Leicester returned to winning ways with a 4-1 thrashing of relegation-threatened West Ham to maintain their push for Champions League football next season, but it came at a cost.
Following shock back-to-back defeats to Southampton and Burnley, the Foxes were again at their superb best as goals from Harvey Barnes, Ricardo and a brace from Ayoze Perez ensured they maintained their stranglehold on third place, despite a tense half-hour in the second period on the back of Hammers captain Mark Noble’s 50th-minute penalty.
But after what has been a relatively injury-free season for City, boss Brendan Rodgers saw midfielder Nampalys Mendy and star striker Jamie Vardy limp off in the first half.
Back with a big W!
— Leicester City (@LCFC) January 22, 2020
Rodgers at least witnessed a performance that was on a par with those that saw Leicester win nine matches in a row – eight in the league – from mid-October through to early December that had propelled his side up to second and into title contention.
The Hammers had no answer for City’s powerful cut-and-thrust, and but for often lamentable final passes inside the area then the scoreline could have been far more emphatic.
Midway through the opening 45 minutes, with Leicester enjoying 75% possession, they had mustered little bar a chance for Vardy that was straight at Darren Randolph and an angled half-volley from Ricardo that was high and wide.
But in the 23rd minute the industrious Barnes teed up Pereira, whose low shot appeared to be heading narrowly wide until the former’s tap-in intervention for his third goal in four games.
Then injury disaster struck for City as first Mendy hobbled off in the 32nd minute after pointing to a spot below his left knee, with Vardy following suit 12 minutes later after initially trying to play on with a left hamstring problem.
Despite that, Leicester’s incisive football carved open United late in the added time for the injuries, with Barnes playing a stunning ball through the area that allowed Ricardo to unleash a 15-yard rocket for his third goal of the season, and first in almost four months.
There appeared no way back for the visitors until VAR concurred with referee David Coote’s decision to award a 48th-minute penalty for a soft shoulder-to-shoulder challenge on Sebastian Haller from Wilfrid Ndidi, on as a sub for Mendy and after less than two weeks out after undergoing knee surgery.
It was left to Noble to send the 27th Premier League spot-kick of his career straight down the middle for his fourth goal this term, with three of them penalties.
Randolph then produced two fine saves, the second world class, in denying first Perez after he had met a low right-wing cross from Ricardo, before tipping over from underneath his crossbar a dipping 22-yard curler from James Maddison.
Ten minutes from time, though, Coote awarded his second penalty – with no debate on this occasion – as Angelo Ogbonna clumsily bundled over Vardy replacement Kelechi Iheanacho, allowing Perez to slot home from the spot.
Two minutes from time Leicester completed their rout as Perez drilled home a stunning angled shot across Randolph from 16 yards for his seventh goal of the season.