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Leicester City

Watford 2-1 Leicester City: Three talking points from Vicarage Road

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Watford recorded their first victory in seven Premier League matches as they recovered from going behind to beat Leicester City and claim a much-needed three points at Vicarage Road on Boxing Day.

It’s easy to forget that the Hornets were just three points off the Champions League places back in October and it seemed like their rotten recent run of form would extend to seven league games without a win when Riyad Mahrez found space at the back-post to head home a deserved opener.

But within eight minutes – and on the stroke of half-time – the hosts responded, with defender Molla Wague being left unmarked to prod home an equaliser and leave things level at the break.

Watford started the second-half in the ascendency just as they had finished the first and they got their reward in fortunate circumstances when the ever-influential Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot somehow found its way into the back of the net from on the by-line off ‘keeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester pushed for a late equaliser only for Wes Morgan and Leonardo Ulloa to be denied by Heurelho Gomes, and Watford managed to hold out for a precious and richly-needed three points.

The result sees Watford move to within two points of Leicester in tenth place, now eight points adrift of Burnley in seventh place, whilst Claude Puel’s side remain in eight spot on goal difference.

Job done for Silva’s side

Watford’s early season momentum has slightly stalled somewhat in the past few weeks, and whilst there was nothing vintage about their win yesterday it will come as a relief to manager Marco Silva.

The Hornets hadn’t tasted victory in the league since the 3-0 win away at Newcastle in late November, going on a run of five defeats and one draw in the six matches prior to Boxing Day.

Tuesday’s win was also only their third in the previous 12 Premier League outings, picking up just ten points from a possible 36 since mid-October, and Silva will be hoping that getting three points against the Foxes can bring an end to a barren run that’s seen Watford drop down the table quickly.

It is perhaps the manner of victory that will have pleased the Watford boss more than anything, falling behind before half-time to a rare Riyad Mahrez header, and his decision to bring on Stefano Okaka and move Richarlison back onto the left-wing was one that ultimately turned things around.

Within moments Molla Wague – the centre-back making his first Watford start since arriving from Italian side Udinese on deadline day – levelled things up on the stroke of half-time, and from that moment on the hosts seemed to have a spring in their step.

Their winner came in fortunate circumstances but the Hornets won’t care how it went in, nor care that they scored twice from just one shot on target all game, and it’s now about backing this win up with another one against bottom side Swansea City this coming Saturday.

Another miserable Boxing Day for the Foxes

Leicester City supporters will be sick of the sight of Boxing Day soon as, for the 11th time in their previous 12 games played on December 26, they failed to win.

It’s a miserable record that has stretched throughout the club’s Premier League history and yet another Boxing Day defeat, this time at Watford, means the Foxes have now lost in their last four league outings on this particular day.

Claude Puel’s side will be left to rue their wastefulness in front of goal in a match where they would have been favourites prior to kick-off, and had Jamie Vardy not uncharacteristically missed when through on goal early on or had Wes Morgan’s late effort found the net it could have been different.

But instead they fell short against a team that possessed little attacking intent on the day, and the defeat means that Leicester have now gone four games without a win having lost just one of Puel’s first eight games in charge.

The ex-Southampton man claimed post-match that a draw would have been a fair result, and arguably so, but his side will have to pick themselves back up for a tough trip to Liverpool next up.

Doucoure’s return leads Watford to win

One of the main architects of Watford’s early season form, along with the irrepressible young Brazilian Richarlison, was Abdoulaye Doucoure.

And whilst Watford’s form has gradually derailed over the past months one man who hasn’t dropped his own performance levels is the Frenchman, and he was superb again against Leicester.

The 24-year-old central midfielder has been a revelation after an underwhelming first season at Vicarage Road last time out, spear-heading the Watford midfield in the long-term absence of Nathaniel Chalobah, and it was little surprise that he had the final say once against on Boxing Day.

He was a huge miss for Marco Silva in Saturday’s disappointing defeat away at Brighton & Hove Albion and it was clear to see how much his return buoyed his side, being the glue that holds this Watford side together, and he single-handedly created the winning goal from out of nowhere.

Whilst it went down as a Kasper Schmeichel own goal it once again highlighted the impact he has been having in front of goal for a central midfielder – after half of the season he’s already scored some six times – and it wouldn’t be surprising if there was heightened interest in him in the upcoming January transfer window.

But his impact runs deeper than his goal tally and he’s forged an identity for himself this season leading by example, being the driving force for a team that are a shadow of their 2015/16 selves.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @willypearson.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. D

    December 27, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    >a team that are a shadow of their 2015/16 selves.

    Excuse me, what? Is that a joke? We are a better team in pretty much every single aspect. Did you ever watch us then, or now?

    To say that Doucoure ‘single-handedly created the winning goal from out of nowhere’ is also extremely grasping, considering his shot was a volley from a free kick, played into the box by Tom Cleverley.

