At the home of the greatest footballing fairytale of recent times, Newcastle United sprinkled a little more stardust on a season that has supporters singing about winning the Premier League. They have not so much managed to bottle their pre-World Cup magic, they have returned with a barrel load.
Eddie Howe went as far as to say this was their best first-half performance of the season, three goals up and victory sealed by the relative infancy of the 32nd minute. So much for any fears of rustiness. This was polished excellence.
There always was a feeling that if any team would come back better for the break – and added exposure to the man Jamie Carragher recently labeled the best coach in the country – then it could be Newcastle. Howe’s side are collectively drilled and individually daring.
Newcastle celebrate Joelinton’s (left) goal in their 3-0 victory over Leicester on Boxing Day
Joelinton headed home after just 31 minutes to put the result beyond little doubt for the Toon
Eddie Howe’s side have now won six games in a row and climb to second in the league table
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Leicester (4-2-3-1): Ward 5; Chestnuts 6, Amartey 4, Faes 4, Thomas 4.5; Tielemans 5.5, Soumare 3.5 (Ndidi 72, 5); Praet 5 (Perez 17, 5), Dewsbury-Hall 6, Barnes 6 (Iheanacho 71, 5); Daka 5 (Vardy 46, 6.5).
Subs not used: Soyuncu, Albrighton, Vestergaard, Mendy, Iversen.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers 5
Newcastle (4-3-3): Pope 7; Trippier 8, Schar 7.5, Botman 8, Burn 7.5; Longstaff 7 (Anderson 90+2), Bruno Guimaraes 8, Willock 7 (Murphy 84), Almiron 8.5 (Saint-Maximin 83), Wood 7.5 (Ritchie 88), Joelinton 8
Subs not used: Lascelles, Targett, Manquillo, Fraser, Darlow.
Goals: Wood 3 (pen), Almiron 7, Joelinton 32
Manager: Eddie Howe 8
Referees: Jarred Gillett7
So, can they win the league? When Leicester City lifted the title in 2016, they did so with 81 points. The Magpies are currently on track for 78. That, though, allows for a slow start that returned one win in seven. Theres nothing slow about them now. This victory was a sixth on the spin and an eighth from nine in the league.
Leicester did not have Manchester City to contend with seven years ago, of course. But Newcastle, in second, are one point and one place better off than City, as it stands. Given they look as if they have improved for the winter interval, it could well be that the next couple of months sees them sprung into spring still part of the conversation.
To think, one year ago Newcastle were being kept off bottom by goal difference. On this evidence, it will be a surprise if, at the very least, they fail to qualify for the Champions League.
Come the end, even Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers was in concert with those traveling fans, waxing lyrical for more than a minute when asked if his opponents were title contenders.
By comparison, his team resumed with all the urgency of the festive postal service. You wonder if Rodgers’ pre-match instruction went in one ear, let alone out the other. Leicester’s penalty box was more gift box for the visitors, who were ruthless enough to punish their dozy hosts at every opportunity.
The game was barely three minutes old when the Foxes contrived to turn their own goal-kick into the concession of a penalty. Worked short, defender Wout Faes played a pass to Boubakary Soumare, snoozing just outside the area. It was a slumber in which the midfielder would remain.
Joelinton had been brought down after just 90 seconds to earn the visitors a penalty kick
Chris Wood blasted his effort down the middle to give his side the lead in the third minute
Wood celebrates with team-mates after coming into the team to replace the ill Callum Wilson
Miguel Almiron stole in and, when Joelinton took up the ball and burst into the box, Daniel Amartey’s attempted tackle was as delayed as Prime Video’s ‘live’ coverage. The ball was long gone by the time his wild swipe of him connected with the Brazilian’s ankle. No need for VARs here. Chris Wood duly smashed straight down the middle.
Newcastles second, on seven minutes, was gorgeous. Brazil midfielder Bruno Guimaraes morphed into Argentina’s Diego Maradona with a pirouette dribble inside his own half before springing Kieran Trippier and Almiron clear down the right. Guimaraes then made 60 yards to play a wall pass for Almiron, who darted between Faes and Soumare – the most hapless of double acts – and rolled effortlessly beyond Danny Ward.
This was Almiron’s eighth goal in his last nine league outings and there is something of Mo Salah about the Paraguayan, the way in which he drifts in from the right and scores so regularly with his left. Salah of last season, that is. The current version of the Liverpool forward does not get close to Almiron in this form.
Patson Daka did have a couple of openings for Leicester but, on each occasion, the magnificent centre-back Sven Botman intervened to preserve the clean sheet.
Those attacks were a momentary change in direction and the scoring was complete when Joelinton rose majestically to plant a header from Trippier’s corner past a by-now despairing Ward. The Brazilian had got the better than Soumare to connect with the ball. On reflection, you might as well label that a free header. Soumare was eventually hooked on 73 minutes, and it did not speak too highly for Leicester’s options from the bench that he lasted so long.
In truth, Rodgers could have fielded any XI he wished and it would not have been a match for Newcastle. Few teams are, these days.
MIguel Almiron doubled Newcastle’s advantage in just the seventh minute with a great finish
Toon players celebrate with Almiron who is enjoying a spectacular campaign so far
Leicester were rocked after losing Dennis Praet through injury during a wretched first half
RE-LIVE ALL THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED…
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