Leicester City 2 Liverpool 0: It may well be that we only accept Leicester City are genuine title contenders as Wes Morgan lifts the Premier League trophy on May 15.
But they are. They really, really are. There is just a feeling about this team, with this manager and these players, that something special is happening.
Something special certainly happened last night. An excellent, riveting game was goalless approaching the hour when Riyad Mahrez played a fine long ball for Jamie Vardy to chase.
With nothing on, the striker decided simply to hit it first time from around 35 yards. Catching the ball perfectly, the volley soared over Simon Mignolet and into the top corner. There was a split-second of stunned silence before delirium overcame the entire stadium.
The striker, who is on the verge of signing a new long-term contract at the club, added a second shortly afterwards with a poachers’ effort, but this game will be remembered for that astonishing moment.
“I’m so pleased with my players because we pressed so hard against a very good team. Vardy’s first goal was amazing,” said Ranieri.
“We’re in good condition. Now it’s important we recover our energy because we must play at high intensity against Manchester City.”
We will know more after Leicester’s next two games, away at City and Arsenal. But as Arsene Wenger used to say about his own side, you can ‘smell’ when everything is coming together perfectly, and there is that feeling about Leicester right now. Claudio Ranieri’s team are a nightmare to play against, harrying the opposition from front to back, and in Vardy, Mahrez, and the tireless Shinji Okazaki, they have a wonderful front three.
Beforehand it could even have been argued that it was a good day for Leicester no matter the result. The news of Vardy’s new contract was a significant statement of intent, considering Chelsea and Manchester City have been monitoring a player who has now scored 22 goals in 35 Premier League games.
And why would Vardy not want to stay? If he or Mahrez had left in the transfer window, there may always have been the question of what may have been achieved with them in situ.
Now there will be no ‘what ifs’. Leicester will not die wondering.
Neither will Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp but the problem with Leicester, though, is that even though you may know what it coming, it is difficult to counter it. They began at 100mph, resolving never to give Liverpool a second on the ball. The visitors immediately lost the ball the first three times they got it; Klopp’s gegenpressing side found themselves gegenpressed.
There should have been reward as Mahrez curled wide and Mignolet somehow saved Shinji Okazaki’s close-range header after superb work by Vardy.
In between that home defender Robert Huth was fortunate not to see red for an elbow on Adam Lallana, while Kasper Schmeichel produced a wonderful save of his own to deny Emre Can, who in any case was offside.
It was frenetic and fascinating as Vardy continued to torment Dejan Lovren and Leicester defender Christian Fuchs headed inches over his own crossbar.
Then came the moment of the half as a ball broke loose to Mahrez just over 30 yards from goal. His brilliant, first-time shot was curling just under the bar until Mignolet made a marvellous save, diving full length to his right.
With Liverpool forcing eight corners in the first-half alone it was hardly a one-way contest, and it was astounding the teams went in goalless at half-time.
The second half continued in the same vein. Firstly Can’s shot was deflected just wide after a lovely, intricate move from the visitors and then Leicester wasted a two-on-one with a poor pass.
It was a brilliant game but it seemed both goals might miraculously remain intact. Then came Vardy’s moment of glorious inspiration, followed by a rather more simple finish as he tapped home after Okazaki’s shot had been deflected into his path at the far post.
The game was over as a contest by then, Liverpool knowing they simply cannot compete with this Leicester team, not right now at least.
There were some moments of encouragement for the German, but he needs new centre-backs, new strikers, and possibly some midfielders, full-backs, and a goalkeeper. The rebuild will be from the foundations to the skylights.
Amongst other things, they do not appear to have the togetherness of belief that is coursing through the veins of every Leicester player.
Leicester believe they can win every 50-50, and every game — and as Ranieri spent the last 10 minutes urging the crowd on and receiving plenty of encouragement back, they are not alone.
For a side put together for an absolute pittance, what they are doing is quite astonishing.
Schmeichel 7, Fuchs 7, Huth 8, Morgan 8, Simpson 7, Drinkwater 7, Albrighton 7 (Gray, 78; 6), Kante 9, Mahrez 8 (Ulloa, 88; 6), Okazaki 8 (King, 87; 6), Vardy 9.
Schwarzer, Dyer, Wasilewski, Chilwell.
Mignolet 7, Clyne 6, Lovren 5, Sakho 6, Moreno 6, Lucas 6, Milner 6, Henderson 6 (Benteke, 66; 5), Can 6 (Allen, 74; 6), Lallana 6, Firmino 5 (Teixeira, 87; 6).
Ward, Toure, Ibe, Flanagan, Teixeira.
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