Mahrez joins Ronaldo in exclusive club: 5 things from Crystal Palace 0-1 Leicester
1. Mahrez would be deserving player of year
Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Yaya Toure, Andrei Kanchelskis. Before today only six players had netted 16 goals or more in a Premier League season, despite not playing as a forward. Paul Scholes never did it, Ryan Giggs never did it.
At Crystal Palace, Riyad Mahrez joined that list, his 16th Premier League goal of the season enough to give Leicester City yet another crucial victory in the hunt for a remarkable title. Eight points clear ahead of Tottenham's home match against Bournemouth, Foxes fans stayed behind after the final whistle at Selhurst Park, chanting 'We're going to win the league' non-stop for the best part of 15 minutes.
Mahrez has played a bigger part than anybody in Leicester's position right now - even bigger than Jamie Vardy. While Vardy has been directly involved in 25 goals - scoring 19 and bagging his sixth assist of the campaign here - Mahrez has been involved in 27, setting up 11. It's for that reason that he must now be the favourite to win player of the year.
Leicester only had two shots in the first half against Palace, both from Mahrez. The Algerian has scored so many goals from a right-wing position this season because he is capable of creating openings through his own skilful play, but also because he has the instinct to sniff out a chance. That instinct allowed him to steal in front of his marker and turn home Vardy's smart cross to ultimate decide this match.
Mahrez also completed five out of nine attempted take-ons and was Leicester's most dangerous player throughout. The fact that Palace boss Alan Pardew substituted left-back Pape Souare at half-time, bringing on Martin Kelly instead, illustrated the problems the winger was causing.
2. It's 1-0 to the Leicester again - thanks to Morgan & Co.
Leicester's last four victories have all been 1-0, and they have now six such wins this season.
That's more than George Graham's Arsenal managed during either of their title-winning seasons, despite the chant '1-0 to the Arsenal' almost seeming to define that era, when the Gunners were at their defensive best. That Arsenal team won five games 1-0 in 1990/91, and only three in 1988/89.
In fact 13 of Leicester's 19 triumphs have now come by a solitary goal. It's often said in other sports that the secret of success is to win by the smallest possible margin, thus conserving energy and resources for the long haul. Leicester may not exactly have been taking it easy in any of those one-goal victories, but they're certainly winning games by the narrowest margin possible.
Crystal Palace had 56% possession in this game, completing 328 passes to Leicester's 231. Despite that, the Foxes rarely looked hugely troubled, save for Damien Delaney's shot against the top of the crossbar in the dying minutes.
Leicester defended in sufficient numbers to make it hugely difficult for Palace to make territorial progress. Of those 328 passes they completed, only 76 were in the final third. In contrast, incisive Leicester completed 102 passes in the last third, almost half of their total pass count - an unusually high percentage.
When Palace did move into the final third and forced Leicester to defend, Claudio Ranieri's side did so superbly. They successfully completed 38 of 43 attempted clearances, with Wes Morgan responsible for a huge 17 of them. At the other end Palace completed only 15 of their 23 clearances.
"Today I was very calm because I saw my players were very focused, very concentrated," Ranieri said afterwards.
"It's as tough a game as we've had this season, they'd be worthy champions," Palace boss Alan Pardew said. "They're very strong and disciplined in terms of their defensive duties. It's very hard to get through them and create anything."
3. Drinkwater and Kante showed why they're international class
Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante received international call-ups this week, for England and France respectively. Both showed at Selhurst Park why their reputations have risen hugely this season.
Leicester's defensive success was not just due to the number of clearances they made, but due to their industrious work in midfield. The Foxes made 30 tackles to Palace's 16, with Kante responsible for 5 of them - taking his tally for the Premier League season to 133, the highest in the division.
Kante also completed 11 ball recoveries, more than anyone else on the field, and completed all four of his attempted take-ons.
Meanwhile, despite Leicester completing almost 100 passes fewer than Palace, no-one on the field made more than Drinkwater (47). Twenty of those were in the final third, again the best total of anyone on the day.
4. Vardy delivers yet again, even on scraps
Like Drinkwater, Jamie Vardy now heads off to join up with the England squad - and the striker will hope to show he is worth a place in Roy Hodgson's starting line-up.
Vardy actually had one of his quieter games at Selhurst Park. He had only one shot, which was blocked, received just 22 passes and completed only 11 of his own. But his willingness to run the channels importantly relieved pressure on the Leicester defence - many of the passes he received were on the right flank.
And even on a quiet afternoon, Vardy made a decisive contribution when an opening arrived - drifting into the left channel to receive Danny Drinkwater's pass, before cleverly squaring for Mahrez to score.
That is why Vardy has been so key this season. Leicester are not a side who dominate possession every week, and sometimes he is left ploughing a lone furrow up front. But the striker has the ability to make an impact in any game, in any situation.
5. Adebayor unable to help sliding Palace
If Vardy is delivering constantly for Leicester, the same cannot be said of Emmanuel Adebayor at Crystal Palace. The former Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham striker was subbed at the interval here after a first half in which he received only nine passes, had no shots and lost all seven of his aerial duels.
"He's not a player who's going to charge around, that's never been his style," Alan Pardew explained afterwards. "You've got to get the ball in to him and we weren't doing that."
Palace boss Alan Pardew opted to bring on Bakary Sako to add width to his side, with Joe Ledley becoming a third central midfielder, although that left Yannick Bolasie on his own up front. Not ideal considering Palace put 31 crosses into the box in the second half, compared to 10 in the first half.
Adebayor might have relished some of that second-half service but he has scored only once in nine appearances since joining Palace - the only club in all four divisions who have still not won a league game in 2016. This was their sixth straight home defeat and it leaves them still not safe of relegation, despite sitting third in October.
Asked about the relegation battle, Pardew said: "We know we're involved. We've got enough in the dressing room to make sure we're not involved in it but we need to get some points quickly."
- Riyad Mahrez has been involved in more PL goals this season than anyone else (16 goals, 11 assists), 2 more than team-mate Jamie Vardy (25).
- Mahrez has also netted more away Premier League goals this season than any other player (12).
- Mahrez and Vardy have set each other up for 8 Premier League goals this season (5 Mahrez assists, 3 Vardy assists), a joint-high along with Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud.
- Crystal Palace remain the only side in the top four tiers in England yet to win in 2016.
- Leicester City have made just 25 changes to their starting line-ups this season in total, fewer than any other side.
- The Foxes’ starting 11 against Palace on Saturday was the 10th outing of that exact line-up this season.
- Leicester City have won 13 games by a one-goal margin this season, more than any other Premier League team.
- Crystal Palace have equalled their longest losing streak at home in the Premier League (6 consecutive home losses, also achieved in April 1998).