Premier League, King Power Stadium – Leicester City 1 (Okazaki 25) Newcastle 0
Shinji Okazaki scored a superb overhead kick as Leicester beat Newcastle to go five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The acrobatic strike in the first-half from Jamie Vardy’s headed knock-down secured the three points as Claudio Ranieri’s side moved ever closer to a remarkable league title and condemned Rafa Benitez to defeat in his first match in charge of Newcastle.
Ranieri wrote about targeting Europa League qualification in the match programme, but Okazaki’s winner has now opened up an 11-point gap over Arsenal in third with eight games to go for the Foxes.
Benitez is not used to losing in his first game in a new job. Since the beginning of his successful tenure at Valencia, he has never lost an opening game as manager, and the script was written for him to instigate the Foxes collapse we all assume is coming. How wrong we were, again.
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez
Image credit: PA Photos
After delving into a local phrasebook to issue a rallying cry upon taking over at St James’ Park, Benitez seemed to have gotten through to his players, as they started with greater impetus at the King Power.
However, despite being on the back foot for much of the half, Okazaki struck. His goal did come with its share of controversy though, as Vardy appeared to be in an offside position in the build-up.
The second half was very much a lesson in how to contain, with N’Golo Kante absolutely everywhere.
Newcastle had several chances, but they were not clinical enough in front of goal, and it was clear to see why they have scored just seven goals on the road all season.
All it took was one shot on target in the entire 90 minutes, but Ranieri won’t care, as his team edge closer to making history, plunging Newcastle further into the relegation mire in the process.
Two-horse race now? The victory for the Foxes was hard fought, and was hugely significant in the title race. While Tottenham still remain within touching distance, Arsenal are now a colossal 11 points behind the Foxes, and it would take a monumental shift in momentum for the Gunners to even be considered contenders again - despite their game in hand. Such a scenario means we are more than likely going to crown a first-time Premier League winner this season. Lovely.
MAN OF THE MATCH
N’Golo Kante. The Leicester midfielder covered every blade of grass for the cause, clocking up a lung-busting 11.82 kilometres – the most of anyone of the pitch. The tireless Frenchman also made eight tackles, six more than any other Leicester player. Surely it is between him and Riyad Mahrez for player of the season?
4’ - CHANCE! Newcastle again! Jack Colback arrives late and fires a powerful effort just wide. Should really have hit the target as he had time to line up his strike.
17’ - CHANCE! Great ball to the back post from Perez picks out the run of Moussa Sissoko, but the Newcastle forward cannot hit the target. Replays show he used his hand, too. Would have been a controversial one!
25’ - GOAL! Leicester 1-0 Newcastle. What an acrobatic goal from Shinji Okazaki! Somewhat against the run of play, Vardy gets up highest to head the ball into the path of the Japan striker, who leaps into the air and performs a perfectly executed overhead-kick to put his side in front. That's his first goal at the King Power, and what a way to do it!
Shinji Okazaki celebrates scoring the first goal for Leicester City
Image credit: Reuters
28’ - ALMOST TWO! Foxes come within inches of a second, as Albrighton runs at the heart of the Newcastle defence, cuts inside, and curls an effort just wide.
58’ - CHANCE! Real opportunity for an equaliser. Sissoko is in behind, but with the goal gaping, he elects to square the ball, and Janmaat cannot quite get the right connection and the ball is blocked wide.
81’ - BLOCK! Sissoko volleys at goal, seems to be heading for the top corner, but the ball cannons out off Huth, who doesn't even budge.
85’ - CHANCE! Great ball into the middle from Jamaat, Mitrovic lays the ball off for De Jong, who scuffs straight at Schmeichel. Better connection and that could have been an equaliser.
Leicester have lost just one of their last 18 Premier League games at the King Power Stadium (W12 D5 L1).
Newcastle United have lost their last nine Premier League matches played on a Monday.
This game was the 10th time this season that Claudio Ranieri named an unchanged starting XI.