Leicester City 4-1 West Ham United
- Goals: Harvey Barnes (£5.9m), Ricardo Pereira (£6.3m), Ayoze Perez (£6.1m) x2 | Mark Noble (£5.0m)
- Assists: Pereira, Barnes, Kelechi Iheanacho (£5.7m) x2 | Sebastien Haller (£7.0m)
- Bonus: Perez x3, Barnes x2, Pereira x1
Jamie Vardy‘s (£10.0m) annus horribilis (no pun intended) continued at the King Power Stadium on Wednesday evening, as the well-owned Fantasy Premier League forward was forced off with a gluteal injury after just 41 minutes of Leicester City’s 4-1 win over West Ham United.
Having ended 2019 on paternity leave, Vardy missed out on the New Year’s Day win at Newcastle United because of a calf problem and then banked his one attacking return of this calendar year (an assist) in the defeat to Southampton.
A missed penalty at Burnley on Sunday preceded his first ‘one-pointer’ of the season, with Vardy now without a goal since the Gameweek 18 defeat to Manchester City.
The Leicester striker had pulled up after dutifully carrying out some defensive work for his side and, after an unsuccessful attempt to run his injury off, made way for Kelechi Iheanacho (£5.7m) just before the break.
Many of us might have feared a hamstring injury and a possible lengthy spell on the sidelines à la Harry Kane (£10.8m) but there were some encouraging comments from Brendan Rodgers after full-time, with Foxes’ head coach saying in a television interview:
It’s not his hamstring, which is good. When he kicked the ball he felt a sharpness in his glute, so hopefully over the next couple of days that will ease off and he’ll be available and fit. But I’ll speak to the medical team in the morning.
Rodgers made similar noises in his post-match press conference, stressing that he didn’t yet have a timeframe on Vardy’s return.
The good news from a Fantasy manager’s perspective is that Leicester are in FA Cup and Carabao Cup action before they take on Chelsea in Gameweek 25, so we are likely to be provided with plenty of updates from Rodgers as he faces the media on multiple occasions over the next eight days or so.
Two possible beneficiaries of a Vardy absence both banked attacking returns with their teammate off the field.
Iheanacho provided the assists for both of Ayoze Perez‘s (£6.1m) goals, and it is the Nigerian who has been fielded as a centre-forward whenever Vardy hasn’t been around this season.
Perez has also shone when Vardy has been sidelined, with the former Newcastle man racking up three double-digit hauls in Gameweeks 20, 21 and 24 – all games in which Leicester’s number nine has either missed or departed early from:
In Gameweeks 20 and 21, Perez had been fielded as a number ten in a 4-2-3-1 and as a striker in a 3-5-2 respectively.
He looked far better when playing centrally in those two games than he has done when stationed on the right and it was no surprise that he amassed 23 points in the process.
Perez was back on the right of a 4-2-3-1 for this encounter but looked threatening when cutting inside and it was interesting to note that, even in the first half, Vardy was drifting to the left flank, opening up space infield for Perez.
That’s a tactic to watch out for when the premium forward returns, although Rodgers would surely want his 17-goal hitman as close to the opposition box as possible more often than not.
Perez also turned out to be next in line for penalties with Vardy off the field, which will have irked owners of James Maddison (£7.6m).
After Iheanacho had been felled by Angelo Ogbonna (£4.5m), it was Perez who stepped up to confidently despatch the spot-kick and restore the Foxes’ two-goal cushion.
Iheanacho then teed Perez up for Leicester’s fourth with three minutes left.
Rodgers had words of praise for his back-up striker after full-time, saying:
Kelechi came in and he was very, very good. He wants to run in behind, he was powerful, his touch was good, he works ever so hard, and he always looks like he can create and score goals. I thought he came in and did very well.
The comfortable-looking scoreline belied a few nervy moments in the second half when West Ham had pegged their hosts back to 2-1.
This was yet another match without a clean sheet for Rodgers’ side, who have conceded in every game bar one of the last nine league fixtures.
Faith in Caglar Soyuncu (£5.1m) and co might have subsided even more, then, particularly as the Foxes next face Chelsea, Wolves and Manchester City in the league and then a possible blank in Gameweek 28.
It was rather ironic that Leicester’s latest chance of a shut-out was ruined by a daft foul from Wilfred Ndidi (£5.0m), whose recent absence many of us had lamented because of the security he provides his defence.
The Nigerian, on as a substitute to replace the injured Nampalys Mendy (£4.3m) after half an hour, felled Sebastien Haller (£7.0m) in the home side’s penalty box to allow Mark Noble (£5.0m) to reduce the arrears on 49 minutes, with Kasper Schmeichel (£5.4m) comfortably beaten by the West Ham captain.
Ben Chilwell (£5.6m) returned to the side after his recent omission but it was his opposite full-back, Ricardo Pereira (£6.3m), who caught the eye.
The Portugal international hadn’t produced an attacking return since Gameweek 7 and many of his previous owners would have jumped shipped during this barren run, with some no doubt bringing in a premium Liverpool defender ahead of Double Gameweek 24.
Pereira was a joy to watch on the ball, teeing up the equally impressive Harvey Barnes (£5.9m) for the Foxes’ opener and then being returned the favour when thumping Leicester into a 2-0 lead on the stroke of half-time.
Paying tribute to Barnes, Rodgers said:
Outstanding. Arguably his best game since I’ve been here. Getting better all the time, I think the goal against Burnley has given him confidence.
He’s improving, he’s developing, he’s got power, he’s got speed, he can go either way and, like I say, he’s getting goals and creating goals.
Anyone who invested in the West Ham defence was left disappointed, with all bar goalkeeper Darren Randolph (£4.5m) – who salvaged a save point from this mess – scoring zero or worse.
Few will be expecting much in the way of defensive returns against Liverpool next Wednesday, either.
Haller and Noble at least rewarded their owners with an attacking return apiece, although the West Ham striker did little else of note and didn’t register a single shot of his own.
Far more impressive was the fit-again Michail Antonio (£6.9m), who was thrown on at half-time and who caused the Leicester backline real problems on his introduction up front.
David Moyes’ side also posed a threat or two at set plays, with their penalty award stemming from a half-cleared free-kick.
Few will be interested in West Ham’s assets once Double Gameweek 24 is out of the way, though.
A home match against struggling Brighton a week on Saturday obviously appeals but the Hammers are then rooted to the bottom of our Season Ticker through Gameweeks 26-32, taking on seven clubs who are all currently in the top half of the Premier League table.
Reflecting on the game, Moyes said:
I thought the first-half performance was really poor, I was hoping we might scrape through to half-time at 1-0 and see if I could do something about it.
We did improve, we got better in the second half, they rallied and the introduction of Michail Antonio gave us something different.
First half we couldn’t get the ball forward, or keep it, have any attacks whatsoever but I thought second half we did much better.
It was more to do with the defending in the second half. While we’re at 2-1 I thought we started to get a bit open, chased the game a little bit, getting picked off easy, when I thought we should have waited and bided our time and take us closer to the finishing line.
Robert Snodgrass (£5.2m), the second-most-bought West Ham asset of Gameweek 24 behind Noble, failed to make it out for the second half, although it wasn’t clear if his withdrawal was linked to an early knock or purely tactical.
Leicester City XI (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel; Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell; Mendy (Ndidi 34′); Perez, Maddison, Tielemans, Barnes (Morgan 83′); Vardy (Iheanacho 44′).
West Ham United XI (3-4-2-1): Randolph; Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Zabaleta, Rice, Noble, Masuaku (Antonio 46;); Snodgrass (Fornals 46′), Lanzini; Haller.
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