Crystal Palace 0-2 Leicester City: Foxes show why a return to the Champions League looks increasingly likely
They couldn’t do it again, could they? In the era of these Liverpool and Manchester City teams, probably not, but with every passing week Leicester demand to be taken more seriously.
On Sunday they kept the bandwagon rolling at Selhurst Park, beating Crystal Palace in tidy and clinical fashion to make it three Premier League wins in a row and seven from in the last nine top-flight games.
Goals from centre-back Caglar Soyuncu and the electric Jamie Vardy ensured they responded to Chelsea’s win over Watford and reclaimed third place from Frank Lampard’s men on goal difference.
Read more: Is this Leicester team even better than the title-winners?
They also increased to six points the gap to fifth-placed Arsenal, who they host next weekend in what could prove a pivotal fixture for both clubs’ hopes of returning to the Champions League.
Vardy’s form has been central to Leicester’s revival under Brendan Rodgers.
The former England striker, 32, had scored in all but one of their league wins this term and did not disappoint against Palace, despite having to wait until the match was in its dying stages to get a chance.
His goal capped a fine attacking move that began with Youri Tielemans rapping a pass towards Demarai Gray from the left touchline.
Gray stepped over the ball, letting it run to Vardy, who then played a one-two with Gray before sweeping the return pass beyond Vicente Guaita.
It was Vardy’s 10th league goal this season, putting him top of the scoring charts, and his 19th since Rodgers took charge in late February – five more than anyone else in the division during that period.
If Vardy scoring was inevitable, then Soyuncu’s first in Leicester colours was fitting.
The Turkey defender made only four league starts last term, following his £19m transfer from German side Freiburg, but has come into his own as the replacement for Harry Maguire alongside Jonny Evans.
Soyuncu got his reward early in the second half when he evaded marking to meet James Maddison’s out-swinging corner from the right with a stooping header from close range.
It was one of eight chances created by midfielder Maddison, whose tally was the best of any Englishman for six years, when Wayne Rooney made nine for Manchester United against Cardiff.
Maddison and Tielemans were a joy to watch as they took it in turns to pick out passes for each other, Vardy and the wide players, a lively Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes.
Palace cause for concern
Soyuncu’s goal highlighted a worrying pattern with respect to defending corners for Palace manager Roy Hodgson, however.
Perhaps lost in the chaos and relief of a two-goal comeback at Arsenal last week was the fact that the Gunners scored twice from corners with conspicuous ease inside the first 10 minutes at Emirates Stadium.
Even before Soyuncu broke the deadlock, Palace looked vulnerable defending the set-plays and Evans might have done better than head over from a corner in the first half.
At the other end, the hosts also left something to be desired. For the third time in six home league games this term Palace failed to score.
Andre Ayew had two early half-chances – one blocked, the other blazed high and wide – but Palace struggled to penetrate Leicester and came closest through a Jeffrey Schlupp shot that took a big deflection.
When Leicester pulled off their bookmaker-bashing title miracle in 2016, they capitalised on a complacency among the big clubs.
Champions City and current leaders Liverpool have shown few signs of that trait so a repeat remains highly unlikely, but a top four finish is very much on.
By next Saturday evening Leicester could be nine points ahead of a faltering Arsenal, with Tottenham and United even further adrift. While not a title, a return to Europe’s top table would be the next best thing.
Main image credit: Getty