Leicester 3-0 Stoke: Foxes back on top after comfortable win
By Sam Drury
Last Updated: 23/01/16 9:59pm
Leicester returned to the top of the Premier League table with a comfortable 3-0 win over Stoke at the King Power Stadium.
Claudio Ranieri's side had won only one of their previous five league games but Danny Drinkwater gave them lead just before half-time and second-half goals from Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa sealed a win to revive faith in their unlikely hunt for glory.
The result puts the Foxes three points clear of Arsenal ahead of the Gunners' clash with Chelsea on Super Sunday.
Stoke disappointment was compounded by the fact they lost captain Ryan Shawcross to injury during the first half, meaning he is a doubt for their Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at Liverpool on Tuesday.
After a slow start, the game came to life just after the 15-minute mark with chances at both ends.
First, Erik Pieters played a ball through to Jon Walters but the Irishman opted against taking the shot on his left foot and was crowded out as he tried to shift it onto his right.
Less than a minute later and Leicester came close, Riyad Mahrez finding Marc Albrighton down the left and his low cross picked out Jamie Vardy. The striker swivelled and hit it first time but straight at Butland who was unable to hold it.
From the resulting corner Mahrez went close with an acrobatic volley having found space eight yards out, the ball whistling just past the post.
There was then a big blow for Stoke as Shawcross was forced off injured having initially tried to play on.
His departure coincided with Leicester's best spell of the half, Christian Fuchs keeping the Stoke defence busy with a number of long throws and a couple of dangerous crosses while Shinji Okazaki fired over from the edge of the box.
The breakthrough finally came three minutes before half-time as Drinkwater fired home from the edge of the box following a succession of Leicester corners.
His shot deflected off Marc Wilson and hit Jack Butland before nestling in the bottom corner, the goal his first in the Premier League and Leicester's first from outside the box this season.
The second period took time to get going, The first moment of note coming just before the hour mark as Mahrez, having dispossessed Glenn Whelan, drove at the Stoke defence before belatedly slipping in Okazaki.
The pass was under-hit, however, and Ibrahim Afellay was able to make a crucial tackle before the striker could get his shot away.
Stoke's best chance came just a couple of minutes later when Glen Johnson delivered a peach of a cross for Joselu, only for Kasper Schmeichel to swat away the Spaniard's header.
It proved to be a costly miss as Vardy doubled Leicester's lead in the 66th minute. It was a simple goal that will have frustrated Stoke boss Mark Hughes, Drinkwater clipping a straight ball over the top for Vardy to run onto before coolly rounding Butland and rolling it home for his first goal in eight games.
From that point the game drifted with Leicester content to try and see it out and Stoke struggling to create any clear openings.
Leicester almost added a third after a fine move ended with Mahrez slipping in Drinkwater only for the midfielder to get caught in two minds, hitting a ball across the face of goal that was neither a shot nor a cross.
They did get a third three minutes from time as Mahrez beat Wollscheid with an outrageous piece of skill to get into the box before his attempted shot was deflected into the path of Ulloa, who stabbed home to secure the three points.
Paul Merson's Soccer Saturday verdict
"The energy [Leicester] play with is unbelievable and they blew Stoke away. Jamie Vardy makes runs, closes people down, he plays on the shoulder, he scores the goal and he's away. Butland, he comes out and I'm sure he's got the [Capital One Cup] semi-final in his mind, when he comes out he just stands there.
"Kante and Drinkwater were absolutely unbelievable. They're playing just two in midfield every single week, not three, and they were outstanding again today.
"Shaqiri went off at two-nil down and you're thinking is that for the semi-final? Arnautovic never played, are they waiting on him for Tuesday night? They looked a bit lost today. They missed Arnautovic, Bojan and they missed their runs, Glen Johnson was their best player today."
Leicester: Schmeichel (7), Simpson (7), Morgan (6), Huth (6), Fuchs (7), Albrighton (6), Kante (7), Drinkwater (8), Mahrez (8), Okazaki (7), Vardy (7).
Subs used: Ulloa (7), Gray (5).
Stoke: Butland (6), Johnson (5), Shawcross (6), Wollscheid (5), Pieters (6), Whelan (5), Afellay (6), Shaqiri (7), Walters (6), Diouf (5), Joselu (5).
Subs used: Wilson (5), Odemwingie (5), Crouch (5).
Man of the match: Riyad Mahrez.