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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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Chelsea

Chelsea 0-0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea remain winless in 2018 after Antonio Conte’s misfiring charges recorded their third successive goalless draw.

Despite having a numerical advantage for the final 20 minutes following Ben Chilwell’s red card, the Blues could not find a winning goal against a Leicester City side that enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance.

Chelsea have now played more than 270 minutes of football in all competitions without scoring and have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League table as a result of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City. Leicester remain eighth and continue their good form since Claude Puel’s appointment as manager.

Here are three talking points…

Chelsea’s goal scoring problems are mounting

Much has been written about Alvaro Morata’s goalscoring drought, which extended to five matches after he failed to register a single effort in this clash, but Chelsea’s goalscoring issues go much deeper.

Since the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on January 3, the Blues have failed to find the back of the net. None of the top six clubs have scored fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 41 Premier League goals for the season.

There is no doubt the burden has rested heavily on Morata and when he was in fine form during the first few months of the campaign, Chelsea were often rampant. But the Spaniard’s barren spell has coincided with a downturn in the Blues’ effectiveness.

The problem for Conte is he has little faith in back-up striker Michy Batshuayi. There is no other obvious candidate to act as the focal point, although the Italian has previously experimented with a false number nine.

Defensively, Chelsea are very solid, but that counts for little when they fail to score.

Leicester grab a point despite Chilwell’s red

It’s not often a player receives two yellow cards in a matter of minutes, but that’s exactly the fate that befell Leicester’s Ben Chilwell.

After being cautioned for a foul on Willian, the Leicester man then received a second booking only five minutes later for bringing down Victor Moses.

Both fouls were fairly innocuous and Chilwell’s dismissal disrupted the Foxes’ performance, which had threatened to claim all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester boss Puel was critical of Mike Jones’ decision to send off Chilwell, which may have come under more scrutiny had Chelsea gone on to win the game.

As it was, the visitors held out for a point, which was the least they deserved. Jamie Vardy twice went close to breaking the deadlock and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert throughout.

This was definitely not a rearguard display – Leicester created numerous chances and were keen to take the game to their high-flying opponents.

Tiredness to blame – Conte

Chelsea boss Conte blamed tiredness for his side’s failure to win for the fourth game in a row. This fixture came just three days after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, amid a run of seven games in 21 days.

The Blues return to action again against Norwich City for an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night. In total, Chelsea will play eight games in January after playing nine in December.

There’s no doubt it is a punishing schedule, but Chelsea are not alone in that regard. A club with their squad depth should be able to cope. Conte has rotated his squad, particularly for the cup games, and is sure to field a much-changed side for the Norwich replay.

Of course, if the Blues were winning matches there would be no need to raise the fatigue element as an excuse.

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Leicester City

Would this be the ideal transfer window for Leicester City?

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Photo: Reuters

Since taking the helm from Craig Shakespeare, Claude Puel has masterminded something of a quiet revolution at Leicester City.

Having taken over a side that had won just five games in all competitions in 2017/18, a mere two of those coming in the league (D3, L4), the Frenchman has successfully steadied the ship at the King Power Stadium, winning six and drawing four of his fifteen matches in charge across all competitions.

Notable results include a 4-1 drubbing of Puel’s former club Southampton at St. Mary’s, a 2-2 home draw with Manchester United, and a valiant EFL Cup exit via penalty kicks after holding Manchester City to a 1-1 draw.

Such form has lifted the Foxes from the bottom three to the heady heights of the top ten, but Puel will be under no illusions that he must get this transfer window right to continue his revival in the East Midlands.

His predecessor, Craig Shakespeare, will know this only too well, the summer transfer window proving particularly costly to his short tenure.

Having lost Danny Drinkwater to Chelsea at the eleventh hour of Deadline Day, Leicester had his ready-made replacement Adrien Silva ready and waiting to arrive from Sporting Lisbon, only for FIFA to declare the Portugal international ineligible until January since his transfer paperwork arrived fourteen seconds beyond the deadline.

Such a scenario is unlikely to repeat itself, but even with Adrien Silva now joining his teammates in Premier League action and lessening the need for any reinforcements in centre-midfield, the Foxes have their work cut-out this month, particularly with question marks hanging over Riyad Mahrez’s future at the club in the midst of interest from Arsenal and Liverpool.

Yet Claude Puel is unlikely to make wholesale changes to a squad that all things considered, is performing well under his tutelage.

Interestingly, Puel is understood to wish to hold onto Algerian winger Mahrez and his compatriot, £29.7 million man Islam Slimani, despite the latter’s lack of action this season, according to Sky Sports journalist Michael Kelleher.

The report does hint that the Foxes boss may be prepared to part company with Ahmed Musa, though, but a replacement may not be an urgent requirement given the form of Mahrez and Demarai Gray on the opposite flank.

