Premier League Week 26 27/02/2017
Leicester 3(Vardy 28,60, Drinkwater 39) Liverpool 1(Coutinho 68)
An unlikely perfect end to one of the most turbulent weeks in the history of Leicester City Football Club. The sacking of title winning manager Claudio Ranieri was widely condemned by the media. ‘A prime example of all that’s wrong with the modern game’ they said, blaming the supposed trigger-happy owners, the players for lack of effort and allegedly asking for Ranieri’s dismissal. They had a point to prove tonight and it’s fair to say they couldn’t have done it better.
Leicester’s desire to regain their scintillating form of last season was evidenced by caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare’s first team selection. In came Shinji Okazaki, meaning the starting eleven was effectively identical to that of last season, with the exception of Wilfred Ndidi replacing Kante. Ahmed Musa dropped out of the squad all together and there was no place either for fellow summer arrival Nampalys Mendy, two Ranieri signings which Shakespeare disagreed with perhaps. Leo Ulloa was also back amongst the subs, having previously claimed he would never play for Leicester again back in January. Liverpool meanwhile, struck by Injuries to Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson were forced to pull Georginio Wijnaldum into holding midfield and Lucas at centre-back.
It was Leicester who were faster out of the blocks, whilst the visitors struggled to cope with their fast, direct play. Christian Fuchs’s long throws forced Simon Mignolet into saves from Okazaki and Robert Huth’s goal bound headers. The foxes looked a real threat from set pieces and should really have taken the lead on 14 minutes, Huth finding himself unmarked from Marc Albrighton’s corner but the German headed tamely over the crossbar. Still Leicester pushed on, a quick free-kick by Kasper Schmeichel and a fantastic first touch by Jamie Vardy set the England striker up well 12 yards out, but his mishit volley was palmed away by Mignolet. But Vardy wouldn’t be denied for long. He latched onto an inch-perfect pass from England counterpart Danny Drinkwater to calmly slot past Mignolet to give Leicester the lead. It was their first league goal in 2017 and the foxes would only have to wait 10 minutes for another.
However, Liverpool nearly hit back immediately, Schmeichel having to spread himself well to keep out Philip Coutinho as the reds pushed for an equaliser. But then came an absolute moment of magic to double Leicester’s lead. Another Fuchs’s long throw was half-cleared by James Milner only as far as Drinkwater who hit an absolute missile of a shot, arrowing into the bottom corner past a helpless Mignolet. It was very noticeable how every outfield player celebrated the goals together, a show of unity in a difficult week. Nevertheless, they almost allowed Liverpool back into the game right on the stroke of half time, but Schmeichel again got down well to keep out Emre Can, ensuring City made it to half time with a two goal cushion. Leicester’s general play was such a contrast to previous weeks. Vardy’s movement was sensational, Okazaki closed down well, the defenders won every header and Drinkwater and Ndidi were absolutely immense in midfield, the latter managing more tackles than Kante had in any game last season.
Jurgen Klopp’s side started the better in the second half, Coutinho again forced Schmeichel into a sharp save down to his right and Wes Morgan stood up firm to block from Sadio Mane. Again, it was a much improved performance from the Leicester captain, who along with his centre-back partner Robert Huth blocked and tackled as well as they had on route to the title. The foxes resisted Liverpool’s pressure well and eased into a three goal lead on the hour with another brilliant move. Some neat interplay between Riyad Mahrez and Fuchs allowed the Austrian to swing in the ideal cross for Vardy to head unchallenged into the bottom corner. Liverpool’s makeshift defence simply couldn’t cope with the England striker, whose first goals since December couldn’t have come at a better time, with England manager Gareth Southgate looking on in the stands.
Unlike in their 4-1 win over the foxes back in August, Liverpool’s pacey midfield couldn’t bail out their weak defence and they still couldn’t beat Kasper Schmeichel. The Dane denied Coutinho again from close range on 64 minutes, but the Brazilian would finally give Liverpool some hope a couple of minutes later, rolling ball into the bottom corner past a static Schmeichel following good work from Can. Substitute Divock Origi almost made the Leicester fans sweat even more moments later, but Schmeichel got down well at his near post to save again. The home fans nerves should have been eased when a mazy run by Mahrez down the right wing set up Drinkwater, but the midfield fired his shot over from the edge of the box. In truth, Liverpool never looked like scoring a second, although Schmeichel nearly spilled a tame shot from Origi into his the net, the City keeper relieved to see the ball roll wide.
More fantastic defending from City eased them home, Fuchs especially looking composed in possession and throwing himself into every tackle. A sharp contrast to Liverpool, who’s high line gave Vardy all the space he craved. In truth, they played right into Leicester’s hands, but the vast improvement will surely not go unnoticed by the Thai owners. A lot of ‘big names’ have been thrown around as potential managerial candidates, a lot of mud has been thrown at the Leicester players, but maybe this performance can silence the doubters. Certainly the result has done Craig Shakespeare no harm if he wants the job on a permanent basis. The question remains, did Ranieri’s tactics hold Leicester back this season or was it a matter of effort from the players? Who knows, but if they continue at the same level as tonight they’ll certainly be playing Premier League football next season.
Leicester: Schmeichel 7, Fuchs 8, Morgan 7, Huth 7, Simpson 7, Mahrez 6 (Gray 80, 5) Drinkwater 8, Ndidi 8, Albrighton 7 (Chilwell 90, 5), Okazaki 7 (Amartey 69, 6) Vardy 9 MOTM
Liverpool: Mignolet 6, Clyne 6, Matip 5, Lucas 3 (Woodburn, 5), Milner 5, Can 6, Wijnaldum 5, Lallana 5 (Origi 66, 5), Coutinho 6, Mane 5 (Moreno 66, 5), Firmino 5
Man of the Match: Jamie Vardy
Referee: Michael Oliver 9, best referee in the league, consistent again tonight