LEICESTER, Feb 28: Here are three thoughts from King Power Stadium as Leicester worked past the firing of Claudio Ranieri with a dominant 3-1 win over top-four hopefuls Liverpool.
1. Leicester show they have plenty of fight left
Leicester City managed to score their first goal of 2017 and recorded their first win since New Year’s Eve on Monday, and all it took was the sacking of the manager who delivered the unlikeliest of Premier League titles last May.
On this night, Leicester looked like the Leicester of last season under Claudio Ranieri. Jamie Vardy, who came into the game having scored in just one of his past 18 Premier League games, suddenly found his shooting boots and scored twice, while his teammates managed to recapture their impressive underdog mojo and lift themselves out of the relegation zone.
Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was a happy man in the directors’ box as the result, and the manner of performance went a long way to justifying Thursday’s ruthless business decision. The outcry from the footballing world following Ranieri’s dismissal has been one of mass outrage, with the blame firmly laid at the feet of his former players, who have seemingly managed to go from title winners to relegation-scrappers in a matter of months.
However, Leicester’s supporters were a tad more sympathetic. While there were homemade banners thanking Ranieri, the King Power Stadium was completely behind its players.
Perhaps there might have been more anger had Leicester been floundering in mid-table, but Crystal Palace’s win at the weekend saw the Foxes drop into the bottom three for the first time this season. It was just the wake-up call the champions needed.
The responsibility to pick Monday’s team and decide its setup fell upon the shoulders of caretaker boss and former Ranieri assistant Craig Shakespeare. Indeed, this was only the second football match he has ever taken charge of; the other was a win with West Bromwich Albion more than a decade ago. Sensibly, he fielded virtually the title-winning side, albeit with Wilfred Ndidi filling the midfield void left by N’Golo Kante, and his side’s intent was clear right from the off.
Vardy delivered a punishing challenge on Sadio Mane just 12 seconds in as Leicester started with the fire in the belly that had been absent since August. They had three chances to open the scoring inside the opening 20 minutes but were denied by Simon Mignolet on every occasion. However, the Belgian could not deny Vardy when clean through in the 28th minute, with the striker calmly slotting it beyond him to open the scoring.
Like a proverbial London bus, another soon followed. Drinkwater delivered a thunderbolt volley after a botched clearance, striking from well outside the penalty area to put Leicester well on course for a vital three points. Vardy grabbed his second of the night to make it 3-1 with a deft header in the second half before Philippe Coutinho netted a consolation.
There were signs of support for Ranieri all throughout the night, but Leicester’s focus — and their fans’ gaze too — is now firmly fixed on Premier League survival. “We are staying up” was the chant from the home crowd before the end.
If they can put in a few more performances such as the one Monday, remaining in the top flight shouldn’t be a problem.
2. Lengthy break doesn’t fix Liverpool’s defensive issues
Liverpool can now add Leicester to the list of bottom-half opponents who have managed to pick up three points against them, with Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea City and Hull City the others.
Elimination from the FA Cup seemed to be a blessing for Klopp, who decided to make the most of the 16-day break between games by holding another “preseason” (his words) camp, which included a four-day, warm-weather trip to La Manga, Spain. But the layoff didn’t cure the Reds’ most fundamental problem.
Liverpool didn’t look as blunt against well-drilled outfits as they have been in recent weeks, but their issues at the back remain. Simple punts over the top from goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel caused massive problems for centre-halves Lucas and Joel Matip, while Marc Albrighton’s assist for the opener completely split the pair as Vardy raced through on goal.
The injury to Dejan Lovren, who has formed a good partnership with Matip, is an obvious blow, but Liverpool’s defence has been unable to find cohesion in his absence, unable to handle the attacks of relegation-threatened Hull and Leicester in February.
The hopes that Liverpool can secure Champions League football for next season are rapidly diminishing, and their basic failure to defend is a huge reason for their slump.
3. Henderson’s loss proves huge for Klopp
Klopp’s preparations for Monday’s trip to the Midlands were severely affected when it emerged that his captain, Henderson, wasn’t part of the travelling squad. The midfielder was left behind in Merseyside after he sustained a foot injury in training Friday.
Can’s height and presence did come in handy when defending Christian Fuchs’ long throws, but Henderson was badly missed. Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki had a field day between the lines and running off Vardy, with neither Liverpool’s defence nor midfield picking him up.
Henderson is a doubt for Saturday’s game with Arsenal, and Klopp could certainly do with a speedy recovery.ESPN