Sam Allardyce made no changes to the side that drew 0-0 against West Bromwich Albion, a game where Sunderland created plenty of chances but couldn't get past Ben Foster. It gave Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and Yann M'Vila another opportunity to prove that they can play together as a midfield three, after some labelling them as too defensive to all be playing together. If the midfielders weren't to be dynamic enough, then Sunderland would be hoping for DeAndre Yedlin and Patrick van Aanholt to provide an attacking threat from full back and give added support to Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini.
Leading the line for the Black Cats was Jermain Defoe, who scored a consolation goal in the reverse fixture back on the opening day. Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone continued their run together at centre half and they'd have Vito Mannone behind them.
As with Sunderland, Leicester remained unchanged from their last game which was a fourth successive 1-0 win, against Southampton. Lining up in their customary 4-4-2 formation, the Foxes contained a couple of players who will be hoping to be named in Roy Hodgson's squad for Euro 2016 - Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater. Vardy would be partnered by Shinji Okazaki whilst Drinkwater played alongside the always energetic N'Golo Kante.
On the wings for the league leaders were Riyard Mahrez and Marc Albrighton, with Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs (who played with Jan Kirchhoff at Schalke and Mainz) behind them at full back. Kasper Schmeichel would be Leicester's number one, Robert Huth and last weeks goalscorer, Wes Morgan played in front of him in central defence.
Due to Leicester's effectiveness on the counter attack, Sunderland would have to plan their attacks carefully. They'd need to not overcommit and not give the ball away in key areas, so as to keep those Leicester counters to a minimum. The Black Cats would be looking for Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini to cut in from the wings, whilst Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin would keep Sunderland's width by pushing forward when the opportunity presented itself.
It would be a challenge for Jermain Defoe, up against the big, physical presences of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth. Whilst the England international couldn't expect to win much in the air against the Leicester defence, he'd be hoping to get some joy when running in behind or when running at either player with the ball at his feet.
Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante have operated excellently as Leicester's midfield pair this season, so it would be up to Lee Cattermole and Yann M'Vila to constantly press both players into having as little time on the ball as possible. Jan Kirchhoff would be there to provide assistance, should either player make it past Cattermole or M'Vila, and Sunderland would be relying on Kirchhoff's composure as Kante's constant energy levels wouldn't give him much time on the ball.
As expected, Leicester came flying out of the blocks in the early stages by having 62% of the possession and five shots on goal. After some dalliance on the ball from DeAndre Yedlin, Leicester were given their first counter attacking opportunity, started by N'Golo Kante's pass-come-tackle. Shinji Okazaki found himself in a good position just inside the box but his cross was intercepted by Younes Kaboul, who'd already been forced into three tackles in the first twenty minutes. The resulting corner, swung outwards by Christian Fuchs, was met by Wes Morgan but the Foxes captain couldn't direct his header on target.
Although Sunderland were seeing much less of the ball than Leicester in this period of play, they were only 1% worse off in term of successful passes (70% to 71%) but the visitors were being much more purposeful during their time on the ball, leading to more shots. Sunderland however were being cautious, trying to not let Leicester seize possession back quickly, which you can see when you look at the fact that Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and DeAndre Yedlin were the three players making the most passes during this stage of the game. The ball was being played along the back line by The Black Cats, as they looked to slowly push up the pitch without giving too much away.
There were shouts for penalties from both sides in fairly quick succession. Leicester felt that Yedlin had impeded Okazaki with a high foot and at the other end, Patrick van Aanholt saw his attempted pass blocked by the arm of Robert Huth. Neither were given though but Sunderland were now at least getting into some more dangerous areas.
The game started to even out after the opening twenty minutes. In the fifteen that followed, Sunderland were now enjoying the majority of possession and the game was becoming more of a battle. Just one shot each for both sides in this time compared to five and six tackles (Sunderland and Leicester respectively) showed what the game was turning into, which was to be expected giving the importance this match had at both ends of the table. All bar one of those eleven tackles were made by a midfielder as well, showing exactly where the battle for superiority was taking place as Kirchhoff, M'Vila and Cattermole tried to get the upper hand on Kante and Drinkwater.
Crucially, Sunderland still hadn't had a shot on target as the first half went into stoppage time. Kasper Schmeichel had been enjoying a relatively stress free afternoon in the Wearside sunshine and, to be fair, so had Vito Mannone who had only had one shot to deal with, a speculative effort from N'Golo Kante. Leicester had been forcing the issue more though, with Younes Kaboul, Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff having to make more tackles and interceptions than their counterparts. Whilst Kaboul had been made to make four tackles alone, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth had only made one each showing how little Leicester's back line as a whole were being troubled. The Lads did manage to test Schmeichel in added on time in the first half though, as Fabio Borini's shot from the right hand side took a deflection off of Morgan before bouncing off the goalkeepers legs.
