Leicester back on top of table with comfy Stoke win
Leicester went back atop the Premier League Saturday evening as their charmed season showed no signs of ending with a 3-0 win over Stoke at the King Power. Danny Drinkwater scored his first Premier League goal to pace the Foxes and Jamie Vardy added the capper to pile more pressure on Arsenal and Manchester City in the title race. The Foxes can be lapped tomorrow on goal difference with a win by Arsenal: the Gunners face Chelsea at the Emirates in the Sunday night game.
Leicester, who have been the shock team of the season, looked to be in a little bit of a slump. After a grinding three-game series with Tottenham that saw the Foxes ejected from the FA Cup there was a sense that Leicester were looking a bit leggy ahead of a brutal slate of games. Leicester must face Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in a fourteen day gauntlet, and today’s game against a rising Stoke side was hardly a gimme either. But Leicester never really looked worried today, with their front three torturing the overmatched Marc Wilson and Jon Walters in the heart of the park, and they fully deserved their reward.
Much of the first half was a waiting game, as Stoke tried to prevent the Foxes from countering with pace. The side-effect of that was to eliminate any real goal-scoring threat of their own: Joselu didn’t record the Potters’ first shot on target until the hour mark. Part of the reason was that Marko Arnautovic was unable to go today with a slight hamstring twinge. But part of it also was that N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez, two men enjoying career years, were simply too strong for Stoke to contain.
So when Leicester grabbed the lead, it felt deserved. Marc Albrighton fired in a fine corner kick that Stoke failed to deal with, and Drinkwater took a speculative low strike to the near post from outside of the area. The ball took a cut off Wilson as it careened in, and keeper Jack Butland was helpless to keep the goal out at his near post. In a statistical oddity, per Opta, that goal was Leicester’s first from outside the box this season, a mark of how dominant they have been in opponents’ final third.
Jamie Vardy would then add the insurance on a classic breakaway in the 66th minute. Butland and Wilson both made gaffes on the play, a simple long ball out of the back that caught the defender on the wrong side and the keeper in two minds. Vardy gratefully accepted, rounded Butland, and sent in a simple ball that slid over the line at the far post.
Stoke had no answer: Joselu might have done better on the hour had he placed his header a foot either side of Kasper Schmeichel, but he did not and it was meat and drink for the keeper.
Leicester were so dominant that when Robert Huth made a dreadful hash of a free kick with under ten minute to play, shanking the ball somewhere in the vicinity of downtown Brighton, it drew a roar of appreciative laughter from the crowd.
Leonardo Ulloa added a late goal after Mahrez’ shot was deflected right to him for an easy bundle over the line. It felt cruel on Stoke, but these are carefree times the Foxes are enjoying — and it must be said, they are having them at the expense of their far more monied rivals. Just ask Mark Hughes.