Leicester bounced back from a disappointing end to last season to get their new campaign off to a winning start as Jamie Vardy scored two penalties in a 3-0 win at West Brom.
Belgian international Timothy Castagne opened the scoring on his debut as West Brom were given a harsh lesson on the step-up in quality they face on their return to the Premier League.
Leicester won just two of their last 10 games to miss out on a place in the Champions League on the last day of last season and Brendan Rodgers had voiced his frustration at a lack of funds to help their chances of success in four competitions this season.
But the one new signing the Foxes have added made a big impact as Castagne’s towering header from Dennis Praet’s cross opened the floodgates 11 minutes into the second half.
Despite Leicester’s drop-off in the second half of the campaign, Vardy still won the Premier League’s golden boot last season and the 33-year-old launched his challenge to be top scorer once more with two expertly taken spot-kicks in the final 16 minutes after he and James Justin had been felled inside the area.
Jamie Vardy won the Premier League Golden Boot for the first time in his career on Sunday despite a poor end to the season for Leicester City that saw them miss out on the Champions League.
England forward Vardy, 33, became the oldest player to win the award for the league’s top scorer after netting 23 goals, one more than Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Southampton’s Danny Ings.
With Chelsea ensuring a top four finish with a 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, Vardy drew a blank as the Foxes failed to gain the win against Manchester United that they needed to leapfrog Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side into the top four.
Vardy came closest for Leicester in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at the King Power Stadium when he hit the bar on the hour mark.
Ederson took the Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets after Manchester City’s 5-0 win over relegated Norwich took him to 16 for the season.
He finished one ahead of Burnley stopper Nick Pope, whose team suffered a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton.
Leicester moved a step closer to Champions League qualification after a 2-0 win against Sheffield United while Aston Villa’s survival hopes were seriously damaged as Everton snatched a late draw on Thursday.
Brendan Rodgers’ side earned their first win in three games thanks to goals from Ayoze Perez and Demarai Gray at the King Power Stadium.
It was an essential result after Leicester’s 4-1 thrashing by lowly Bournemouth on Sunday.
Leicester remain in fourth place, just one point behind third-placed Chelsea and three ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United, who face Crystal Palace later on Thursday.
The Foxes face a tense run-in as they bid to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17.
Their next match is at Tottenham on Sunday before a potentially decisive home clash with Manchester United on the last day of the season.
Sheffield United’s first defeat in five games was a blow to their hopes of reaching the Europa League at the climax of a fine first season back in the top-flight.
Aged 19 years, 36 days, academy graduate Luke Thomas was the third youngest player to make his first Premier League start for Leicester after Emile Heskey and Stuart Campbell.
The England Under-19 left-back laid on an early chance for Perez when his cross was headed over by the Leicester winger.
Jamie Vardy forced Dean Henderson to save with his legs and the Blades keeper had to be alert again moments later to deny Perez’s volley from another Thomas cross.
It was third time lucky for Perez as the Spaniard put Leicester ahead in the 29th minute with his first goal since January.
Perez started the attack with a pass wide to Thomas and took the return ball before drilling low past Henderson from just inside the penalty area.
Vardy hit the post from Youri Tielemens’ defence-splitting pass soon after the interval, with Henderson twice tested by Harvey Barnes as Leicester pushed for a second.
John Egan’s header forced a fine save from Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, but Gray’s deft finish sealed the points from Vardy’s pass in the 79th minute.
Everton Held At Home
At Goodison Park, Villa were within touching distance of a second successive win after Ezri Konsa put them ahead in the second half.
But Theo Walcott brought Everton level in the 87th minute when his header was ruled to have crossed the line.
It was an agonising blow for Villa, who remain second bottom and sit three points from safety with just two games left.
With West Ham and Watford — the two teams directly above the relegation zone — meeting on Friday, Villa aren’t down yet, but they are in grave danger of an immediate return to the Championship.
No English top-flight fixture has been played more often than Everton against Villa, but it might not be on the schedule next season after the late drama.
Mbwana Samatta headed Villa’s first chance well over from a good position before Jack Grealish wasted two good chances early in the second half.
Villa finally took the lead with their first shot on target in the 72nd minute.
Conor Hourihane’s free-kick curled into the six-yard box and Konsa stuck out a leg to poke in his first Premier League goal.
