Leonardo Ulloa is Leicester's late-show hero against Norwich
LEICESTER, England -- Three thoughts on Leicester's 1-0 win vs. Norwich in the Premier League.
1. Leicester's late show
This was a distance from being a classic performance, and if this season ends in the utterly extraordinary way that it might, it won't go down as even one of Leicester's top 10 most memorable games, but it might rank as one of the most important.
The hosts consolidated their place at the top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 1-0 win over a stubborn Norwich team, the only goal coming minutes before the end as substitute Leonardo Ulloa slid home to secure the three points.
Until then it looked as though Leicester would be frustrated. Had they been, questions would inevitably have arisen of whether the defeat to Arsenal had knocked them off their stride and the most implausible title challenge in recent history might be coming to an end.
But in the end it doesn't matter how you win, and Leicester will not care even a little bit about their performance.
The first half saw few chances, and both teams had just one real, clear opportunity each. For Norwich, a free header for Cameron Jerome went wide from 6 yards -- it was a chance that very much fell into the "harder to miss than score" category.
And the closest Leicester came to scoring before the break was a Marc Albrighton free kick from the left, which swung over, evaded everyone in the middle and drifted just wide of the far post.
As the game progressed, Riyad Mahrez drifted further infield, seeking the ball and testing different areas of the Norwich defence for weaknesses, but the flying winger was, like the rest of his team, a little off against opponents tightly packed behind the ball.
Ranieri tried to rectify things by bringing on Jeffrey Schlupp and moving Albrighton to the right to provide more natural width. The Leicester manager changed things further as time ticked down, going for all-out attack by introducing Ulloa to play upfront and reverting to a back three. Eventually, it had the desired effect, two minutes from time.
Albrighton made tracks down the right and fired in a superb low cross on which Jamie Vardy got half a toe, but despite that distraction Ulloa managed to force it into the empty net. The King Power Stadium, to that point uncharacteristically tense, erupted with relief as much as elation.
Leicester's next eight league games see them face West Brom, Watford, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Sunderland, West Ham and Swansea. Without the burden of any other competitions and with three days their smallest gap between matches, it really wouldn't be a surprise if they didn't lose any.
Their last three fixtures are Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea -- the first and third of which are away -- but, by that stage, it might not matter. We knew it already, but these are extraordinary times.
2. Hosts face a different challenge
Leicester hadn't played for nearly two weeks before this game, with Ranieri giving his players some time off after the defeat to Arsenal. That approach can go one of two ways, with the rest either refreshing players at a time in the season when legs start to become weary or taking a slight edge off, disrupting rhythm.
For long spells of this game it looked very much as though the latter was the case and Leicester were not the flowing, fearless team seen previously this season. It is not that they were especially bad but more that everything was just a little off. Passes were half a yard astray, flicks didn't quite come off, runs weren't quite as certain.
This was partly down to exceptional pressing from the visitors, rarely giving the likes of Mahrez and Vardy time on the ball and, perhaps more importantly, choking off the service to Leicester's two most dangerous players.
Before the game, Ranieri said he had told his players this would be more difficult than the defeat to Arsenal. Given Norwich had no wins in their previous six games, five of which they'd lost, it would seem like a fairly curious statement.
But while this was presumably a fairly standard management technique to prevent his players from dropping their guard, he did have a genuine point: Despite Leicester's place at the top of the table, the majority of the pressure at the Emirates was on Arsenal. Here, against a side on the verge of the relegation zone, the expectation was high.
And that isn't just a pressure problem: Leicester's best and most exhilarating displays have come when they've been able to play on the counter-attack, absorbing pressure before freeing Vardy and Mahrez to charge up the pitch.
Against teams like Norwich, who aren't as willing to take the initiative, Leicester aren't quite as able to take advantage of their strengths. When faced with a deep defence to break down, they don't quite have the players for the task.
In the end they broke through, but this will be the blueprint for teams to stop Ranieri's side in the remaining 11 games of the season.
3. Norwich need goals
Generally, it's a good defence that is key to survival in the Premier League, and on that score Norwich aren't exactly in great shape. Nobody has conceded more goals than them this season -- they're level with Sunderland on 51 -- and, with a backline that has proved unreliable for the most part, the importance of a decent striker is enhanced.
Unfortunately, that's another area in which Norwich are deficient. Jerome began as the lone forward on this occasion, in place of Dieumerci Mbokani, and that in itself was not a bad decision.
Jerome is more mobile and more proficient at closing defenders down, which he did from the off, but he's not exactly a dead-eyed finisher, as he showed with his first-half miss. He has never been prolific, but it did highlight the paucity of Norwich's resources at the top end of the pitch.
This probably wasn't a game for Patrick Bamford to start, and the Chelsea loanee is not a guarantee of goals either, as any Crystal Palace fan who watched him in a disastrous loan spell will tell you, but sooner or later Norwich manager Alex Neil will have to give him a chance, if only because he's an alternative option.
Norwich's joint top-scorers -- Mbokani and Nathan Redmond -- currently have four each in the league but, with a few chances, Bamford could easily get those in the remainder of the season. That could be the difference between survival and relegation.
Nick Miller is a football writer for ESPN FC, the Guardian, Eurosport and a number of other publications. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.