LEICESTER CITY 3 VS LIVERPOOL 1 RESURGENT LEICESTER CITY WAKE FROM DULDROMS TO WHIP LIVERPOOL
Jamie Vardy overhit his cross and Riyad Mahrez chased it all the way to the far corner in a way that seemed strangely unfamiliar. Christian Fuchs arrived at pace and the pair exchanged urgent passes. Fuchs centred, perfectly, and there was Vardy to head Leicester’s third.
‘Leicester City,’ sang the fans, ‘we know what we are.’ Indeed we do; but the players would get very upset if we said it. For this was a performance that bore as much resemblance to what we have seen from this group recently, as Leicester 2015-16 does to the campaign so far.
Bar this game. For here were Leicester back to their best. Claudio’s away, and now the mice will play. Leicester defeated Liverpool by an even greater margin than in this fixture last year – 3-1 instead of 2-0 – and it could have been more. Vardy looked one of the best goalscorers in the Premier League again, the defence were forceful and tight, even Mahrez put in a shift.
Kasper Schmeichel made several good saves and Philippe Coutinho pulled one back after 68 minutes, but Leicester were in a different class from a team who have ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League. From first minute to last there was only ever going to be one winner.
As in this fixture last year, Leicester were simply better at Liverpool’s greatest strength. The ferocious effort Jurgen Klopp has sought in his own men for 18 months, pales beside what Leicester put in on a good day. They were magnificent again, just as we remember them, closing the red shirts down, harrying, hustling.
Liverpool could not handle them, could not cope with the absence of time, the speed with which everything had to be done. Klopp’s team have not lost a game this season given more than a week to prepare, but they had a fortnight to ready themselves for this and were still left breathless.
Klopp’s team have not lost a game this season with more than a week to prepare, but they had a fortnight to ready themselves for this and were still left breathless. Few will be ready for Leicester if they maintain this, not even Sevilla perhaps, yet there is something unsavoury in a team that now appears revitalised having rid themselves of the coach who engineered the greatest campaign in English football history.
In the 65th minute – Claudio Ranieri’s age – the fans sang his name, but who knows if he was even watching from his home in Italy? If he was, it may have been with pursed lips. Here were his boys, back to their best, but considering what had gone before, it was hardly edifying, and they may be surprised by the reaction of those outside the camp.
Not the supporters, because they lapped it up, happy to see a convincing win at last. Yet to neutrals, there was little in this display to convince that Ranieri had been anything but the victim of a dressing-room coup. Nothing to convince that the players hadn’t been to blame for his downfall, and that all the heartfelt tweets and posts that, eventually, followed his departure amounted to little more than another soaking for their ex-boss: this time in crocodile tears.
This was a different Leicester. Not a new Leicester, because we have seen a display of this intensity before, but a Leicester that had not been sighted since May last year and the title run-in. They snapped into Liverpool with a desire that has simply been missing. They played it fast, played it furious, played with relentlessness that just blew Liverpool away.
It is little over a year since these teams met at the King Power Stadium, a Leicester win that confirmed their seriousness as title contenders and served as a prelude to the victory Ranieri was proudest of all season – away to Manchester City.
It is hard to believe the coach that masterminded the greatest title-winning season of them all is gone less than a year later, but here we are. There were handmade signs, a hired hearse outside with a blue and white floral display reading RIP FOOTBALL, but once the action began Ranieri’s name was barely mentioned.
The locals were too busy cheering on a team that had suddenly reappeared and attempting to ingratiate themselves with caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare. ‘Shakey, give us a wave,’ they sang – and naturally he obliged.
Others had a darker take. ‘Leicester has Shakespeare in charge tonight,’ tweeted Gary Lineker. ‘In the words of his Claudio, ‘Done to death by slanderous tongues was the hero that here lies’.’ Much Ado About Nothing, act five, scene three, if you’re interested. The fans were not. This was a night to get behind the team, they had decided, as long as the team was worth getting behind.
And they were. The moment Vardy left a mark on Sadio Mane with less than a minute gone, we knew. Liverpool were playing a different team to the one that surrendered so meekly at Swansea and most points east of there, too. So it proved.
Liverpool had been on one of those mid-winter warm weather training trips that worked so well for Stoke at the weekend, but Leicester looked twice as fast.
Maybe taking the first six months of the season off is as beneficial as a week in La Manga.
Leicester exposed Liverpool the same way they did a year ago. Quick ball into Vardy up top, long throws into the box by Fuchs. The first of those after five minutes found Robert Huth, whose header was kept out by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. Just two minutes later, a repeat projectile was half cleared and fired back in by Vardy, the ball bouncing up off the turf and steered on by Shinji Okazaki’s head: again Mignolet saved.
The pressure was building, though, and Lucas Leiva in particular was struggling to cope with Vardy. After 20 minutes, Kasper Schmeichel hit a simple long ball down the middle which Vardy plucked out of the air as if his boots were coated in adhesive. He took it down, took it past Lucas, but failed to get a true connection on his shot.
Liverpool could not hold, though, and with 28 minutes gone, Leicester scored their first league goal in nearly 11 hours of football. Marc Albrighton played the finest of through-passes first time and Vardy was on to it, outstripping Liverpool’s defence and finishing first time past Mignolet at the near post.
A game of head tennis in the centre of the pitch went horribly wrong for Liverpool, Albrighton played the finest of through passes first time and Vardy was onto it, as he would have been a year ago – if not a month – outstripping Liverpool’s defence and finishing first time past Mignolet at the near post.
Shortly before half-time, Leicester made it two. Albrighton’s cross was half-cleared by James Milner, falling to Danny Drinkwater who struck it first time from 25 yards out low into the corner.
The King Power erupted while maybe somewhere in Rome, a very decent man reached for his remote control and with a reflective sigh, changed the channel.