against a hungry Brighton.

“I hope [the players] enjoyed their day off [on Thursday],” the Portuguese manager said. “It was well deserved and they needed it. It was important they understand it’s a day to rest, recover, stay at home and be with family and join us today to be ready for Sunday.”

Coming off an emphatic win at the Emirates, Brighton are aware of the tough task that will be defeating a red-hot Wolves. But as Graham Potter says and just experienced against Arsenal, anything and everything goes in the Premier League.

“Anything is possible in this league, that’s the way you have to think or else it becomes boring,” Potter said. “We have to keep working towards what we’re trying to achieve and maintain the spirit around the group.”

INJURIES: Brighton  OUT: Izquierdo (knee) | Wolves  OUT: Boly (leg), Gibbs-White (back), Shabani (knee)