Newcastle may not be the most exotic of destinations but Leicester City find it extraordinarily restorative. Not for the first time Brendan Rodgers’ players departed Tyneside with the refreshed, optimistic sheen more usually associated with teams newly returned from midwinter breaks in the sun.
Not even Andy Carroll’s first goal in a Newcastle shirt since rejoining his boyhood club 18 months ago could strip the gloss off a victory which lifts Leicester to third in the Premier League, one point behind Liverpool and Manchester United.
Goals from the excellent James Maddison and Youri Tielemans ensured the visitors have now won their past five league games at St James’ Park. Given his atrocious managerial record against Leicester, it will be little consolation to Steve Bruce that Rodgers’ class of 2020-21 are arguably at their most dangerous on the road, where they have now won seven of their eight away fixtures this season.
If that represents a recurring theme, the first half swiftly established another; namely Newcastle’s penchant for gifting the ball to Leicester. No sooner had Bruce’s players gained possession than they surrendered it, with Wilfred Ndidi, in particular, delighting in intercepting embryonic home moves.
Ndidi’s defensive midfield strength created an ideal visiting framework, enabling Maddison to strut his creative stuff. One of his early eye-of-the-needle passes enabled Jamie Vardy to steal in behind Bruce’s backline and, with his first touch, expertly round Karl Darlow before using his second to direct the ball into the empty net from a tight angle.
Fortunately for Newcastle, a raised flag confirmed Vardy had been narrowly offside, but that cameo emphasised the scale of the threat facing Federico Fernández and his defensive colleagues. Initially at least, Bruce’s players seemed set to pay the price for repeated failures to close Maddison, and his gloriously fancy footwork, down.
Then with Matt Ritchie reminding them – in somewhat less polite terms – that when the going gets tough, the tough get going – Newcastle sharpened up their act appreciably. With DeAndre Yedlin, Fernández and Ciaran Clark making some important interventions Vardy found himself increasingly starved of possession and tactical stalemate took hold.
Yet frustrating Leicester was one thing; unhinging Rodgers’ side quite another. If Darlow generally found himself perhaps surprisingly well protected, so, too, did the Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel as Bruce’s players wasted their attacking opportunities by punting high, hopeful passes forward, leaving the ball spending far too much time flying aimlessly through the air.
The good news for the home manager was that his new policy of weaning Newcastle off their trademark low block, and encouraging them to press higher up the pitch, disrupted Rodgers’ gameplan.
As damage limitation strategies go it was reasonably successful but Maddison is an expert at picking all manner of tactical locks and so it proved as Leicester counterattacked with alacrity in the 55th minute. As Harvey Barnes carried the ball forward at speed, Bruce’s midfield were caught flat footed and Barnes was able to lay off to Vardy who revelled in nutmegging Fernández as he advanced down the left before picking out Maddison with a beautifully weighted pass. Vardy had issued a reminder that he not only scores goals but creates them, too.
All that remained was for Maddison to send the ball arcing high into the roof of the net, simultaneously reducing Bruce’s tactical blueprint to tatters. His pain was only exacerbated as another perfectly calibrated delivery – from Marc Albrighton this time – picked out Tielemans run and prefaced the Belgian lashing the ball, first-time, into the corner.
Carroll – freshly liberated from the bench – reignited the contest courtesy of a similarly fabulous volley, Bruce’s very own Angel of the North reacting instantly as Ritchie’s free-kick was headed into his path. More of the same might be required from Carroll if Newcastle are to avoid being dragged into a relegation struggle.