Leicester City, the champions of England entered tonight’s game in the relegation zone having just sacked their manager. The Foxes had not won a game in 2017 before Liverpool came to visit and have been a far cry from their 2015-16 form. Tonight, they looked every bit their championship-winning selves as they brushed aside the visitors with ease.
Vardy, Mahrez and Okazaki, players suggested in the media as having the biggest part to play in the sacking of Claudio Ranieri played their best football of the season. With Caretaker Manager Craig Shakespeare on the sideline, they played with a freedom and joy seldom seen this season.
From the outset Leicester was the dominant team, outworking, outrunning and outmuscling Liverpool at every turn. The home side had the first four attempts on goal of the game, an early demonstration of the match to come. When Liverpool attacked they were hounded, shots and passes blocked and when shots got onto goal Schmeichel was there.
Vardy opened the scoring after a number of early warnings for the Liverpool back four. The England striker played on the shoulder of the last defender and was being released very early from midfield with pinpoint accurate balls. The breakthrough came on 28 minutes as one of those long balls to Vardy sent him through 1-on-1 with Mignolet and he made no mistake.
Leicester doubled their lead 11 minutes later after a corner was meekly cleared to the edge of the area. Danny Drinkwater was on hand to score a goal of the month contender, volleying home from 25 yards. Jamie Vardy got Leicester’s third early in the second half after brilliant work on the wing from Mahrez and a wonderful ball in from Fuchs headed downwards past a stranded Mignolet. Liverpool got one back from substitute Coutinho, finishing smartly to the right of Schmeichel after a good break through the middle.
The story for the remainder of the game was Leicester defending their lead gallantly and sending balls towards Vardy and Mahrez who always looked threatening for the ineffectual Liverpool defenders. Stephan Fuchs, the Leicester full-back needs singling out as having a great game. Late in the game, Fuchs, made some tremendous challenges to stop the Liverpool onslaught on the Leicester goal.
For Leicester City football club and its fans, tonight was about more than the three points on offer. Tonight offered both the players and the fans the opportunity to send a message. From the fans the message was clear, “Thank you, Claudio, we’ll never forget you.” This was especially evident on 65 minutes when the whole stadium rose with phone light in hand singing their former manager’s name.
The message sent out by the players, however, was a complex one. The way Leicester so comprehensively dominated Liverpool sends the message that they can still play like champions. The question then is, why haven’t they played like this all season? Whilst Leicester have played well sporadically this season, tonight they battered an opposition who set up in a system that should have been able to cope with Leicester. This wasn’t like the City game in which Pep had set his side up for failure, tonight Liverpool were beaten by the opposition plain and simple.
Tonight is only one game and obviously not conclusive of anything, however, inferences can be taken from the performance and the result. The biggest inference is that the players were not playing for Ranieri. There have been rumblings surrounding Leicester from before they lifted the Premier League Trophy at the end of the season that the players were unhappy. Key figures such as Mahrez and Vardy were alleged to be essentially jealous of the praise being heaped on Ranieri, wondering where their credit was.
Mahrez and Vardy, two of the most lauded players of the last season were being rightly exalted as some of the best players in the country in 2015-16, which makes their complaints seem childish and hollow. Other rumours have hinted at problems within the dressing room with regard to Ranieri’s methods, and the two face of cuddly Claudio. The public face; softly spoken, warm-hearted and cuddly. The private face of the harsh dictatorial manager, drilling his players relentlessly.
The truth will be revealed when someone writes a tell-all book in 3 to 5 years and doubtless cast blame to all involved. What was clear tonight was how free Leicester City’s star players looked playing for former assistant manager Shakespeare. The Leicester players are alleged to have the owner’s ear, perhaps this could lead to the appointment of the Caretaker on a more permanent basis.
Tonight was a back to basics performance for Leicester, one in which they battered a team who at the start of the season had real title ambitions. City will take great encouragement from the way they performed and will hope to pick up momentum at the weekend against Hull before hosting Spanish giants Sevilla in their must-win tie.
Leicester’s players sent a message tonight, and whilst they can bask in the glow of a phenomenal win, it also reflects back poorly upon them. The clearest conclusion one can take from tonight was that they had stopped playing for Ranieri, and in doing so, lost a man his job. It will remain to be seen if Leicester can save themselves from relegation, and what the future holds for the likes of Vardy, Mahrez and Schmeichel.