Published: 08:37 | 28/2/17

Leicester return to winning ways without Ranieri


Leicester City defeated Liverpool 3-1 at King Power Stadium to start the post-Claudio Ranieri reign with a victory.

The Foxes, under new caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare, dominated the tie from the get-go until the final 20 minutes, with a brace from man-of-the-match Jamie Vardy and a screaming volley from Danny Drinkwater putting them in total control.

Coutinho pulled one back for Liverpool but they didn’t have enough to drag themselves back level as the Foxes stuck with two deep banks of four to repel the Reds attack.

Leicester looked a different side to the one that had slumped into the relegation zone, and found the form and fire of their Premier League title-winning campaign, to counter and hit Liverpool where it hurt. One can only imagine what ex-boss Ranieri must have been thinking as his former charges recovered the form they needed to have to keep him in a job.

The three points lifts them out of the drop zone and up to 15th, with Liverpool's Champions League qualification's further dented as they now sit fifth in the table, with Man United just a point behind with a game in hand.

Shakespeare is the man currently charged with turning around the fortune of the Premier League champions in the immediate term, and bringing them out of the relegation zone in the remaining 12 fixtures of the season. Whether he gets that job beyond the next few matches and beyond is still up for debate, but this superb performance will have done his chances no harm at all.

He made just one change to the team that lost 2-1 to Sevilla in Ranieri’s last game in charge, bringing Shinji Okazaki in for Ahmed Musa in the midfield. His opposite number Jurgen Klopp did the same, with captain Jordan Henderson missing out to be replaced by Emre Can.

A Robert Huth flicked header was the first goalmouth action of the tie early on as both sides eased into the Monday night fixture. Simon Mignolet was again tested early on with Okazaki directing a header towards the corner that Mignolet dug out a superb diving save to his left to keep out.

The Reds had been well contained by the 4-4-1-1 Foxes setup in the early skirmishes. Sadio Mane attempted to get away down the right, with Wes Morgan doing well to cut out a low drive into the box as the visitors sat back and assessed the Ranieri-less Foxes.

Huth crept in at the back post for another forceful header, as he made the most of some sleepy zonal marking from Liverpool, only for the effort to skip over the crossbar.

That caution from Liverpool was inviting Leicester onto them with Jamie Vardy plucking a long ball out of the air in the box, only to scuff his effort on goal with just Mignolet to beat.

As the half wore on Coutinho began to exploit space down the left flank and attempted to jink in down that channel, with Danny Simpson coming across to snuff out the danger.

But the home side had been by far the more impressive in the opening half hour and that deservedly led to the lead. Marc Albrighton split the Reds defence with a superb pinpoint pass for Vardy to race onto before smashing low and right past Mignolet to bag his eighth goal of the season.

Klopp’s Liverpool countered immediately with the move ending with Coutinho finding himself in acres of space on the left of the box, but the Brazilian took too long to pull the trigger, as Kasper Schmeichel came out to make a fine block and quell the danger.

But the Foxes were purring and carved open another fine chance through some lively interlinking play, Riyad Mahrez running a ball wide right on the edge of the box for Vardy to backheel into the path of Wilfred Ndidi to hammer a first-time shot at goal where Mignolet did ever so well to get down low to his left to stop and collect.

And they didn’t have to wait much longer for a second as Liverpool failed to adequately clear a corner, with James Milner heading into the path of Drinkwater to absolutely smash a volley from the outside of the box on a path to the bottom-right corner to give the Foxes a comfortable 2-0 lead at the break.

With their cushion Leicester could sit back as the second half unfolded, sitting deep and pressuring Liverpool when on the ball; Coutinho and Mane were running directly at Liverpool, with the likes of Ndidi doing well to break up any link play from Klopp’s team.

Any hopes of a comeback were further diminished on the hour as the Foxes once more adopted the quick counter-attack that won them the league title last year; the move culminating in Christian Fuchs delivering an inch perfect ball into the box from the left, which Vardy met in the middle with a pefect downward header to the bottom right.

But with just over 20 to play, Liverpool got a lifeline. Coutinho combined with Emre Can on the edge of the area before the Brazilian rifled home from the edge of the area past Schmeichel rooted to his spot.

The tie began to open up as the end game drew near with Divock Origi forcing a save low and right from Schmeichel at the near post and Lucas steering a header just wide. At the other end Drinkwater had a chance to finish the tie off with a rasping drive that ended over the bar for the Foxes.

Liverpool continued to drive at the Leicester box and Schmeichel almost set up a grandstand finish as he spilled a Coutinho drive, which almost snuck into the corner of the net.

Liverpool were given five minutes of added time to find two chinks in the Foxes’ armour and with it a share of the points.  They pressed around the Leicester final third but lacked the finesse – as they had done all night – to find the breakthrough.

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