Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri will be treating his players to Italy’s favourite meal this week, fulfilling his promise of pizza when his side keep their first clean sheet of the season.
In their tenth league game, Jamie Vardy scored for the seventh game in a row, joining an illustrious group of players to have completed the remarkable feat in the Premier League; his 59th minute strike proved to be the difference as Leicester clung on to a first clean sheet of the season against Crystal Palace.
In the first half, Leicester created the majority of the openings. Marc Albrighton went closest for the hosts in the eighth minute when he cut inside onto his left foot before seeing his low shot come back of the post and behind the helpless Wayne Hennessey before Riyad Mahrez put his angled rebound just past the far post.
With both sets of fans helping to creating a fantastic atmosphere at Leicester’s King Power Stadium, Vardy was proving a handful for the Palace defence as he raced onto a loose ball, despite Brede Hangeland’s 10-yard head-start. Vardy, whose name was chanted throughout by the home supporters, could not pick out a teammate with his cross, though. City continued to create chances and Danny Drinkwater’s fierce drive from 20-yards went straight down the throat of the Welsh goalkeeper.
Kasper Schmeichel was called into action once in the first half, catching Yohan Cabaye’s swerving strike well. The half ended 0-0 and the game was in need of a goal.
After the interval, both sides continued to attack in an end-to-end encounter. As the game approached the hour mark, the intensity heated up massively as more risky challenges came flying in from both sets of players, as fans reacted loudly to every decision Mike Dean made with roars of approval or discontent, depending on which way the decision went.
After a few feisty challenges, the only goal of the game came when Schmeichel’s long clearance was headed across the defence by Scott Dann to Hangeland who made a terrible hash of the situation, presenting the ball to Mahrez. The Algerian capitalised, playing a delightful through ball first-time to England’s number 9, who dinked the ball over the onrushing Hennessey before racing on ahead of Dann to slam the ball home from three yards out. An emphatic finish capping a fine piece of combination play from Mahrez and Vardy.
With half an hour still to play, much of the pressing was then made by Alan Pardew’s side as he ringed the changes. On-loan Chelsea striker Patrick Bamford, Wilfred Zaha and Mile Jedinak all came on as the visitors looked to salvage something from the game. Bamford twice saw effort denied by Schmeichel, firstly a magnificent save as Bamford headed goalwards from a Bakary Sako corner and then a very tame shot was easy for the Dane to save. Sako himself went close as his left footed curling effort from just outside the penalty area was beaten away by the Leicester stopper.
As the game edged closer to its conclusion, Palace felt they had three strong penalty claims. Firstly, Wilfred Zaha managed to wriggle past Christian Fuchs in the area, the Austrian defender appearing to stick out a leg which the tricky winger duly went over. But hearts were in mouths for the Leicester fans as Dean blew his whistle before eventually signalling that Zaha had taken a dive and was subsequently booked. Fuchs was again in the thick of it as Bamford controlled a left-wing cross on his chest before falling dramatically to the ground when he could have pulled the trigger. Again Dean waved away the protests. It was Fuchs at the centre of the controversy once more as a long ball skidded up off the wet, slick surface and appeared to strike Fuchs’ left arm but once more, Mike Dean was unmoved, much to Pardew’s disgust.
Into injury time, Ranieri fired up the home crowd once more with an energetic motion to the fans, urging them to make even more noise before grabbing hold of the ball in an attempt to wind down a few more seconds on the clock.
After Jamie Vardy was booked for a late sliding tackle in the final moments, Mike Dean blew his whistle one last time as Leicester clinched another win, their fifth of the season, and a first clean sheet.
The Italian manager said, “I took the ball because it was our ball. Maybe now I meet Alan Pardew in my dressing room. It was a more Italian than English match apart from the last 10 minutes. We battled well and deserved to win. We are taking it step-by-step. It’s important to achieve 40 points; that is our first goal.”
Meanwhile, his Palace counterpart was less happy, saying, “It was a tight game, Leicester weren’t really going anywhere and it was a mistake that cost us the game. I thought Claudio Ranieri was goading our players and he didn’t shake my hand at full-time, which is disappointing. But it’s a long game and they’ve got to come to our place and we’ll remember that.”
The win sees Leicester remain in fifth place on 19 points, whilst Palace remain sixth but are four points behind Ranieri’s men, but could slip down if Tottenham beat Bournemouth or there is an outright winner in the Liverpool vs Southampton encounter.
Whatever happens, though, Leicester win remain fifth (assuming Manchester United don’t lose by four in the Manchester derby!) and Ranieri and co will be enjoying their pizzas this week, especially the league’s in-form striker Jamie Vardy, who will be looking to make it eight consecutive scoring league games on Saturday at the Hawthorns.