Revitalised Vardy puts Foxes back in business

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The Premier League champions lifted themselves out of the relegation zone with an extraordinary performance, summoning the spirit of last season in the first match since Claudio Ranieri was sacked.

Assistant Craig Shakespeare has been put in charge and this result, and the way Leicester played, provided forceful evidence that he should get the job on a longer-term basis as Liverpool were overwhelmed and with it saw their chances of finishing in the top four severely damaged.

For Leicester it is about survival – and a last-16 Champions League tie against Sevilla – and the transformation here can be spun either way: either the players can hang their heads in shame at having turned it on after Ranieri was gone or they have responded to his departure with a sense of responsibility.

Reaction

Either way there was a reaction and a win. The first this year.



A Leicester City fan shows their support for former manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

A Leicester City fan shows their support for former manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

This was a raw-meat approach from Leicester. A back-to-basics throwback; up and at them, make it full throttle and keep the foot down. Aggression was the key, with Jamie Vardy and Marc Albrighton throwing themselves into challenges and Wilfred Ndidi volleying the first chance over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area.

Read more: Jamie Vardy hits back at criticism of Leicester players following sacking of Claudio Ranieri

The midfielder was the one exception, the only player in this Leicester line-up who was not in the first-choice team that delivered the title. Shakespeare had reverted to type with Ahmed Musa discarded from the squad.

Two of those veterans quickly combined with Shinji Okazaki reaching Vardy’s bouncing shot to glance a header goalwards that Simon Mignolet pushed away. It confirmed that Liverpool had a storm to weather here.



Danny Drinkwater volleys Leicester City into a two-goal lead. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Danny Drinkwater volleys Leicester City into a two-goal lead. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

That storm felt like a release for Leicester whose players appeared nervous when they first emerged for the warm-up, perhaps fearful of seeing banners akin to the “rats” that had greeted Chelsea in the first game after the sacking of Jose Mourinho last season. There were none.

There were plenty of pre-match tributes to Ranieri but more than that an overwhelming sense that this had to be a fresh start; a line in the sand; a chance to go again and salvage this season. There was eventually a chorus of The Great Escape as the home fans tried to summon the spirit of two years ago.

Leicester needed to get ahead and should have done so when Robert Huth got his head to a corner but powered it over, and then they went even closer.

Read more: Five talking points from Leicester City’s win over below-par Liverpool



Kasper Schmeichel does well to deny Philippe Coutinho from close range. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Kasper Schmeichel does well to deny Philippe Coutinho from close range. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

A long punt from Kasper Schmeichel was not dealt with by Lucas Leiva, uncomfortable at centre-back, with Vardy bringing the ball down and, as Joël Matip failed to intervene, the striker scruffily side-footed goalwards with Mignolet blocking. Nathaniel Clyne cleared before Vardy could bundle home the rebound.

But he would not be denied. A slack pass infield by Georginio Wijnaldum went straight to Albrighton, who played a superb first-time pass between the Liverpool central defenders for Vardy to sprint clear. Through on goal, he calmly steered the ball beyond Mignolet and the stadium erupted. That earthquake scale was being revisited.

It was Leicester’s first league goal of 2017 and they were soon indebted to Schmeichel for preserving that advantage as he smothered Philippe Coutinho’s effort from a tight angle as Liverpool belatedly threatened. That quickly passed with Leicester adding an astonishing second goal.

Albrighton hooked a half-clearance back into the area with James Milner heading the ball out only as far as Danny Drinkwater. The midfielder was 25 yards from goal when he shaped his body to powerfully half-volley the ball beyond Mignolet and into the net. It was all about the technique, the execution, the swerve.

Liverpool, who had returned from their mid-season break in Spain, were dismally short of intensity. There was a standing ovation as Leicester’s players walked off; Liverpool’s were sent out early for the restart by manager Jürgen Klopp, whose anger was as evident as his demand for an immediate response.



Jamie Vardy rises above the challenge of Liverpool defender Emre Can to score his second goal of the night. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Jamie Vardy rises above the challenge of Liverpool defender Emre Can to score his second goal of the night. Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

They camped in the Leicester half, which also made them vulnerable to the counter-attack, with Vardy cleverly exploiting it.

He again sprinted away to pull the ball back with only Wijnaldum’s swift reaction denying Okazaki .

Leicester then struck again with the outstanding Ndidi intercepting – once more – and Riyad Mahrez eventually retrieving Vardy’s deep cross to combine with Christian Fuchs. The full-back centred and there was Vardy, again evading Lucas, to guide a close-range header past Mignolet.

Liverpool had been woeful, off-the-pace, but, even then, Schmeichel had to be alert to deny Adam Lallana. On 65 minutes, there was a chorus of “Ranieri” (65 to reflect the Italian’s age, apparently) with the lights from the fans’ phones also used to illuminate the stands.

After that ended, though, there was a Liverpool response. They scored. Emre Can instigated it by running from deep before cutting inside and laying the ball off to Coutinho, who shifted his feet quickly and side-footed past Schmeichel. Would there be a twist?

Lucas headed wide and Schmeichel fumbled Coutinho’s shot just past the post. Leicester were throwing their bodies on the lines, playing like their lives depended upon it.

Finally they are fighting. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk



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