But with time ticking down, Walcott meet a deep cross with a looping header that crept over the line with an assist from Konsa’s despairing overhead attempt to clear.
Premier League strugglers Watford rescued a dramatic 1-1 draw against Leicester thanks to Craig Dawson’s last-gasp overhead kick at the start of a weekend which could see Liverpool move within one win of the title.
In the first full weekend of English top-flight matches since the coronavirus shutdown in March, Watford’s hopes of avoiding relegation looked set to be dented by Ben Chilwell’s superb 90th minute strike.
But in a remarkable conclusion, Hornets centre-back Dawson launched himself into an acrobatic effort moments later to claim his first goal for the club.
“It’s something you practise in training and it probably doesn’t go in very often. I’m delighted with my first goal. It was obviously a very important goal and it was good to get a point in the end,” Dawson told BT Sport.
Watford climbed to 16th place, one point above the relegation zone, but they could be passed by West Ham, Bournemouth and Aston Villa depending on their results this weekend.
Leicester remain third, six points ahead of fourth-placed Chelsea, as they look to secure a spot in next season’s Champions League.
With all games being played behind closed doors due to the health crisis, there was the now familiar sight of empty seats being covered over at an eerily quiet Vicarage Road.
Following the trend from the first four matches of the restart this week, a minute’s silence was observed for victims of coronavirus and both teams took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter cause before kick-off.
– Liverpool back on Sunday – On Sunday, Liverpool will play for the first time since the top-flight hiatus when the title chasers make the short trip to Merseyside rivals Everton.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, 22 points clear of second-placed Manchester City, need two wins from their remaining nine games to end their 30-year wait to be crowned English champions.
If the Reds beat Everton, they can wrap up the title with another victory against Crystal Palace at Anfield on Wednesday.
Klopp’s men have not been in action for 106 days and the Liverpool boss is relieved to return after talk the season might be declared null and void, which would have deprived his team of the title their superb season deserves.
Liverpool had been on course to become the first English champions to be crowned in March after recording 27 wins from 29 matches.
However, Liverpool’s inevitable title will now come with an asterisk according to some pundits, who claim the Premier League’s new normal of matches behind closed doors with more substitutes allowed has taken the shine off the leaders’ achievements.
– Back in full swing – Klopp doesn’t care about those critics and, on the eve of Liverpool’s return, the German hit back.
“Now I have had a lot of time to read. I had to Google the word ‘asterisk’. I only knew the word from a comic!” Klopp said.
“This is the most difficult year and season to become champions, 100 percent. It is an interrupted season, like has never happened before.
“Whoever will be champions, it will be historic because it is a year that we will never forget.
“Give us an asterisk, yes. We cannot do a lot of things that we usually can do but in this specific case at least we can say this is really special.
“That’s why we enjoy the little asterisk there.”
Liverpool’s derby clash comes at the conclusion of a busy weekend that confirms the Premier League is back in full swing.
Following four midweek matches on Wednesday and Friday, this is the first Saturday since March 7 that top-flight games have been played in England.
Brighton, two points above the bottom three, return to action at the Amex Stadium against Arsenal, who are reeling from their 3-0 defeat at Manchester City on Wednesday.
Arsenal are eight points adrift of the top four and another loss would effectively extinguish their faint hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
West Ham, level on points with Brighton, host Wolves, who are bidding for an unexpected European berth, while Bournemouth face Crystal Palace.
Chelsea play for the first time since the lockdown on Sunday when Frank Lampard’s men head to struggling Aston Villa.
Antonio Rudiger rescued Chelsea as the German defender’s second goal of the game earned a 2-2 draw against top-four rivals Leicester on Saturday.
Rudiger put Chelsea ahead early in the second half at the King Power Stadium before Harvey Barnes and Ben Chilwell scored in quick succession to give Leicester the lead.
A thrilling second half climaxed when Rudiger became the first defender to score a brace for Chelsea in the Premier League since John Terry against Fulham in 2013.
Third-placed Leicester could be more sanguine about the result as they sit eight points clear of fourth-placed Chelsea, who have now won just one of their last five league games.
Frustrated that Chelsea failed to make any signings during the window, Blues boss Frank Lampard claims his team are now underdogs in the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish.
