Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday Night Football: Foxes earn another ugly win, go five points clear

Leicester City 1-0 Newcastle
Yes, Leicester City are chasing their championship, and a win here would get them back to five points clear over Spurs, but the real story here was the debut of Rafa Benitez as Newcastle's manager. The former Real Madrid boss was brought in to save the club from relegation. The failure to do could result in Benitez leaving the club thanks to an out clause in his contract.

The knock on Foxes lately has been their inability to adapt their playing style against non-possession based teams. They beat the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham by letting them sit on the ball before hitting on the counter attack. Lesser clubs, like Newcastle, don't hang onto the ball as much, forcing Leicester to adopt a more possession based style. They coped well with that difference early on. Shinji Okazaki bicycled home the opening goal off a 25th minute free kick. It was an impressive and hard working goal, the sort of thing Leicester has become known for over this season.

The second half took a turn for the sloppy. Leicester's passing wasn't exactly crisp. Their normally deadly counter attacks forward fizzled out before they could achieve a threatening position. They began turning the ball over a little more often, which led to Newcastle attacks. The only thing keeping them in front was the lack of ability from Newcastle to produce an equalizing goal. This was despite owning a slight possession advantage and outshooting the Foxes when all was said and done.

Leicester earns themselves another scrappy three points against far lesser opposition. They never looked dominating in this one as you would expect for first place against 18th, but a win is a win at this point in the season. Even though this one looked a little ugly, style points mean absolutely nothing when your club is five points clear at the top.

This does bring the rest versus rust debate to the forefront, though. It was thought of as an advantage that Leicester would not have to worry about side competitions like Tottenham, their primary title rivals at this point. Yes, Leicester aren't exerting themselves in as many matches, but they didn't look in great game shape tonight. Their best players had less than great games tonight. Riyad Mahrez struggled. Jamie Vardy was just about non-existent. N'Golo Kante was even sub par.

As for Newcastle, it would have been quite impressive for Rafa Benitez to jump right into the Premier League basement and come out with a win against the league leaders four days into his tenure. His future will be judged on how his side handles the next nine matches. Even a result such as this can be encouraging. They had a few minor opportunities and they only allowed one goal to what is often considered a dangerous side. First impression says that BEnitez can muster his troops together and avoid the drop zone.

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