It is extraordinary that this is becoming business as usual. For the seventh Premier League game in a row, Jamie Vardy scored and Leicester won. This was their most stuttering performance during that run and Vardy needed a second-half penalty to make the breakthrough against the league’s bottom team before James Maddison netted in stoppage time, but Leicester made sure they took maximum points. That is what they do now.
Following last week’s dismissal of Quique Sánchez Flores, Watford arrived here without a permanent manager. Then again, “permanent manager” is practically an oxymoron in the Premier League, especially at Watford. Hayden Mullins was put in caretaker charge for this fixture and decided to be sparing with his broom, making a single alteration to the lineup that began Friday’s punishing defeat at Southampton.
But it was, he hoped, a significant change, with the captain Troy Deeney deemed fit enough to start his first league game since August. Mullins also changed formation, dispensing with the three-man central defence in favour of a 4-4-2, with Gerard Deulofeu partnering Troy Deeney up front. After the extreme caution of Flores, it looked like Watford were going to try to blast their way up the table.
Once upon a time Brendan Rodgers was Watford’s manager but he has seen and done a lot since leaving the club 10 years ago and, for his latest trick, he is trying to help Leicester establish themselves as an elite club. He has made impressive progress towards that since his first game back in March, a 2-1 defeat at Watford, whose form has since nosedived.
Among Leicester’s many virtues so far this season has been consistency but here a groin injury to Ben Chilwell obliged Rodgers to change his starting lineup for the first time in seven league matches. Christian Fuchs stepped into the left-back slot.
Leicester should have opened the scoring in the second minute after a move nicely begun and terribly finished by Ayoze Pérez. The Spaniard did everything right until he slammed the ball over the bar from 10 yards following a smart setup by Vardy. Pérez flopped again four minutes later, failing to make a clean connection from eight yards out after another Vardy pass.
Watford had to spend most of the first 10 minutes protecting their own goal as Leicester enjoyed what we may start calling the Foxes’ share of possession thanks, in particular, to the midfield dominance of Wilfried Ndidi. But when the visitors managed to piece together some passes, they confirmed they had travelled with adventurous intent, pushing their hosts backwards, albeit without forcing Kasper Schmeichel to do anything other than point and shout.
That, mind you, would have changed in the 23rd minute if Deulofeu had been able to top off a swift Watford counterattack from a corner. Instead Ricardo Pereira dashed back to stop the forward from getting off a shot.
Soon Harvey Barnes was guilty of inadequate finishing at the other end, shooting into the side-netting after service by Maddison. But that was a rare opening for hosts who, after Pérez’s early chances, began to find their route to goal blocked by increasingly pesky opponents. Barnes nearly made a spectacular breakthrough in the 35th minute, dancing past several opponents on his way from the left flank into the box before swapping passes with Vardy and Pérez and bringing a good save from Ben Foster.
Watford caught a break two minutes later when Vardy went down under a tackle by Adrian Mariappa and the referee decided to book the striker for simulation rather than award a penalty. VAR upheld that decision, much to the annoyance of home fans. They would have been even more vexed moments later if Deulofeu’s clever free-kick from the right had found the corner of the net rather than wobbling inches past the post.
Rodgers had a rethink at half-time, replacing Pérez with Dennis Praet and moving Maddison closer to Vardy, and Leicester quickly summoned more vim. Within two minutes Caglar Soyuncu had a chance to score but thwacked a shot over the bar from 10 yards after a free-kick was nodded down to him.
Leicester can pose threats from all over the pitch and soon their right-back, Pereira, went on the rampage, marauding forward before setting up Barnes, who drew another good save from Foster. Leicester were improving, and so was their luck. In the 52nd minute they were awarded a penalty when, with a cross from James Maddison incoming, Adam Masina pushed a hand into the face of Jonny Evans in an effort to hold off the Northern Irishman. Vardy granted no pardon from the spot, side-footing past Foster to an explosion of relief around the ground.
Now Leicester found their swagger. Masina denied Vardy by clearing off the line on the hour before Maddison completed the scoring in stoppage time by dodging past two defenders and finishing with his left foot.