Depending on Manchester United and Tottenham’s results, Lampard’s prediction could look prescient by the conclusion of the weekend’s action.
Showing his irritation with Chelsea’s spluttering form, Lampard dropped Kepa Arrizabalaga after some error-prone displays from Chelsea’s keeper, with 38-year-old Willy Caballero making his first league appearance since May.
Chelsea started on the front foot and Tammy Abraham appealed for a penalty when he was challenged by Caglar Soyuncu, but referee Lee Mason and then VAR both rejected the claim.
Jamie Vardy was back from injury but Leicester’s 17-goal leading scorer hadn’t netted in his last four league games and he wasted a good chance to put the hosts ahead when he burst onto Ayoze Perez’s chest down in the penalty area, only to shoot straight at Caballero.
Pedro went close with a clever chip from the edge of the area which Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel tipped over at full stretch.
Leicester were stunned by their late League Cup semi-final defeat against Aston Villa in midweek and they looked low on confidence at times.
Hamza Choudhury should have headed Leicester in front on the stroke of half-time but, befitting their scrappy showing, the midfielder couldn’t keep his close-range effort on target.
Choudhury was at fault again when Chelsea snatched the lead in the 46th minute.
When Mason Mount swung a corner towards the far post, Choudhury misjudged his jump and Rudiger got behind him to head in from close range.
It was the perfect way for the German defender to mark his 100th Chelsea appearance as he scored only his fifth goal for the Blues.
But Chelsea’s defence remains far from impregnable and Leicester hit back to equalise eight minutes later.
James Maddison found Youri Tielemans and the Belgian’s pinpoint pass sent Barnes racing away down the left-wing.
Cutting back into the Chelsea area, Barnes tried his luck with a low strike that took a deflection off Andreas Christensen and looped over Caballero into the net for the winger’s fourth goal in his last six games.
Chelsea conceded again in the 64th minute as more sloppy defending allowed Leicester to sweep through.
Caballero rashly rushed off his line in a failed attempt to reach an over-hit cross and Chilwell was left unmarked in the area to fire home from Tielemans’ pass.
To their credit, Chelsea didn’t throw in the towel and Rudiger equalised in the 71st minute, the center-back rising above Chilwell to power a superb header over Schmeichel from Mount’s free-kick.
Leicester should have won it but Jonny Evans headed wide from six yards before Barnes flicked past the far post from close range.
A much-changed Leicester bounced back from a Boxing Day thrashing by Liverpool to beat West Ham 2-1 on Saturday as Tottenham’s charge towards the Premier League top four stalled in a 2-2 draw at Norwich.
Leicester had taken just one point from their previous three games to realistically end an unlikely title challenge, but remain second best in the table behind runaway leaders Liverpool after ending a three-game winless run.
Brendan Rodgers made nine changes to the side outclassed by the European champions two days ago with Jamie Vardy among those missing due to the birth of his daughter.
Kelechi Iheanacho and Demarai Gray made the most of their chance for a rare Premier League start by scoring either side of half-time, although Gray also saw an early penalty saved by Lukasz Fabianski.
The Foxes move 10 points behind Liverpool having played two games more and stretch their lead over Manchester City in second to four points.
Pablo Fornals levelled for the Hammers just before half-time, but they remain just one point above the relegation zone after a seventh defeat in nine games.
Liverpool stretched their Premier League lead to 13 points by outclassing second-placed Leicester in a 4-0 win on Boxing Day as Manchester United and Tottenham cut the gap on fourth-placed Chelsea.
Mikel Arteta got off to an underwhelming start as Arsenal manager with a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth, but Carlo Ancelotti had a more positive impact on his Everton bow as Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s brilliant diving header earned a 1-0 win over Burnley.
Chelsea beat Tottenham in a big win for Frank Lampard over his former mentor Jose Mourinho on Sunday, but the gap between the two is back down to three points as the Blues lost 2-0 at home to lowly Southampton.
Spurs came from behind to beat Brighton 2-1 thanks to goals from Harry Kane and Dele Alli, while United moved just a point further back in seventh as they too overturned a poor start to thrash Newcastle 4-1 with Anthony Martial scoring twice.
