LEICESTER 3: CRYSTAL PALACE 1 CHAMPIONS GRAB 3 POINTS AS AHMED MUSA ANNOUNCES HIMSELF IN THE EPL
Having impressed in Europe, Leicester City now appear to be back in business at home.
As Claudio Ranieri hailed the revival of his ‘fighters’, this performance marked a return to the Leicester everyone fell for last season. By the end of this game, with the stadium reverberating once more to the din of the noisy happy-clappers and supporters celebrating one of the strikes of the season by the Austrian Christian Fuchs, there was a palpable sense of the unity and hunger that continues to drive the club forward.
Make no mistake, Claudio Ranieri has been irritated by his Champions’ sluggish start to this Premier League campaign. They headed into this encounter with more Champions League points from three games than Premier League points from eight games.
Ranieri, by his own admission, had been left ‘proud’ and ‘angry’ by his team’s up-and-down form. Against an enterprising Crystal Palace side, however, Leicester looked motivated by recent setbacks and as this game progressed, it appeared as though they had a point to prove. That is the way top sports teams should look and indeed it is the way they must think.
Intriguingly, it was also a victory achieved for the most part without Jamie Vardy, who was only introduced into the game with 15 minutes remaining. Vardy has now gone nine games without a goal and Ranieri admitted afterwards that he had made a tactical decision to rest his frontman, as he did with Riyad Mahrez last week at Chelsea.
‘I left out Vardy,’ Ranieri said. ‘It’s normal because we have so many matches, they are all important, and I see Shinji Okazaki and Ahmed Musa in good condition so I had to put them in.’
So after a year of continuity, this is also a return to Ranieri the Tinkerman and as the Leicester manager shuffled his cards, he uncovered a couple of aces in his pack.
In Vardy’s place, the relentless Okazaki started and his coiled spring demonstrated no signs of winding up during a breathless performance. In his first Premier League start since early September, Okazaki injected intensity and flare into this Leicester display and he scored the second goal that all but confirmed victory. His goal followed the opener by Musa, the summer signing who replaced Marc Albrighton on the day.
Leicester should have taken the lead inside the opening moments when Palace goalkeeper Steve Mandanda performed his finest impression of the blundering Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. After exchanging a series of short passes with Damien Delaney, Mandanda proceeded to pass the ball straight to Okazaki, who collected the ball in space 25 yards from goal. With the net unguarded, Okazaki chipped the ball over the lumbering Mandanda but the effort went narrowly over the top.
Palace then had a reasonable spell, as Christian Benteke headed against the bar and Yohan Cabaye curled a long-distance effort just wide of goal.
At that point, Leicester were rather ponderous. Games, however, can change on the back of one moment and this is what happened here as Musa opened the scoring on 42 minutes. It was the type of goal Ranieri must have imagined Musa scoring when he sanctioned a £16m deal to bring the Nigerian to the club from CSKA Moscow.
There seemed little danger when Musa collected possession midway through the Palace half, but the winger sensed opportunity, dribbling at pace towards the Palace defence.
For all the modern takes on how to unlock a defence, many defenders admit that there is nothing quite as unsettling as a forward bearing down on you with trickery and pace.
Musa slalomed past a challenge, slipping the ball to Okazaki, who fed it through to Islam Slimani. The forward laid it back in to Musa, who had continued his run and dispatched a strike into the goal with Mandanda unsighted.
Leicester just about deserved their lead, offering the more sophisticated football as the half developed. With the home side ahead, fresh life entered into this game. The goal increased belief and the second half began as the first had ended. Musa danced his way past by James Tomkins and his low ball was deflected clear. Drinkwater steadied himself but his strike took a ricochet and went out for a corner.
Shortly after, the second goal arrived and it was thrilling in its execution. In many ways, it was typical of the Leicester of last season, with raiding midfield runners wreaking havoc among opposition defences.
As Fuchs gathered the ball on the left flank, Drinkwater sprinted down the wing ahead of him. The England midfielder met the ball at pace, whipping it hard and low towards the six-yard box where Slimani was waiting. Delaney intervened acrobatically, hooking the ball clear but it ran loose to the edge of the box where Okazaki came bursting onto the scene. The Japanese forward fired his strike hard and low into the bottom corner. It was fast, frenetic, free-wheeling attacking football and Palace simply could not cope.
‘Leicester were good today, better than us,’ Palace manager Alan Pardew admitted. ‘Most teams are going to find it difficult here, we weren’t far from our best. I definitely think they were more like it. They had verve and aggression.’
With Leicester’s tails up, along came the third and this time it was a beauty, majestic in its timing, technique and execution. A Leicester corner was headed clear and 30 yards from goal, Fuchs manoeuvred his body into position, sweetly cutting across the ball on the half volley and it flew with pace and precision into the far corner.
Palace did rally a little, as Danny Simpson cleared Benteke’s header off the line before Cabaye stuck out a leg to turn Wilfried Zaha’s cross in for a consolation.
So a well earned victory fro the champions, here’s hoping Musa continues scoring.
excerpts from dailymail.co.uk