Two goals from James Maddison in a sumptuous first-half showing enabled Leicester City to capitalise on their rivals’ lapses to move to within a point of the Premier League’s summit but it was the manner in which the playmaker showed signs of a return to his best as much as the league table that augurs most brightly for Brendan Rodgers.
The Leicester manager gave his No 10 greater freedom in a role to match his shirt number and Maddison, clearly over the hip problem that restricted his availability earlier this season, rewarded the faith by claiming his first pair of goals for the club.
With both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool failing to win their away games against lower-half London sides earlier in the day, Leicester made light work of seeing off a Brighton side who had been gaining momentum on their travels.
Even if this result seems unsurprising according to talent and the Premier League table, it did invert the form guide to some extent: Leicester had lost four of their previous six home league games, while Brighton had gained an impressive 14 points from their previous eight away matches stretching back to last season.
Considering some of the key personnel Rodgers has been missing through injury this autumn, their proximity to the top of the table seems remarkable, especially as they been busy winning their Europa League group while stretched. But on the evening Wilfred Ndidi returned to the heart of their Premier League midfield after his abductor operation, it was Maddison who gave them a commanding half-time lead after he returned from a minor knee injury.
The England hopeful was already enjoying himself at the central point between a front two with two more defensively-orientated midfielders behind when he arrived late to score his first goal with a left-footed shot in the 27th minute.
The switch of James Justin from left wing-back to right-back midway through the half proved significant in Leicester taking control as they changed shape in response to Brighton reverting to 4-2-3-1. Maddison laid the ball out to Justin whose cross towards Jamie Vardy was cleared by Ben White only as far as the edge of the penalty area. There Maddison steadied himself to place his shot carefully towards the bottom corner even if it may have taken the slightest deflection off Lewis Dunk to put Mat Ryan off.
Danny Welbeck had enjoyed the best opening chance as Brighton, so bright on their travels recently, started well enough. But the former England striker, sent in on goal by Alireza Jahanbakhsh after Solly March’s ball out wide, allowed Kasper Schmeichel to save.
As the switch of shape allowed Leicester to start taking control of the game, the second goal was also sourced by Justin rampaging freely down the right flank. Sent in by Ayoze Pérez, Justin squared for Vardy to slot in his 12th goal from 13 starts this season three minutes before the break.
If the inevitable VAR check sucked some of the the joy out of that celebration, there was no such satellite delay when Maddison, receiving a short ball from Vardy, jinked one way then the other before swerving an exquisite left-footed shot into the far top corner and running straight over to the touchline to celebrate with his manager.
“That to me was a sensational strike,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got a really close relationship and we had some chats becaue he’s had a difficult week in terms of his knee injury and what not but he knows I’ve got his back and tonight he showed his quality.”
For all the respect Brighton have earned under Graham Potter – they started the evening as eighth in the ‘xG’ table, above Manchester City – they lacked intensity and did not adapt in time to Justin gaining the freedom to create the first two goals.
Only two points above the relegation zone, they face Fulham and Sheffield United this week. It is time to turn those expected goals into real ones. Potter, who hopes to have Tariq Lamptey back from a hamstring injury on Wednesday, said: “We know how tough the Premier League is. Generally the performances have been ok but tonight was a sore one.”