Liverpool lay down a marker
Liverpool’s trip to their closest challengers was the top billing of a busy Boxing Day card, but there was no contest as the newly crowned world champions showed their class.
Roberto Firmino’s header was scant reward for a dominant first half display as Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah wasted big chances.
However, three goals in seven minutes in the final quarter ensured the scoreline fairly reflected their control.
James Milner doubled the visitors’ lead before Firmino’s classy finish made it 3-0.
Trent Alexander-Arnold helped set up all of his side’s first three goals and rounded off a stunning individual display by drilling home the fourth from outside the box.
Tottenham, Man Utd close on Chelsea
After the highs of Sunday, Chelsea again struggled when faced with breaking down stubborn defensive opponents in Southampton.
The Blues have now lost to West Ham, Bournemouth and the Saints in their last four home league games.
“We are being asked a different question at home. At the moment we are not answering them,” said a frustrated Lampard. “We do not manage to pick up that final pass.”
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl’s decision to rest in-form talisman Danny Ings paid off as his replacement Michael Obafemi scored just his second Premier League goal with a calm finish into the top corner.
The visitors then secured a second straight win to move up to 14th when Nathan Redmond prodded past the onrushing Kepa Arrizabalaga 17 minutes from time.
Spurs were still feeling the after-effects of that Chelsea defeat with Son Heung-min suspended and confidence low when Adam Webster headed Brighton ahead midway through the first half.
Kane swept home at the second attempt after his first shot was saved by Mat Ryan before Alli then delivered all three points with a delightful chipped finish from an acute angle.
“It’s an unbelievable finish,” Kane said admiringly of Alli’s winner. “The ball is cut back to him, comes to hit Kieran – rounds him so quickly and it’s a kind of scoop over the goalkeeper – it’s fantastic.”
United were also beaten 2-0 at bottom-of-the-table Watford on Sunday and another frustrating evening seemingly beckoned when Matty Longstaff scored his second Premier League goal – both of which have come against the Red Devils.
However, unlike when the Magpies beat Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s men 1-0 in October, the response from United was emphatic.
Martial fired in at the near post with the help of Newcastle ‘keeper Martin Dubravka before a thundering finish from Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford’s header made it 3-1 before the break.
Another defensive error then teed up Martial to dink over Dubravka for the fourth early in the second half.
Arteta’s slow start
Arteta got an early lesson in the flaws that have blighted Arsenal’s season as they were caught out trying to play from the back to concede the opening goal when Dan Gosling put Bournemouth in front.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang again rode to the Gunners’ rescue to equalise just after the hour mark, but a point leaves Arsenal still down in 11th.
“It was intense, I was so excited, I just wanted to pass that energy to the players and I really enjoyed it,” said Arteta.
Sheffield United are sixth, behind Tottenham only on goal difference, as they missed the chance to close to within a point of Chelsea in a 1-1 draw with Watford.
Gerard Deulofeu gave the Hornets an early lead, but that was quickly cancelled out by Oliver Norwood’s penalty.
Crystal Palace climbed up to eighth thanks to Jordan Ayew’s brilliant individual run and finish a minute from time to beat West Ham 2-1.
Aston Villa won the battle of two of the bottom three as Conor Hourihane’s fine strike was enough to beat Norwich 1-0.
Holders Manchester City booked their place in the semi-finals of the League Cup as Raheem Sterling’s second-half double warded off a shock by League One Oxford in a 3-1 win at the Kassam Stadium.
Manchester United ended fourth-tier Colchester United’s fairytale run with a 3-0 win at Old Trafford, while Leicester survived a second-half fightback from Everton to secure their place in the last four 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
Aston Villa completes the semi-finalists after they thrashed Liverpool’s youngest ever side 5-0 on Tuesday with the European champions’ first team away at the Club World Cup.
Brendan Rodgers has committed his long-term future to Leicester City, ending speculation linking him with the vacant Arsenal manager’s job.
The Northern Irishman moved to Leicester from Celtic in February after winning seven trophies in just under three years in charge in Scotland.
The 46-year-old has taken Leicester to second in the Premier League behind Liverpool, with 11 wins from 15 matches this season.
Leicester, the 2015/16 Premier League champions, have won their past seven league games to equal their top-flight record for consecutive victories.
