Kelechi Iheanacho's first Premier League hat-trick helped Leicester to a 5-0 thrashing of Sheffield United to consolidate their place in the top four.
It was a nightmare start to Paul Heckingbottom's interim tenure. He replaced the departed Chris Wilder late on Saturday, with Sheffield United mustering just one shot on target at the King Power Stadium and suffering their heaviest defeat of the season.
Iheanacho (39) opened things up in the first half as he tapped home a sweeping Jamie Vardy cross to score in three successive Premier League games for the first time.
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But it was after the break when Leicester truly overpowered their opponents. Ayoze Perez (64) added the second with a lovely finish, with Vardy once again setting up Iheanacho (69) for his second of the afternoon soon after.
Sheffield United already missing Wilder
- Sheffield United never lost by more than a three-goal margin under Chris Wilder.
- They have now suffered their heaviest defeat in any competition since September 2008 (0-6 v Arsenal, League Cup), whilst this is their heaviest league defeat since April 2000 (0-5 v Blackburn).
- The only time Sheffield Utd conceded 5+ goals in the 227 games under Chris Wilder was in a 5-4 Championship defeat v Fulham in Nov 2017
- Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom became only the third manager in Premier League history to lose by 5+ goals in his first game in charge, after Alan Smith in 1994 (Crystal Palace 1-6 Liverpool) and Roberto Di Matteo in 2010 (West Brom 0-6 Chelsea).
The striker's hat-trick goal was a thing of beauty as he powered home from 25 yards out, before Vardy's cross was turned home by Ethan Ampadu at close range to round off a bruising defeat for Sheffield United.
It's a vital win for Leicester, who are now eight points clear of West Ham in fifth. Sheffield United remain rooted to the bottom of the table with 14 points.
How Leicester thrashed sorry Blades
It did not take long for Leicester to start seeing chances fall their way, but were twice denied by Aaron Ramsdale. The first saw Timothy Castagne send a lovely cross into the area, which Perez glanced towards goal. However, the fingertips of Ramsdale sent the ball pinging off the far post.
A few minutes later, Wesley Fofana played a neat pass into the channel for Vardy, but Kean Bryan initially did well to pick it up. However, the Leicester striker muscled him off the ball before striking, but Ramsdale was down low to make a save with his leg before jumping up to collect the looping pass.
Ampadu also made a superb blocked as Youri Tielemans let fly from the top of the area, sending the ball behind with an outstretched foot. However, the Sheffield United defence was found wanting three minutes later when Leicester took the lead.
Leicester: Schmeichel (5), Fofana (7), Evans (7), Soyuncu (6), Ndidi (7), Pereira (6), Tielemans (7), Castagne (7), Perez (7), Iheanacho (8), Vardy (7).
Subs used: Albrighton (7), Leshabela (n/a).
Sheffield United: Ramsdale (6), Baldock (6), Ampadu (5), Bryan (5), Basham (6), Lundstram (5), Norwood (6), Fleck (6), Stevens (5), Burke (5), Sharp (5).
Subs used: Mousset (5), Ndiaye (n/a).
Man of the match: Kelechi Iheanacho.
The build-up involved some lovely, crisp passes from the hosts, with Perez's pass in behind sending Vardy away down the left. He then unselfishly squared it for Iheanacho, who was open and waiting in the middle to tap home past Ramsdale as Sheffield United found themselves carved open.
Leicester had two glorious chances to add their second soon after the break. Vardy was set up by Iheanacho, but his strike went straight onto Basham's forehead, who was waiting on the line. The Leicester striker - who has now not scored in seven games - was sent through again by Iheanacho, but could only place his effort directly at Ramsdale.
- Leicester made two changes. Daniel Amartey and youngster Sidnei Tavares dropped out of the XI, with Jonny Evans back in alongside Ayoze Perez.
- Paul Heckingbottom made three changes in his first Sheffield United XI. Jayden Bogle, Rhian Brewster and David McGoldrick dropped out with Chris Basham, Oliver Burke and Billy Sharp coming into the XI.
But soon, the goals started to flow for Leicester. Their second came from a cleared Sheffield United free-kick, with George Baldock inexplicably unable to hold onto the ball as half-time substitute Marc Albrighton nicked through before driving down the right wing. He then picked out Perez, who sent a sweeping effort into the bottom corner.
Iheanacho added his own second of the afternoon shortly after and it was another one-two with Vardy that punished Sheffield United. Tielemans found Vardy on the left, and his first touch swept the ball into the feet of the incoming Iheanacho on the right. It was then another fierce finish from the striker to make it 3-0.