Slimani’s cool finish in Leicester’s recent Premier League win over Huddersfield showcased what the former Sporting Lisbon man still has to offer, and retaining him would sustain much of Leicester’s strength in depth going forward.

Strengthening out wide may depend entirely on where Mahrez finds himself come the closure of the window, but in any case what the Foxes do lack is a creative player capable of filling out the ‘number 10’ role.

One such player who fits the bill for this, and can equally be deployed on either flank is a familiar name to the Premier League and a former colleague of Claude Puel at OGC Nice, PSG misfit Hatem Ben Arfa.

Ben Arfa has proven himself capable of playing in the Premier League, but established a reputation as being a gifted yet inconsistent player during his time with Newcastle and Hull in the top-flight.

Puel was able to coax the best out of Ben Arfa during his season-long spell on the French Riviera. However, his goals helping fire Les Aiglons to a fourth place finish in Ligue 1 in 2015/16 and a place in the Europa League.

Such form earned Ben Arfa his big money move to PSG, where he has since failed to make the grade, and a move to the East Midlands to re-unite with his former boss may be just the transfer required to re-ignite his career.

Puel’s personal relationship with the player may be the deciding factor in swaying the tide in favour of any such move for the player, but there is no doubt that Ben Arfa would not only offer Leicester another exciting attacking and creative option, given the Frenchman’s penchant for running at defenders.

Meanwhile, he has also proven himself a capable source of goals, something which Leicester lack in their frontline, bar the diminutive talent of Jamie Vardy.

The lack of goals elsewhere in attack is something that Puel has already set about remedying, though. The Foxes have a knack for identifying talent in the French Ligue 2, with Riyad Mahrez and Anthony Knockaert (now of Brighton) just two signings plundered from the division over the years that have become big hits at the King Power.

Leicester’s French manager has recently been shopping in the French second tier in search of a striker, with Mali U-23 international Fousseni Diabate having completed a move from Corsican side Gazélec Ajaccio.

Diabate is a natural forward, but much like Ben Arfa can be deployed either in the ‘number 10’ role or on either flank, and he has featured out wide for the majority of the campaign for Gazélec, where he has started all but two of their matches in all competitions this season after making the drop from Ligue 1 outfit Guingamp.

He has netted three goals and assisted once in that time, featuring alongside Grégoire Puel, son of Leicester boss, Claude.

As a wide-man, the signing of Diabate will directly plug the hole vacated by Ahmed Musa should the Nigerian leave, but if Puel opts to use the Malian as a forward, that could spell the end of peripheral figure Leonardo Ulloa’s time at the club.

With Puel wanting to keep Slimani at the club, as well as handing regular game-time to Shinjo Okazaki, getting the Argentinian off the club’s books whether permanently or on loan, would be a sensible option, with Aston Villa reportedly interested in acquiring his services, as well as those of midfielder Daniel Amartey.

Puel has already declared his intent to keep summer signing Kelechi Iheanacho at the club despite his lack of minutes, thus with Diabate’s arrival the Frenchman has more than enough options in the forward position  should Ulloa leave.

The departure of Amartey may be less likely, but Matt James’ return to fitness would cushion the blow in the event of any move.

One other area which Puel may look to add cover in during the transfer window is central defence. The Frenchman has options in Aleksandar Dragovic and Yohan Benalouane as back-up to Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire, but with Robert Huth still no closer to a return following surgery on an ankle problem, Puel could look to add another option to the ranks.

His need for reinforcements would certainly increase should there be any substance to reports from The Sun linking Maguire to a £50 million approach from Manchester City.

Although Sky Sports report that Puel is unfazed by such speculation, suggesting it is unlikely that capped England international Maguire, who only joined the Foxes in the summer, will be heading anywhere, there are still realistic options for Puel to turn to for cover to his back-four and to bolster the back-line should Maguire leave.

Two of these options are players the Foxes were linked to during the summer, West Brom’s Jonny Evans and Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson.

Gibson may be the likelier of the two options given Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s known admiration of Jonny Evans, but either defender would be a reliable option to partner Wes Morgan should Maguire depart, or even challenge the regular centre-half pairing for a starting spot.

Evans would be the more experienced option to turn to, but the signing of Gibson would constitute a positive investment in the future of the Leicester defence, with Morgan and the injured Robert Huth both nearing the twilight of their careers at the age of 33.

Yohan Benalouane himself is 30, thus age is most certainly a factor for the Foxes to consider, and Puel may look to youth if he wishes to revitalise his defence.

He certainly seems to be doing so elsewhere in the team with his desire to develop Kelechi Iheanacho further as well as signing the youthful Diabate, and it wouldn’t be surprising if building for the future proves the way of things on the whole this January at the King Power. It certainly appears to be shaping up that way.

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