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Three talking points as Leicester City stunned Tottenham Hotspur at the King Power

Rob Meech

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Leicester City withstood a late bombardment to register a superb victory at home to Tottenham Hotspur.

Jamie Vardy had given the Foxes an early lead thanks to an audacious finish, before Riyad Mahrez doubled their advantage with an equally fine effort in first-half stoppage-time.

Spurs rallied in the second period and halved the arrears through talismanic striker Harry Kane, but they were unable to find an equaliser despite creating numerous opportunities.

This result keeps Tottenham outside the Premier League’s top four, while Leicester continue their resurgence and climb to ninth.

Here are three talking points from an eventful night under the King Power Stadium floodlights…

Leicester’s key players hit form at the right time

The Foxes’ fall from grace since winning the Premier League resulted in the sacking of Claudio Ranieri last season and the departure of key figures including N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater.

Two players that have remained at the East Midlands outfit despite interest from other clubs are Vardy and Mahrez, both of whom were key to their miraculous title triumph.

After a prolonged quiet period, they are getting back to their best again. Both were on the scoresheet against Spurs, with goals that were worthy of winning any game of football.

Vardy showed tremendous skill to volley a through ball, which had dropped over his shoulder, past Hugo Lloris, before Mahrez netted with a trademark effort, cutting inside from the right and bending an unstoppable strike into the top corner.

For Leicester fans, it was like 2015/16 all over again.

Tottenham suffering their first real blip under Mauricio Pochettino

It is now just one win in their past five Premier League matches for Spurs, who are failing to meet the standards they set last season.

Having pushed champions Chelsea so close in the title race, supporters had hoped they would be able to go one step further this time. However, despite a successful Champions League adventure thus far, Tottenham’s domestic form has taken a turn for the worse.

Inconsistent at their temporary headquarters of Wembley Stadium, Pochettino’s men are also slipping up on their travels. This is their third consecutive away defeat and one which leaves them outside the top four.

Playing in Europe appears to have taken its toll on the squad, with too many key players struggling for form and fitness.

There is no doubt Pochettino is among the best managers in the world, but he faces a challenge to galvanise his players.

Claude Puel’s appointment has had the desired effect

He has been in charge for only a month, but Claude Puel has already had a significant impact at Leicester. From his five matches in charge, the Foxes have claimed eight points, losing only to Manchester City.

This victory over a quality Tottenham outfit was further indication of the big strides they have made under the Frenchman.

Dismissed by Southampton in the summer despite having guided the club to eighth place in the Premier League and the final of the League Cup, Puel was a surprise appointment to many at Leicester.

However, he has had the desired effect; organising the Foxes defensively and getting the best out of their most creative players, particularly Mahrez, who had become marginalised under Craig ex-boss Shakespeare.

It is only the start of his reign, but the signs are promising that Puel and Leicester may be an ideal fit.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

Leicester City

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Rob Meech

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Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.

Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.

Then came the fireworks.

Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.

City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.

Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.

Here are three talking points…

Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

There is only one place to start.

At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.

All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.

This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.

Off-field issues undermine Leicester

With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.

Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.

A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.

Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.

When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.

Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.

But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.

De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond

This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.

Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.

He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.

De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.

The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.

Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.

Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.

Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.

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Leicester City

How do Leicester City solve a problem like Riyad Mahrez?

January interest from Manchester City has turned the head of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez. Now it is down to the Foxes hierarchy to dictate the Algerian’s short term future, writes Rob Meech.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

As bargains go, few can beat Leicester City’s capture of Riyad Mahrez.

Signed from French outfit Le Havre for the nominal fee of £320,000 in January 2014, the Algerian has exceeded all expectations to become one of the world’s best footballers.

Mahrez played a starring role in arguably the biggest shock in British sporting history, as the Foxes defied odds of 5,000-1 to lift the Premier League trophy in 2016.

The 26-year-old dazzled spectators with his mazy runs and goals, scoring 17 times in total.

