It is a good thing for Jürgen Klopp that Liverpool keep winning, because so do their most impressive rivals. Leicester City swept to their eighth league victory in a row – their best ever streak in the top-flight – to move back to within eight points of the league leaders. An insurmountable gap? Probably, but only a fool would completely discount this fearsome Leicester side.
Naturally, Jamie Vardy scored here, the eighth game in a row in which he has done so. He struck twice to bring his tally to the season so far to 16 and to close in on his own Premier League record of 11 consecutive matches with a goal. Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans also found the net for the visitors, with Jack Grealish offering only fleeting hope to the hosts. No other team this season has beaten Villa as emphatically as this.
Before kick-off there was a warm ovation in tribute to Ron Saunders, the former Villa manager who died on Saturday at the age of 87. Saunders was the inspiration behind some of Villa’s greatest achievements, turning them from a second-tier side into League Cup winners and English champions before leaving with the club on the verge of European coronation in 1982. Those are feats that any football supporter can appreciate, though it was perhaps fitting that Leicester were the visitors here, as their rise in recent years is vaguely comparable to the one led by Saunders, so long as allowance is made for the differences in eras.
Mind you, when the match got under way and a keg of Leicester fans launched into their familiar chant of “champions of England, you’ll never sing that”, one was reminded that these are times in which some people are determined to celebrate ignorance.
Vardy, meanwhile, is a phenomenon that everyone can celebrate. Five years ago, on the only previous occasion that Leicester won eight league matches in a row – in the Championship – he scored the decisive goal in a victory at Birmingham City. Here, in a different part of the second city, he showed his enduring deadliness by opening the scoring in the 20th minute. It was not his surest finish, because, after going around the goalkeeper, he initially miskicked. But Ezri Konsa slipped, allowing Vardy to recover and prod in the net from close range.
The chance had been created by a loss of possession in midfield by Wesley and an astute through-ball by Iheanacho. Rodgers had decided to award the Nigerian a first league start of the season after being impressed by his performance off the bench against Everton last week. Iheanacho offered further justification for that decision by notching Leicester’s second goal from close range in the 41st minute. Konsa may have unwittingly got a touch to the ball as he tried to deflect it out of the striker’s path but the goal was fair reward for a slick move that started with Caglar Soyuncu striding out of defence before James Maddison pinged a low cross to the near post.
Things were looking ominous for Villa, who lost Tyrone Mings to a hamstring injury after the first goal and cursed an 11th-minute miss by Anwar El Ghazi, who shot against the crossbar from six yards after a fine delivery by Matt Targett.
Leicester, however, had threatened even before that, with Iheanacho forcing a decent save from Tom Heaton in the third minute after being slipped in by Maddison.
Maddison radiated dangerous influence at the tip of the midfield diamond that Rodgers chose to deploy for this game instead of his usual 4-3-3. Dennis Praet, chosen in midfield ahead of Harvey Barnes, sent Vardy racing clear down the right just after the half hour. The striker tried to feed Iheanacho coming in from the other side but Bjorn Engels, who had replaced Mings, made a key interception.
Villa were having little joy in attack, where their lone centre-forward, Wesley, struggled to make an impact. But so long as they have Grealish, they always have a threat. He underlined that point in stoppage time at the end of the first half. After Leicester for once failed to clear a corner adequately, the ball broke to Grealish, who, from about 16 yards, swept a superb shot in off the far post.
That proved to be no more than an irritant to Leicester. They regained their two-goal lead shortly after half-time. The ease with which they did so can only have angered Dean Smith. Maddison floated a corner beyond the cluster of players near the penalty spot before Evans, having sneaked into space, guided an expert header into the top corner of the net.
What struck most after that was Leicester’s relentlessness. They craved more goals. Vardy helped himself to another one thanks to another canny pass by Praet. Maddison, Barnes Tielemans nearly made the toll even heavier, and Heaton had to make a brilliant save to foil Soyuncu. Villa’s fans streamed out of the ground long before the end for fear of witnessing something embarrassing. But for neutrals this Leicester team are a pleasure to watch.