James Maddison salvaged a draw at Craven Cottage to deny Claudio Ranieri three points against his former side.
It was a tense affair in the capital and the Foxes really should have found themselves ahead three minutes in as Iheanacho was set clear by Maddison only to be denied by a strong left hand from Fulham keeper Rico. Despite Leicester having the better of the opening possessions, the Cottagers slowly grew into the game and Schmeichel was tested on numerous occasions; the best chance in the first half falling to Callum Chambers who forced the Dane into a routine save.
It was Fulham and Ranieri who broke the deadlock though as Aboubakar Kamara crept round the back of the Leicester defence, exploited a mistake from Caglar Soyuncu and slotted the ball through the legs of Kasper Schmeichel. Fulham were buoyed by this goal just before the break and came out in the second half all guns blazing. Despite not having many clear-cut chances they did cause Leicester problems and the Foxes looked beaten. Yet inspired substitutions from Claude Puel gave Leicester a lifeline as Shinji Okazaki worked the ball well with Demari Gray down the by-line, cut the ball back to find the oncoming James Maddison who passed the ball past Rico for his second goal in two games. Both sides had chances to win it at the end but Ranieri settled for a point against his former club who clearly very much still respect the Italian man.
Fulham have now endured their joint-worst start at this stage of a season in the Football League while Leicester have gone six league games without defeat (W2 D4).
McDonald’s on hold
Fulham are still yet to keep a clean sheet in this year’s campaign, however in Wednesday night’s test against Leicester they did come close. After seeing out a wave of pressure from the Foxes early in the game, Fulham became strong and did for brief moments look like a quality Premier League side.
The defensive line of Christie, Odoi, Mawson and Le Marchand played well together; apart from his chance early on, Iheanacho was quiet all evening and struggled to get into the game with Diabate and Albrighton having limited success down the wings. They did fail to keep Maddison quiet though and the midfielder scored his fifth goal of the campaign to deny Fulham victory. The result gives the Lilywhites some unwanted stats with only Barnsley, in 1997/98, conceding more goals at this stage of a Premier League season than the Cottagers. It is also now 19 top-flight matches in a row without a clean sheet but Ranieri will be determined to solidify his defensive line as he did at Leicester and a clean sheet is certainly on the horizon.
For now though, McDonald’s will have to remain on hold.
Vardy absence nearly haunts the Foxes
The fitness of the Leicester forward has been yo-yo-ing all season and even when he has started there are times where he has looked tired and unfit. There have been games this season where Puel has had to leave his star man out and the trip to Fulham was another one of those. The 31-year-old may require surgery due to his groin injury which has seemed to haunt him for several years now.
Leicester’s number nine, who has scored five goals this season was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho who struggled at Craven Cottage. His early chance which was well saved by Rico dented his confidence and the striker was quiet throughout. The Nigerian international cost the Foxes £25m in the summer of 2017 and this fee has not quite lived up to expectation yet. Puel will be desperate to have Vardy fit and raring to go for the weekend’s visit of Tottenham who he scored three goals against in last season’s two meetings.
Poor passing display
Leicester completed 382 passes in the 90 minutes in comparison to Fulham’s 314 and if there is one thing both managers have learned from Wednesday’s meeting, it should be that passing has to take priority in training. To be frank, the passing display from both sides was woeful and better teams would have capitalised on such an uninspired passing display and made them pay.
A number of passes from both sides, whether in the middle of the park or from the back were off target and the % completion rate of both sides was not up to the standard it so well should be. Despite there being moments where both sides did pass the ball well and put together some nice movements and phases of possession, they were sloppy in the middle of the park and any attempts at long balls often went out for throw-ins or were easily picked up by the opposition. For a Premier League club, neither sides passing was up to scratch and this should be cause for concern for both Ranieri and Puel.
A different test for Ranieri
If anybody needed reminding, it was Claudio Ranieri who led Leicester to the greatest fairy-tale in football as his Leicester City side won the Premier League at odds of 5000/1. This Fulham job however is certainly more of a modest challenge and the expectation is simply survival.
It must be remembered that before Ranieri took over at Leicester, much of the side he had at his disposal had just displayed one of the greatest ever escapes from Premier League relegation so the squads do share similarities. With this being said, Ranieri’s Fulham side are currently sitting rock bottom and are in deep need of some inspiration. Despite posing an attacking threat on Wednesday night with 25 shots on goal, only seven of those were on target and their defensive line did look shaky at times. Work is needed on the training ground and some January shopping maybe required but if there is anybody who can motivate a team and start picking up results it is the experience Ranieri, whose CV is rather extraordinary.
‘We have to fight and sooner or later we will win’ said Ranieri in his post-match press conference and results will come for the Lilywhites with Ranieri at the helm.