Cutting in from the right wing and curling the ball past the goalkeeper’s outstretched right glove was his trademark.

The nucleus of that title-winning side has since disbanded, with Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante having both swapped the King Power Stadium for Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.

Mahrez had pledged his future to the Foxes in the months following their sensational triumph, putting pen-to-paper on a bumper four-year-contract.

However, speculation linking the 2016 PFA Player of the Year with a transfer grew and after a disappointing campaign both personally and collectively, he announced his wish to leave the Midlands outfit, saying he felt it was the time to ‘move on.

A number of clubs were linked with him, but a move failed to materialise.

After initially being omitted from the starting line-up in the early stages of this season, the appointment of Claude Puel revitalised Mahrez, who reminded everyone why he had been so highly coveted.

Since then, his relationship with Leicester has turned sour.

He submitted a written transfer request in January and tried to force through a move to Manchester City, whose £60 million offer was rejected by the Foxes.

Sanctioning his departure on deadline day would have given Leicester very little time to sign a replacement.

Moreover, any potential deal would have been greatly inflated, with clubs wise to Leicester’s sudden windfall. Mahrez though, has effectively gone on strike.

He has not appeared at training this week and skipped the club’s past two fixtures.

Mahrez believes he has been denied his dream move.

He has given the club another 18 months of his career after they won the Premier League and in that time has seen the club sell the likes of Drinkwater and Kante.

Now, he feels the club should repay his loyalty. Instead, he feels betrayed.

It leaves Leicester in a predicament.

Even if Mahrez reported for training, it is likely he would incur a heavy fine and/or suspension.

It is hard to believe his team-mates feel anything other than let down by their star player.

By refusing to work at the club that pays his handsome wages, he is also damaging his reputation among the fans, who worshipped him as a hero.

One course of action for Leicester is to banish Mahrez to the reserves, much like Southampton did with Virgil van Dijk.

In reality, the hierarchy will understand it makes no sense in the long-term.

Selling their prized asset for an amount that meets their valuation, at a time that enables them to identify a replacement, would be best for both parties.

On top of the financial aspect is the effect this saga is having on the squad.

In an environment as highly charged as the Premier League, unwanted distractions can have major impacts.

Ultimately, there are rules that must be obeyed and respected.

No player can be allowed to breach his contract and go AWOL just because he doesn’t get what he wants.

Mahrez is tied to Leicester until 2020, a contract he was more than happy to sign.

He is in a privileged position and his childish behaviour only enhances the disconnect between footballers and the man on the street.

Reopening dialogue with the club and apologising for his actions would be a first step towards reconciliation.

Mahrez’s future may lie away from the King Power Stadium, but there are ways and means of going about it. Remaining professional is top of the list.

The supporters deserve better from a man who achieved more than he could possibly have dreamt of at Leicester City.

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Leicester City

Leicester City 2-0 Watford: Three talking points from the King Power

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Leicester City
Photo: Reuters

Leicester City moved up to seventh in the Premier League table as goals in either half from Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez earnt a comfortable win over struggling Watford on Saturday afternoon.

It was a far from fluid encounter between two sides looking to turn around some below par recent form, but it was the hosts who went closest early on when Vardy’s low drive was parried away by incoming goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.

Troy Deeney found the net for Watford only to see it chalked off for offside before Vardy did open the scoring, being hauled down by Molla Wague’s late challenge before coolly sending Karnezis the wrong way with the spot-kick.

Watford made some attacking substitutions after the break as they went in search of an equaliser and Andre Gray went closest when his effort was pushed aside, but by committing men into the attack they were always vulnerable to the counter and Mahrez tucked home to secure all the points.

The result sees the Foxes earn just their second win in seven league matches, lifting them above Burnley into seventh, whilst Watford remain in 10th with just the solitary win in their past 11 games.

Defeat proves the final straw as Silva sacked

What a difference a few months can make.

