Leicester City delivered the perfect response to Claudio Ranieri’s sacking, hammering Liverpool 3-1 on Monday Night Football.
Jamie Vardy’s first Premier League goals since December 10 and Danny Drinkwater’s sensational volley handed the beleaguered champions their first victory since New Year’s Eve, as interim boss Craig Shakespeare got his tenure off to a winning start.
Despite easing their relegation fears – Leicester now 15th, two points clear of the bottom three – the victory asks serious questions of the Foxes, who rekindled the spirit of their title-winning season so soon after Ranieri was relieved of his duties.
For as good as Leicester were, Liverpool were as bad, Philippe Coutinho’s second-half strike mere consolation as the Reds’ top-four challenge faltered.
It was clear from the start Leicester were keen to prove a point after Ranieri’s shock dismissal, the Foxes producing a first-half display befitting of their title-winning campaign under the Italian.
Vardy’s crunching tackle on Sadio Mane in the opening minute set the tone, and was quickly followed by Wilfred Ndidi lashing an early volley over as the reinvigorated champions set about Liverpool.
Robert Huth and Shinji Okazaki called Simon Mignolet into action with headers before the German, unmarked in the area, flashed a header over on the quarter-hour mark.
Liverpool should have fallen behind on 20 minutes but Vardy, having been played in behind by Marc Albrighton, sliced a volley straight at Mignolet.
Vardy did get the better of Mignolet eight minutes later, though, out-sprinting Lucas Leiva to gather Albrighton’s incisive pass before slotting past the Reds goalkeeper at his near post.
Liverpool offered little in terms of a response, Georginio Wijnaldum firing straight at Kasper Schmeichel in the 33rd minute, before Vardy’s belligerence presented Ndidi with the chance to double Leicester’s lead, but Mignolet saved.
However, the Belgian was helpless to prevent Drinkwater’s 39th-minute thunderbolt from the edge of the area from flying into the back of the net as Leicester doubled their advantage before the interval.
Having failed to register a single shot on target in the first period, Jurgen Klopp clearly got into his underperforming side during the break – and they responded, with Coutinho calling Schmeichel into action on 54 minutes.
But their hopes of a comeback were extinguished on the hour as Riyad Mahrez and Christian Fuchs combined brilliantly to set up Vardy, who glanced home his second.
Adam Lallana stung Schmeichel’s palms five minutes later before Coutinho rounded off the visitors’ best move of the game to reduce the arrears, slotting home after combining with Emre Can on 68 minutes.
Fragile under Ranieri for most of the season, Leicester displayed their new-found mettle to prevent Liverpool from hauling themselves back into the game.
Lucas spurned a glorious chance to apply some pressure on 81 minutes, but he headed Nathaniel Clyne’s cross wide.
Coutinho’s volley three minutes from time proved too hot for Schmeichel to handle but fortune favour the Foxes as it spilled wide, leaving the fans to greet the full-time whistle with cries of ‘we are staying up’.
Leicester: Schmeichel (8), Simpson (7), Morgan (7), Huth (8), Fuchs (7), Drinkwater (8), Ndidi (7), Mahrez (7), Okazaki (7), Albrighton (8), Vardy (9).
Used subs: Chilwell (n/a), Amartey (4), Gray (4).
Liverpool: Mignolet (6), Clyne (5), Matip (6), Lucas (5), Milner (5), Can (5), Wijnaldum (4), Lallana (5), Mane (5), Coutinho (6), Firmino (4).
Used subs: Moreno (4), Origi (4), Woodburn (n/a).
Man of the Match: Jamie Vardy