Watford 2:1 Leicester City
City’s problems in defending set-pieces led to defeat against Watford at Vicarage Road on Boxing Day….
Claude Puel made four changes to his side, with Chilwell, King and Okazaki in for Fuchs, Iborra and Gray, while Dragovic was handed a full Premier League debut in place of the injured Simpson.
For most of the first half this line-up had the measure of a Watford side who had lost their last four games. But it was a scrappy and physical game that saw Maguire, Watson and Kabasele all booked within the first 12 minutes.
The first chance to emerge from the midfield morass arrived in the 17th minute when Chilwell delivered a cross from the right, Okazaki rose above his marker to nod an on-target effort, but Gomes reacted well to tip it over the bar.
In the 19th minute Albrighton injured himself in committing a foul, but was able to continue with a bandaged head. Five minutes later he played a fine through ball to send Vardy in on goal, but the England striker sent his shot wide of the left hand post with only Gomes to beat.
Albrighton was then the architect of City’s goal when they took a 37th minute lead, twisting and turning down the left to get room for a cross which saw Mahrez ghosting in at the far post to head home.
This finally prodded Watford into life and they should have equalised two minutes later but, having rounded Schmeichel, Richarlison sent his shot into the side-netting.
However, the Hornets went in level at the break, as City failed to defend a corner.
Cleverley’s flag-kick from the left saw a scramble 8 yards out and the ball fell for former City-loanee Wagué, completely unmarked at the far post, and he had the easy task of slotting the ball home.
In time-added-on Watford almost snatched the lead, but a good move ended with Richarlison smacking his shot against the post.
Watford’s improvement continued into the second half, and City were restricted to counter attacks, with the final ball lacking.
The decisive moment of the game arrived in the 65th minute. A Cleverley free-kick from the right sailed beyond the far post, where Doucouré stretched to make contact on the touchline. The ball was heading across goal, but Schmeichel’s touch sent it over the line.
Claude Puel brought Slimani and Gray on for Okazaki and Dragovic in the 73rd minute.
When this didn’t improve matters he threw another striker on, Ulloa for King with six minutes to go.
City finally applied some proper pressure, but Gomes pulled off a couple of fine saves. From a Mahrez corner the ball sat up for Morgan six yards out, but his shot was blocked at point blank range by the Watford keeper. Moments later, following another corner, he got down well to tip an Ulloa header away.
That was City’s last throw of the dice, and familiar failings – now 13 goals of 30 conceded from set-pieces – had cost them again.
Another stat showed City’s miserable run of Boxing Day games – one win the the last 12 at this level.
Claude Puel commented: “We need to correct this. We need good attention and have to focus on second balls and mark well. When you lose a game like this, it’s a big frustration.”
Watford: Gomes, Janmaat, Wagué, Kabasele, Zeegelaar, Cleverley, Watson (Prödl 87), Doucouré, Carrillo (Sinclair 90), Richarlison, Pereyra (Okaka 44).
Substitutes: Gray, Holebas, Capoue, Bachmann.
Leicester: Schmeichel, Dragovic (Gray 73), Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell, Ndidi, King (Ulloa 84), Mahrez, Okazaki (Slimani 73), Albrighton, Vardy.
Substitutes: Hamer, James, Fuchs, Benalouane.
Referee: C Kavanagh. Attendance: 20,308.