Leicester are up to second in the table after a fourth successive away win in the Premier League. This was Leeds’ heaviest defeat of the season and, had they finished more clinically, Leicester might have run up an even more painful scoreline at Elland Road.
The home side showed resilience to overcome a dreadful start to be in with a chance of a draw in the second half but they were eventually undone, as a few more sides will surely be this season, by the unfailing appetite and opportunism of Jamie Vardy.
“Jamie is a top level striker, one of the best in the Premier League, but that was a brilliant performance [from the team] all round,” Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester manager, said. “We defended well and found space to go forward. It was disappointing to concede the goal we did at the start of the second half, but at least we showed we could play our way back into the game.”
Marcelo Bielsa’s verdict was fair. “We had enough possession but we lacked impact,” the Leeds manager said. “We allowed them to play out too easily and couldn’t win the ball back. We defended poorly.”
Played in torrential rain, the game got off to a remarkable start. Leeds had a great chance to open the scoring in under two minutes when wonderful link play between Pablo Hernández and Hélder Costa led to a free header for Patrick Bamford on the six-yard line. Unfortunately for the home side Bamford placed his effort straight into Kasper Schmeichel’s arms, and the goalkeeper started an attack that ended up in Illan Meslier’s net.
Schmeichel fed Christian Fuchs on the left for the defender to send a straightforward ball down the channel, where Robin Koch lost his bearings when challenged by Harvey Barnes. Koch had a chance to clear but missed it and allowed Barnes to get goalside, then an underhit backpass merely invited Vardy to take over, claiming possession first then flicking the ball back into Barnes’ path to cut out both Koch and the goalkeeper.
Leeds had been opened up by Leicester’s first attack, and even with only three minutes on the clock it was evident Vardy had the pace, touch and balance to cause the home defenders problems on a slippery surface. Meslier came to his side’s rescue with a one-handed saved when Barnes sent in a well-struck shot, before Leeds lost the ball in their own half and were punished by a second goal before the mid-point of the first half. Youri Tielemans started the move and finished it, but Vardy’s movement was again key, losing his markers to reach Marc Albrighton’s cross with a stooping header that Meslier could only push into Tielemans’ path.
Leicester could have had more before the interval,Luke Thomas saw a shot saved, Meslier almost fumbled a cross into his own net, and when Leeds had a chance to hit back just before the break they were unable to take it. Bamford stayed onside to accept Luke Ayling’s clever ball into the box, yet his first touch was heavy enough to allow an alert Schmeichel to smother at his feet.
When Leeds pulled a goal back within three minutes it was due to uncharacteristic uncertainty in the visitors’ defence. Nothing seemed on when Stuart Dallas hoisted a diagonal cross towards the far post, yet everyone in the penalty area missed it, and when the last defender, Fuchs, failed to clear Schmeichel suddenly realised he was in no position to prevent the ball creeping inside his left-hand upright.
Fortunate or not, the goal delivered a much needed boost to the home side’s confidence. Leeds asked more questions of Leicester in the first 10 minutes of the second half than they had managed in the entire 45 minutes that preceded it, with Ayling only inches from finishing a move on the six-yard line and Hernández curling a shot on to the angle of post and bar. Suddenly there was a contest, prompting Rodgers to introduce James Maddison from the bench in an attempt to restore the attacking superiority.
It was a switch that worked. And to the manager’s credit the decisive goal was engineered by not one but two of his substitutes.
Maddison picked up the ball in space in the middle of the Leeds half, looked up and threaded a perfectly weighted pass to pick up Cengiz Under’s supporting run on the right. The Leeds cover arrived in time but the ball rebounded towards goal rather than away from it and to no one’s surprise Vardy was ideally placed for a tap-in and a seventh goal of the season.
Vardy could have gone up to eight when he streaked away from the Leeds defence once again in the closing minutes, but Leeds were reprieved when he could only find the side-netting. That turned out to be his final involvement, brought off before the end for an extra man in defence, before Tielemans scored his second with a VAR-awarded penalty for a Mateusz Klich foul on Maddison in injury time. It was Vardy’s night, though.