Crisis? What crisis? Into the top half of the Premier League and the quarter-finals of European competition, important players coming back from injury to enable rotation, Leicester City saw off Brentford with some comfort and a couple of memorable early goals from Timothy Castagne and James Maddison. They even came up with a ploy to counter their opponents’ set-piece threat, so no wonder Brendan Rodgers, notwithstanding Yoane Wissa’s late goal, was smiling in the spring sunshine at the final whistle.
Brentford rallied in the second half, as Leicester tired in their 42nd match of the season, following Thursday’s Europa Conference League trip to Rennes, and started to believe they could cope without Christian Eriksen, sidelined with Covid, when Wissa cut back to score from the edge of the penalty area five minutes from time. But Leicester, now defeated only once in 12 home games, deserved to hold out and, after successive wins over Norwich and Burnley, Brentford, eight points clear of the relegation zone, still have some work to do to be certain of retaining their status.
Leicester’s goals came from almost exactly the same spot but from vastly contrasting sources. Castagne produced such a brilliant right-footed shot from just outside the left corner of the penalty area, after receiving Harvey Barnes’s short pass, for only his third goal since joining from Atlanta in September 2020, that he ran away with his hands to his head , as if in disbelief. On his first start of the year, after a thigh injury, this was some way to mark his return.
That shot swerved powerfully into the far top corner, in the 20th minute, and 13 minutes later, David Raya, the Brentford goalkeeper, was picking the ball out of the other corner. Maddison picked himself up, having been fouled by Mathias Jensen, and bent his shot into the near top corner, for his 13th goal of the season in all competitions.
In advance, set pieces had looked likely to be an intriguing and potentially decisive factor in this match. No team has had more problems in defending them than Leicester, who have conceded a divisional-high 20 goals from restarts, while Brentford had scored 50% of their 32 Premier League goals from this source.
So when the visiting team had their first corner midway through the first half, it was instructive to see that Rodgers had come up with a plan. Three Leicester forwards promptly ran off to the halfway line, leaving Thomas Frank with a dilemma: to stick, with two defenders back, or twist, and bring sufficient cover back. The Brentford manager went with the latter, albeit with only three defenders, rather than with one man spare. The corner came to nothing anyway, and Leicester could breathe again.
Leicester repeated the trick in the second half, when Brentford were starting to work a way back into the game. Christian Nørgaard, Vitaly Janet and Rico Henry came back to mark Maddison, Kelechi Iheanacho and Barnes. From Jensen’s corner into a thinned-out crowd, Ethan Pinnock just got the better of Caglar Soyuncu but headed wide.
By this stage the game had drifted, pleasingly, with the ambience of an end-of-season affair. The sun was out, the team took it in turns to attack and the match became strung out. Iheanacho ran clear on to James Justin’s lofted pass, got away from the last man but then dinked his shot over Kasper Schmeichel and against the outside of the post.
At the other end, Brentford started to sense a way back into the game, and Schmeichel had to make two brilliant saves: first from Pontus Jansson’s header, following Kristoffer Ajer’s right-wing centre; then from Bryan Mbeumo’s effort after Ivan Toney’s center from the same area.
Rodgers reacted, switching Justin to left-back, where Castagne was feeling the pace, and reintroducing Jonny Evans alongside Soyuncu, with Daniel Amartey pushing out to right-back. What a luxury it must feel for Rodgers, to have such options returning.