Rafa Benitez’s tactical nous proved to be the stumbling block for Fantasy managers who backed Jamie Vardy (£9.2m) for Double Gameweek 34.
The Leicester forward blanked at home for the first time since Gameweek 27 as Newcastle left the King Power Stadium with all three points.
Whether Vardy has already outlived his usefulness for the season is the subject of this Scout Notes article.
Leicester City 0-1 Newcastle United
Goals: Ayoze Pérez (£6.1m)
Assists: Matt Ritchie (£5.8m)
Vardy and Leicester were heavily restricted by Newcastle’s tactics on Friday night. The forward is typically more effective against sides who leave space to exploit behind their defences, but there was no quarter given by Benitez’s men on this occasion.
As per usual, the Magpies lined up with a five-man defence with centre-backs Jamaal Lascelles (£4.7m), Paul Dummett (£4.4m) and Fabian Schär (£4.6m) flanked by Matt Ritchie (£5.8m) and Javi Manquillo (£4.3m). With a four-man deployed in front of them, space came at a premium in the Double Gameweek 34 opener.
That seemed to have an effect on Leicester’s usually free-flowing attacking football. The Foxes had won four Premier League matches in a row before Newcastle rocked up and did a job on them. Having averaged 3.75 shots, three in the box and 1.75 on target per game in the last four matches, Vardy managed just two efforts on goal, two in the box and one on target. When he did have a big chance just a few yards out, he snatched at the ball and sent it over when it looked easier to score than to miss.
The Leicester striker has historically struggled with the problem of breaking down defences that sit deep and new manager Brendan Rodgers admitted that it was something he is working on with the player. Whatever they have looked at so far appears not to have had much impact just yet but the former Celtic and Liverpool boss has not been at the club long.
“It was something we touched on with him (playing against defences that sit deep). What I said to the players was, ‘we need to improve, even the best teams are good on counters but also in possession, so that’s something we need to work towards. With Jamie, in that situation, he plays offside more. So his start position is behind the centre-backs. With some strikers, they get frustrated when they’re not touching the ball, but you’re not going to get it at times, you have to be ready when it comes. We’ve worked with him, playing in an offside position because then it’s difficult for defenders, they’re always looking. It’s just understanding the type of games, everything isn’t counter-attack. He’s been a joy to work with. What’s surprised me, again when we come in from the outside, he is a really really bright footballer.” – Brendan Rodgers
Vardy owners should not panic after this performance though. Up next for Leicester is a trip to West Ham. Unlike Newcastle, who were looking for points to confirm their Premier League safety this week, the Hammers have little left to play for this season and are in terrible defensive form. Not only do they not have the personnel or tactics to limit Vardy’s space, but they have also conceded an average of 1.4 goals per match in their last five at home. Furthermore, West Ham have been among the bottom three for shots conceded in the box across their last four matches too. After that, Leicester will host Arsenal, the only Premier League side without a clean sheet on the road this season.
On this occasion, not only did Vardy not have much space to work in, he was left isolated from his midfield support. James Maddison (£6.9m) and Youri Tielemans (£6.1m) were not at their best on Friday night, but were also put under pressure by Newcastle’s organised structure. Neither player managed to register more than one key pass in the match. Maddison, in particular, was off his game in terms of delivery, sending one free-kick into the wall when trying to lay it off to a runner that never surfaced. However, Rodgers is not worried about the two creative players getting in each other’s way having found success with two central attacking midfielders next to each other, backed up by a defensive-minded one, in his time at former clubs.
“The two boys are probably two number tens, James and Youri, but they both have that ability to press the game. The job is to create goals and they’ve done that, so it’s similar to that. It’s nothing new really, I’ve always played with that single pivot. Back at Swansea it was Leon Britton and at Liverpool we transferred Stevie (Steve Gerrard) into that position, with two advanced attacking players ahead of them.” – Brendan Rodgers
Marc Albrighton (£5.1m) made a much-anticipated return from injury in the second half. His last appearance for Leicester since Gameweek 24. The former Aston Villa man might not find it too difficult to reclaim his place in the side after he added more creativity to Leicester’s efforts down the flanks than Harvey Barnes (£5.5m) or Demarai Gray (£5.4m) had up until that point. In fact, despite playing just 10 minutes he finished the game with more key passes than any other player.
Not that we needed much more confirmation of it, but Leicester’s defence demonstrated once again on Friday night that they are not worth covering at that end of the pitch. Newcastle’s first-half goal ensured that the Foxes still only have one clean sheet at home since Gameweek 15. Given Rodgers’ defensive record even when in a title battle with Liverpool several years ago, it seems unlikely that this issue will improve during his time in Leicester.
After the way they performed against Leicester on Friday night, it is entirely possible that Newcastle could prove a spanner in the works of Double Gameweek 35 too. They host Southampton next Saturday, in the first of the Saints’ two fixtures. There has been some interest in Ralph Hasenhüttl’s squad, but they may struggle to make a dent in the Magpies’ well-drilled defence, led by their captain Lascelles.
“He’s important for us because he is a big lad. But I would say today that all of them, not just the defenders, had a lot to do because they were playing against a team who play between the lines.” – Rafa Benitez
It was more than just a park the bus job from Benitez on Friday night as Newcastle still carried a threat of their own. Despite managing just 23.1% possession in the game, the Magpies had just one fewer shots inside the box as Leicester, the same number of shots on target, the same number of big chances and a higher expected goals score.
Ayoze Pérez (£6.1m) was the standout performer for Benitez’s men. He had more touches inside the penalty box than any other player at the King Power Stadium and was joint-top for shots on target too. His goal, an excellent header that saw him get the better of Wes Morgan (£4.6m), was just his seventh of the season, but the third since Gameweek 30.
“Last year he scored eight goals. You can see he has the ability to do a lot of times the right thing. Sometimes he just needs to be more consistent. If he was, he would be playing for Man City already!” – Rafa Benitez
Miguel Almirón (£6.0m) continues to show potential but once again struggled to get his first goal in Newcastle colours. He certainly did not have a bad game and was unfortunate not to come away with attacking returns. He was level with Pérez for shots on target and had more efforts inside the box than any other player in the game.
“He’s working really hard, running behind the defenders. It’s the first months, he will take time to adapt.” – Rafa Benitez
After earning attention for his goal threat in the Blank Gameweeks, Salomón Rondón (£6.0m) played more of a support role in this match. He held the ball up very well and worked incredibly hard for his team. However, it was the sort of performance that did not particularly inspire any interest from Fantasy angle, other than his ability from set pieces. Rondón had a free-kick from distance in the first-half which he directed at goal beautifully, only for it to cannon back off the crossbar.
“I think the kind of forward we were looking for was like him. He’s strong enough – sometimes to hold up the ball, sometimes to flick and even to run with the defender. He’s been doing a great job and it was the same today. Even defensively he goes to the right position and gives time for the midfielders. He is an important player for us and now obviously it’s just concentrate and enjoy today.” – Rafa Benitez
Leicester City XI (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel; Chilwell, Maguire, Morgan, R Pereira; Ndidi (Mendy 72′); H Barnes (Albrighton 80′), Maddison, Tielemans, D Gray (Iheanacho 72′); Vardy.
Newcastle United XI (5-4-1): Dúbravka; Ritchie, Dummett, Lascelles, Schär, Manquillo; Almirón (Atsu 78′), Ki (Diamé 82′), Hayden, Pérez; Rondón.