At the end of September, Watford were within touching distance of the Champions League spots after a blistering start to the season, losing just one out of eight matches.

There were genuine talks that the Hornets could be the team to try and muscle their way into the top six such was the way they ground out results and it was testament to some expansive football.

But a wretched run of form since a 3-0 away win at Newcastle in late November has ended those lofty ambitions and sent Watford – and boss Marco Silva – crashing back down to earth with an unwanted reality check, and defeat at Leicester means it’s now just the solitary win in 11 league outings.

It also signalled the end of Silva’s time in charge after just a matter of months, with the Club releasing a statement on Sunday morning announcing that they have parted company with the Portuguese tactician.

It may not come as a surprise considering their recent run of form but it’s a decision that has a feeling of haste about it, as Silva’s rejuvenation of Watford at the start of the season was unlike anything seen at Vicarage Road for a number of years.

Yet ultimately football is a results driven business and this – allied with an underlying message about Everton’s approach before Christmas – has resulted in his swift dismissal.

As for Watford’s demise, it’s hard to pinpoint an area as to why this has happened.

Over the course of these games they’ve conceded 23 times and only scored 11 – the same amount they managed in their opening seven games of the year – and there’s evidently glaring problems at both ends of the pitch.

Constant injuries to first-team players has hampered any hopes of progress but there’s still more than enough quality in the Watford squad, and whoever the new man in is they will need to find a way to get them firing again.

Record-signing Gray draws blank again

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Watford’s decline in form has come at the same time as a dry patch from young Brazilian Richarlison, who had proven to be a revelation in the Premier League since his summer move.

The 20-year-old has failed to find the net since the 2-0 win over West Ham in mid-November – 12 matches ago – and in the same period of time he’s only managed to create nine chances for his side.

For a point of comparison, he managed to score five goals and craft 14 opportunities in his opening 12 games when Watford were firing on all fronts. This will no doubt worry whoever Silva’s successor is as, whenever Richarlison isn’t impacting matches, it seems that there’s no-one else who will pick up the goal-scoring burden.

And one of the biggest disappointments of the season to date for the Hornets has been the patchy form of club-record signing Andre Gray.

At £18.5million there was a lot of hope and expectation on the shoulders of the former Burnley man but, with just four goals from 23 outings, he hasn’t quite had the desired impact since arriving at Vicarage Road.

It was a match where clear chances were few and far between but Watford’s best chance of an equaliser fell to Gray in the second-half, where his shot from inside the area was pushed away by Kasper Schmeichel. It was a smart stop but, on another day and with an in-form striker, it should have been buried and Gray will be kicking himself over it.

The players will know that they need to just grind out a result and their form could turn around again, and they will hope to get a second wind under a new manager and return to winning ways when they visit relegation-threatened Stoke City in a fortnight’s time.

Vardy and Mahrez run Watford ragged

Leicester City supporters can be forgiven for thinking that it’s the 2015-16 Premier League season once again as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez ran the show to earn a convincing win over Watford.

The duo have both endured some testing spells since the euphoric title-winning year but under Claude Puel they seem to be thriving, and the way they ran the show on Saturday was merely indicative of the confidence that is flowing through their veins again.

Watford will no doubt be sick of the sight of Mahrez after he notched his fifth goal in his last five appearances against the Hornets, rounding things off in injury-time with a composed finish.

There seems to be far less speculation over the Algerian’s future in this January transfer window compared to last year and it’s arguably this that allows him to focus on his football and nothing else.

And he was well accompanied by Vardy on the day, who caused constant problems for an under-strength Watford back-line. Their centre-back pairing of Molla Wague – who brought him down for the penalty – and Christian Kabasele just couldn’t contain his pace nor keep track of his late runs.

If both Vardy and Mahrez can sustain this sort of form long into the season then it’s anyone’s guess as to where Leicester may finish – and who knows, seventh might be a more than realistic target.

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