After a first half were Sunderland had matched the league leaders in most areas of the pitch, they now needed to start creating more chances. There was an urgency about both sides in the first fifteen minutes of the half as the high number of tackles continued and Leicester had six shots to Sunderland two. Sunderland went close after Jermain Defoe's blocked shot fell to Fabio Borini on the edge of the box, but the Italian's effort clipped off Robert Huth as it flew narrowly over the bar.
With the match now going into it's final half hour, both sides were still trying to find a way through. Jermain Defoe still hadn't been able to get the better of either Wes Morgan or Robert Huth in the first sixty minutes, having only seventeen touches, the least of any player on the field. Whilst he may not have been getting much in the way of service, Defoe was still unable to make is own luck as The Foxes defence continually managed to frustrated the striker.
Leicester kept up their intensity between sixty and seventy minutes, having more possession, more successful passes and winning more aerial battles. That intensity was to be rewarded when they broke the deadlock after sixty six minutes when Jamie Vardy managed to get on the end of Danny Drinkwater's speculative long ball. Drinkwater had done well to win the ball in a 50-50 against Lee Cattermole and his pass allowed Vardy to outpace Younes Kaboul, who had so far done rather well to keep Vardy quiet. Question's were raised about whether Vito Mannone should have quickly darted off his line to give Vardy less time on the ball, but the forward got the time he needed to place his right footed shot into the far corner.
Not long after Leicester had taken the lead, Sam Allardyce made a double substitution as he brought on Dame N'Doye and Jack Rodwell for Wahbi Khazri and Yann M'Vila. Khazri had been unable to effect the game, despite finding himself with the ball in some good areas and M'Vila hadn't done enough going forward as Sunderland tried to unlock the Leicester defence. With N'Doye now on, Allardyce would hope to have more of a tall, physical presence to help Jermain Defoe against Huth and Morgan, whilst Jack Rodwell would be expected to push further forward than his fellow central midfielders.
With Jeremain Lens replacing Fabio Borini with fifteen minutes to go, Sunderland were now the team having the majority of possession as Leicester started to consolidate their position. Between seventy and eighty five minutes, The Black Cats managed four shots but they were still failing to hit the target. Their best chance of the match came when Patrick van Aanholt's shot deflected right to the feet of Jack Rodwell who, despite being only seven yards out, put his shot over the bar. It summed up Sunderland's day and their lack of composure was going to be costly, yet again.
With time running out, Sunderland looked to have ran out of steam. They couldn't get the ball off Leicester between eighty five minutes and the final whistle, with Vito Mannone being called into action for a couple of good saves from substitute Leonardo Ulloa and Jamie Vardy. Just under 60% of the possession, three shots on target and a pass success percentage of 84% showed just how much Leicester had control of the game in the closing stages. The champions elect then put the final nail in the games coffin, as Jamie Vardy got the better of Patrick van Aanholt before knocking the ball past the onrushing Vito Mannone and side footed the ball into an empty net. A stadium emptying goal if there ever was one, as Sunderland failed to make up the ground on fellow strugglers Norwich City.
Plenty of application and desire from Sunderland, emphasised on their thirty four tackles made throughout the game but only one shot on target out of fifteen is criminal. There's of course no shame in losing to the team who look destined to lift the Premier League trophy but Sunderland can't keep throwing away opportunities, such as the one that they were gifted when the ball fell to Jack Rodwell's feet with less than ten minutes on the clock.
This game certainly raises some questions for Sam Allardyce, ahead of The Lads relegation crunch match against Norwich City this coming Saturday. A midfield three of Kirchhoff, M'Vila and Cattermole was seen by many as too defensive a trio to play in games that Sunderland need to be taking points from. Whilst Kirchhoff made some good tackles, his passing wasn't up to his usual high standard which goes some way to explaining why Sunderland's midfield couldn't have an impact on the game in an attacking sense. It would be surprising to see Allardyce drop either Kirchhoff or M'Vila but I doubt Jack Rodwell did himself many favours with his terrible miss, as he tries to displace Lee Cattermole who continues to look uncomfortable playing higher up the pitch. Could next Saturday see the manager turn to Sebastian Larsson? A player seldom used by Allardyce since his arrival on Wearside but he would provide more of an attacking threat whilst also possessing the energy levels to work hard off the ball and make tackles.
It was also a bad day at the office for Jermain Defoe, who was dealt with excellently by Wes Morgan and Robert Huth. There were a few questionable long ball aimed his way, which he would be correct to be aggrieved about but it would have been good to see him coming slightly deeper for the ball more often to try and bring Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini into play more often. We've seen Defoe do this during his time on Wearside, look at the way the front three worked together against Newcastle United for example, but i suppose given his contribution this season it's forgivable for him to have an off day. Hopefully he's back on it at Carrow Road, against a much less assured defence.
One thing Sunderland should feel positive about after this game is the performances of their two centre halfs, Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone, who continue to look a solid, competent partnership. I don't think either player could be particularly faulted for the goal's and if it wasn't for Kaboul's excellent tackling and intercepting, Leicester could have been comfortably ahead by half time. If both players continue to play as they have been, more clean sheets will follow but Sunderland need to start scoring the goals to compliment them.