Rodgers’ success at the King Power Stadium saw him linked heavily with the Arsenal manager’s job after the sacking last week of Unai Emery.
“When I made the decision to come to Leicester City, it was because I was excited about the direction the club was taking and how I could apply my experience to the journey,” said Rodgers, who went close to winning the Premier League with Liverpool in 2014.
“I came here with a purpose to add something to that and to help the club build for the future,” added Rodgers in a statement issued by the club.
Rodgers said talks about the contract had been going on before Emery was sacked.
“We’ve been talking for a few weeks,” he said at his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s game at Aston Villa. “It’s a great club. We just want to keep progressing.
“We’re looking to continue on the legacy. We don’t have the wealth of the top six, but perhaps we can do this in a different way.”
Leicester City Chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said: “Brendan’s qualities as a coach are well-known and evident in the way he has sought to unlock the potential in every member of our exciting young squad.
“But just as important to us is the suitability of Brendan’s wider philosophy to the club’s established culture and values.”
Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to five points following a 1-1 draw at home to Leicester City on Wednesday.
Sadio Mane gave Liverpool a third-minute lead and raised hopes among home fans that, following second-placed reigning champions Manchester City’s 2-1 loss away to Newcastle on Tuesday, the Reds might go seven points clear.
But Harry Maguire equalised for Leicester in first-half stoppage time.
Leicester City are to pay an emotional tribute to late owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha on Saturday as the club play at their King Power Stadium for the first time since his death in a helicopter crash.
The charismatic Thai had become a beloved figure in the club and the city – a feat rarely achieved by Premier League clubs’ often distant billionaire owners.
Under Vichai’s ownership, Leicester produced one of the biggest upsets in English football history by winning the 2015/16 Premier League, having started the season as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title.
To echo those odds, around 5,000 fans are expected to walk from the city centre to the stadium before the Premier League match against Burnley.
On Friday, the club announced plans to erect a statue of Vichai at the stadium.
His son Aiyawatt, the club’s vice-chairman, wrote in Saturday’s match programme: “We will never be able to repay what he did for us -– for me as his son, us as his family, everyone connected to Leicester City and beyond – but we are committed to honouring his memory and upholding his legacy.”
Vichai was among five people killed when the helicopter plunged to the ground in a car park just outside the stadium following Leicester’s match against West Ham on October 27.
The team, currently 10th in the Premier League, returned to action last weekend, beating Cardiff 1-0 away, but on Saturday a capacity home crowd will have a chance to show their appreciation for the man who transformed their club.
A special “Tribute to Khun Vichai” video will be shown on big screens before kick-off and a two-minute silence will be held. Fans will receive commemorative scarves and souvenir matchday programmes in honour of the club’s late chairman.
The players will wear tribute T-shirts during their warm-up and in the first-half, the team will don shirts embroidered with Vichai’s name.
The second-half shirts will bear the poppy symbol in honour of those who have given their lives in war, with the match selected as the club’s annual remembrance fixture, 100 years after the end of World War I.
Acts of generosity
A number of players, including Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel, and manager Claude Puel travelled to Thailand to attend Vichai’s funeral.
Schmeichel has been especially affected, having watched the helicopter take off from the pitch before it appeared to go into a fateful spin.
“I was on the pitch and I waved him off,” said Schmeichel. “I saw it all happen. It is something that will stay with me, unfortunately.”
Mourners have turned Leicester’s stadium into a shrine to Vichai over the last two weeks, carpeting the ground with floral tributes and messages of thanks.
Stories have emerged of Vichai’s acts of generosity to the club’s supporters and players and sizeable donations he made to local hospitals.
Puel said he expected an emotional afternoon.
“We know our fans, they are fantastic… there were 3,000 of them at our last game in Cardiff, it was a fantastic reunion with the fans,” Puel said.
“After the game, there was a lot of emotion that we shared with them and we can imagine what it will be like at home with 30,000 people in the stadium.”
He admitted getting the players ready for the game against struggling Burnley had been tough.
“It’s not easy to prepare this game, but the togetherness between us all, it’s a good feeling, a good energy, a fantastic strength,” he said.
“Our strength, spirit and positive attitude, as well as the support of our fans, will be very important.
“In the last game, we found the right balance between emotion and concentration, and focus on our game.”