West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Leicester City
- Goals: Timothy Castagne (£5.5m), Jamie Vardy (£10.0m) x2
- Assists: Dennis Praet (£5.5m), James Justin (£4.5m)
No penalty box touches in open play, no shots in open play, fewer touches of the ball than West Bromwich Albion’s 69th-minute substitute Rekeem Harper (£4.5m) – no problem.
It’s now generally accepted that Jamie Vardy (£10.0m) doesn’t really do underlying statistics and assessing his Fantasy potential through cold numbers is a flawed approach.
Armed with a goal conversion rate that is consistently among the best in the division, the Leicester City striker possesses the admirable ability to be able to deliver an attacking return even when defences have kept him muzzled for 89 minutes.
Even by his standards, though, Sunday’s display at the Hawthorns was a quiet one and his 13-point haul owed a great debt to his role as the Foxes’ first-choice penalty-taker.
Both of his goals came from the spot, the first after he himself had been brought down and the second after James Justin (£4.5m) had been felled.
His only real sight of goal from open play came in the first half, when he broke clear of the hosts’ defence to test Sam Johnstone (£4.5m) with a stinging shot – only to be flagged for offside.
Stiffer tests await in the coming two Gameweeks, with two of 2019/20’s three best defences for clean sheets lying in wait, although he did score against Burnley and Manchester City in the corresponding fixtures last season.
Brendan Rodgers said of the 33-year-old striker after full-time:
Jamie is peerless. He’s super-cool, he’s clinical, you’ve seen his pace, he’s still got that running ability.
It’s a great start for him personally to score two goals and really good for the team.
BARNES LIVELY – BUT PROFLIGATE
Altogether more prominent was Harvey Barnes (£7.0m), who was responsible for almost half of the shots in the box that Leicester had.
With Ayoze Perez (£6.5m) struggling for match-sharpness down the right after a disrupted pre-season, Barnes looked lively – perhaps no surprise as he had racked up more minutes in the Foxes’ warm-up games than any of his teammates.
The familiar strengths and weaknesses were again in evidence, with the winger a threat with his driving runs and ability to get into dangerous positions but far from clinical when chances were presented to him.
Three opportunities went begging in quick succession on the 30-minute mark, with one of them classed by Opta as a ‘big chance’ that Johnstone repelled.
Barnes was then presented with another decent opening in the 78th minute, curling narrowly wide of the Baggies’ goalkeeper’s left-hand post.
Security of starts is sometimes an issue (he made more substitute appearances than starts in the Foxes’ nine post-lockdown fixtures) but this was a promising opening-weekend display from the young wide-midfielder.
Having only recently recovered from a long-term injury, James Maddison (£7.0m) was among the substitutes for this Gameweek 1 clash.
The England international was thrown on as a 75th-minute replacement for the impressive Dennis Praet (£5.5m) and got quarter of an hour under his belt, as was the plan, according to Rodgers:
He’s moving much better now, he’s trained with the team this week. He’s obviously been out for a long period, he’s worked ever so hard to come back.
My idea was to get him on for 15-20 minutes, just to get some game-time in his legs, and he’ll feel better for that and motivated for next week’s training.
NO ISSUES FOR MAKESHIFT DEFENCE
Given that Leicester were without three of the four first-choice members of their 2019/20 backline either through injury, suspension or a summer transfer elsewhere, there was understandable trepidation about whether the Foxes could be as good defensively as they were last season.
In truth, it’s probably too early to say as they won’t face as many straightforward tests as this.
The Baggies made a bright start to the game, with Justin going into the book for a late tackle after 15 minutes as the hosts exerted some early pressure.
With only three shots in the box registered all game, and just two efforts of any variety recorded after half-time, Albion’s initial promise was short-lived and the pre-season concerns we had about a lack of goals from Slaven Bilic’s side became apparent.
Full-backs Justin and Timothy Castagne (£5.5m) showed willingness to get forward, at least, with the Belgian producing a Matt Doherty-esque dart into the six-yard box to nod in Praet’s cross and Justin’s penalty box presence leading to the visitors’ second spot-kick award.
Three at the Back
Having played a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 for pretty much the entirety of last season, Bilic sprung a surprise by naming a 3-4-3 on Sunday.
With the 4-2-3-1 perhaps too gung-ho at this level and a lack of central midfield options alongside Romaine Sawyers (£5.0m) and Jake Livermore (£5.0m) limiting his ability to operate in a 4-3-3, the Baggies boss opted for a safety-first approach.
It was a largely successful move at first, with Vardy nullified and the game still goalless at the break, but the Foxes became more and more dominant as the match went on.
Current and prospective owners of Everton assets will be eyeing up the Gameweek 2 meeting with West Brom with great interest and the space that Barnes was afforded might be a good omen for Richarlison (£8.0m), who occupied a left-wing role in the Toffees’ win over Spurs.
Bilic may have been hinting that he will stick with a wing-back system when interviewed after the game, mentioning that a reversion to a back four didn’t work:
Based on what we have in the team I wanted to be solid, I wanted to have numbers but also have our front players in a good situation when we get the ball and be positive on the front foot.
I think it looked really good up until the first goal. After that, because we wanted to equalise, we went to four at the back but unfortunately, it didn’t work good.
I was really pleased the way we played up until their goal. Let’s say up until the first goal it was a really good performance for us, with the ball and without the ball.
I’m very disappointed with the result but the biggest thing I’m really disappointed about is our reaction after the goal. Our mentality was not the same. It wasn’t the right mentality.
All of [the goals] looked stoppable. What we have to do is to stretch this 50 minutes to 95 minutes and then that would be a massive step for us. Because it looked really good against a really good side.
West Bromwich Albion XI (3-4-3): Johnstone, Bartley, Ajayi, O’Shea, Furlong (Harper 69), Livermore, Sawyers (Edwards 68), Gibbs, Diangana, Robinson (Robson-Kanu 60), Matheus Pereira.
Leicester City XI (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel, Justin, Ndidi, Soyuncu, Castagne, Mendy, Perez (Albrighton 67), Praet (Maddison 75), Tielemans, Barnes, Vardy.
FPL Lessons Learned from Gameweek 1
- Fulham 0-3 Arsenal
- Crystal Palace 1-0 Southampton
- Liverpool 4-3 Leeds United
- West Ham United 0-1 Newcastle United
- West Bromwich Albion 0-3 Leicester City
- Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 Everton
- Sheffield United 0-2 Wolves
- Brighton and Hove Albion 1-3 Chelsea