The hat-trick goal was not far behind in the pick of the afternoon's efforts. Wilfred Ndidi found him in the middle of the opposition half, with Iheanacho working himself into some space 25 yards out. With two goals already in the game and confidence high, he went for an audacious long-range effort that fired past a leaping Ramsdale. The striker was visibly emotional during his celebration as his good recent run of form continues.
The game was missing a goal from Vardy after his two assists, and he also had a hand in Leicester fifth. He flashed a cross into the six-yard box with Ampadu there to turn it home from point-blank range as with Sheffield United's miserable trip was truly compounded.
Man of the match - Kelechi Iheanacho
Iheanacho has been shown glimpses of greatness in recent games and his potential was finally realised against Sheffield United.
He took his hat-trick incredibly well, and tried to set up his team-mate Vardy for a long awaited goal on a number of occasions, showing his unselfish nature even when close to his first ever Premier League treble. His movement and runs throughout were superb too.
With the likes of James Maddison and Harvey Barnes facing spells out, Leicester looked to be struggling for goal creation but Iheanacho has really stepped up to the mark, along with the newly-found assist machine in Vardy.
What the managers said
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said: "Sheffield United have shown throughout their time in the Premier League that they're a tough team to break down. If you watch a lot of their games this season, they've lost by the odd goal so we knew we were going to have to be patient.
"In defence, we were very strong, we didn't allow them too many efforts on goal so we counter-pressed the game well and we were aggressive when we did have to defend. Like I said, we just had to be patient and wait for that moment for the first goal and once we did, I thought we played our shape well against their shape so it was very pleasing.
"[Iheanacho] has been in great form, he's playing at a really high level. It wasn't just his goals, he is dropping in short to get into the right spaces that we wanted him to where we could take advantage of it. Him and Jamie up front, the combination was very good with Ayoze in behind.
"His [Vardy's] movement is just so good and it allows the players to get up with him. It was so unfortunate that it wasn't for him today [to score]. He got in the right positions, had some chances, the goalkeeper makes a couple of great saves and Chris Basham clears off the line.
"But he's still there to keep going for the team and he's created a couple of goals for Kelechi. So he might not have scored but we always appreciate everything he brings for the team.
"We have to retain that work rate, hunger and intensity in the game and when we do that, we're very competitive in the league. An outstanding team performance, we looked dynamic going forward so it gives them confidence but we can recover now and get ready for the next game."
Sheffield United interim manager Paul Heckingbottom said: "We could make all the excuses in the world with the week the players and staff have had. It's a really upset dressing room, an emotional dressing room because their leader has gone. He was a friend to all of us and I think it has taken its toll today.
"But I've just said in there and the players understand that me coming in from the outside, I'm letting them down if I use that as an excuse. We know the hard work starts next week when we're back in, but it's not nice to be in that dressing room.
"If confidence was something you could click your fingers and develop, it would be easy - I'd be Einstein - but it's a tough thing to do. Hard work, determination, a recognition of what the team did to get where they are from League One all the way up in five years, which were really fantastic and I know that all too well having managed against the boys. It's a recognition of that [to rebuild confidence] and a full-on commitment to try and get back to those levels.
"I'll take the team to the end of the season while the club organise what they want to do and the decisions that they want to make. Myself and the rest of the staff will be doing all we can to do that.
"It's what I've got to do. I'm not thinking about myself, believe me, I'm thinking about the players and helping the club in this time. I see this as what it is, just stepping in to help out, so for me personally, I don't think about it.
"For the club, it's an important time, but it's difficult because we've lost Chris, who was a mate to me and many more and an idol for the fans. So we know it's a difficult time and one the club now have to look forward and put things in place ready for next season."
- Since Brendan Rodgers' first Premier League game in charge of Leicester, only Manchester City (57) and Liverpool (53) have won more matches in the competition than Leicester (40).
- With two assists, Leicester's Jamie Vardy became the sixth player to register 100+ goal involvements in the Premier League after turning 30 years of age (81 goals, 20 assists), after Teddy Sheringham (127), Frank Lampard (118), Ian Wright (110), Alan Shearer (102) and Gianfranco Zola (101).
- Ayoze Perez has only scored three goals in his last 29 Premier League appearances for Leicester, but all have come in matches against Sheffield United (also in July and December 2020).
Both sides are in FA Cup action next Sunday. Leicester take on Manchester United in the quarter-finals while Sheffield United travel to Chelsea.
After the international break, Leicester welcome Manchester City in the Premier League while Sheffield United travel to face Leeds.