Leicester City booked their place in this season’s FA Cup fifth round after running out 1-0 winners at Brentford.
Kelechi Iheanacho scored the only goal in what is the final cup game to be played at Griffin Park before the Bees move into their brand-spanking-new stadium.
Both teams made significant changes from last time out, but it was the Foxes’ second-string team which ultimately triumphed against promotion-chasing Brentford.
As the dust settles, here are five things we learned from this encounter.
1. Waiting in the wings
It’s not easy being an understudy to a regular starter. The consistent excellence of Leicester City right-back Ricardo Pereira has reduced England U21 international James Justin to just six appearances in all competitions before this weekend. Whenever he’s featured, though, James has put in performance of note, this afternoon in Griffin Park being the latest example.
His well-timed run, before the game was even five minutes old, was expertly found by Belgian playmaker Dennis Praet – with a scything though-ball compatriot Kevin De Bruyne would be proud of. He’d subsequently tee up Kelechi Iheanacho for a simple tap-in. The whole play undoubtedly pleased manager Brendan Rodgers, who has previously fielded Justin on the opposite flank.
2. Hockey assists should be a thing
Praet’s involvement for Leiciester’s opening goal was unquestionably the moment of this cup tie. It was brutality and elegance intertwined, Brentford’s midfield and defence cut through like a hot knife through butter. He equally deserves to be considered responsible for Iheanacho’s goal, not just the assist-provider Justin, like in ice hockey, where an assist is attributed to up to two players of the scoring team.
This goal 😍
— Leicester City (@LCFC) January 25, 2020
Put simply, the individual who passed it to the teammate who got the assist also gets an assist. If such a stat had long existed in football then how many ‘hockey assists’ would someone like Xavi or Paul Scholes have made during their illustrious playing careers?
3. Bigger fish to fry
💯 A century up for Kamohelo
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) January 25, 2020
The proximity of Brentford’s next Championship game, the visit of play-off rivals Nottingham Forest, ensured manager Thomas Frank — who is tasked to bring Premier League football to Griffin Park — was going to rest one or two key players. As it turned out, he made no fewer than nine changes from the side that drew goalless with Huddersfield Town last weekend. Julian Jeanvier and Kamohelo Mokotjo were the only ones who started at John Smith’s that began today.
Naturally, given where both clubs are plus quality of playing staff, the strongest possible team Frank could have deployed would still feel inferior next to Rodgers’ second-string team. The Bees currently sit fifth in England’s second tier, five points off the last spot that guarantees automatic promotion. So you can understand Frank’s decision, even if it didn’t greatly impact on their approach, which no doubt encourages him as they push to reach the promised land.
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4. A capable deputy
All that Iheanacho can do whenever presented with a rare opportunity to start for Leicester is score, and not invite observers to ask if Jamie Vardy would have done a better job. Since returning to the fold under Rodgers this season, he’s done pretty much that. The once celebrated Manchester City academy graduate – who at one point was being compared against Marcus Rashford on a weekly basis – is starting to fulfil that potential.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) January 25, 2020
He was likely to have started this afternoon despite Vardy’s recent setback, and before Brentford truly settled he found the back of the net, his seventh goal in 12 appearances this season and 10th across 13 FA Cup matches. Chances are, Iheanacho will lead the Foxes’ line when they visit Aston Villa for their EFL Cup semi-final second-leg, a game that is poised at 1-1 thanks to his goal in the first game.
5. Run goes on
No ‘cupset’ here, but Brentford, despite resting a number of key figures, really came alive following the half-time interval and could have forced a replay. Rodgers, who never lost or drew in any of his 12 SFA Cup matches as Celtic boss, notched yet another top-tier domestic cup win to continue a streak stretching back to when Aston Villa downed Liverpool 2-1 in the 2014/15 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
In fact, with this game in mind, you have to go back to 2013 for the last time Rodgers Lost to lower-league opposition (3-2 to Oldham Athletic as Liverpool manager). A seventh consecutive success against a club from outside the top-flight maintains the Foxes’ chances of winning both domestic cup competitions this season.