Sunday 22 April 2018

Foxes ready to fight after reclaiming summit

Leicester City 3-0 Stoke City

Jamie Vardy sweeps past Stoke keeper Jack Butland to score Leicester’s second goal. Photo: Getty
Jamie Vardy sweeps past Stoke keeper Jack Butland to score Leicester’s second goal. Photo: Getty
Leonardo Ulloa (R) of Leicester City scores his team's third goal. Photo: Getty
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo: PA

King Power Stadium

Claudio Ranieri likened Leicester City's pursuit of the Premier League title to a horse race earlier in the week and said that he was prepared to "whip them" in March and take a bit of advice from Alex Ferguson.

On this evidence, there will be no need for the Italian to get off his saddle, or call Ferguson for that matter, as Leicester, playing like thoroughbreds, returned to the top of the table. Perhaps more significantly, they have opened up a 10-point lead over fifth-placed Manchester United with 15 games remaining.

Without wishing to put any extra pressure on Ranieri and his players, it is starting to look as though it would take a Devon Loch-style collapse for Leicester to miss out on a place in the top four.

While Leicester do have some particularly tricky fixtures coming up, starting with an unpredictable Liverpool side at home on Tuesday week and followed by back-to-back trips to Manchester City and Arsenal, the run-in looks much more benign once those games have been negotiated.

This turned into a vintage Leicester performance, one of those days when everything went right for them on an afternoon that finished with their supporters singing: "We're gonna win the league."

It was only the second game that Leicester have won since beating Chelsea in the middle of December, and the first time that Jamie Vardy has scored in eight matches; Riyad Mahrez also looked much like his old self. Three big boxes were ticked in that respect.

Danny Drinkwater also deserves more than a passing mention. An unsung hero in this Leicester team, the former United midfielder opened the scoring with his first ever Premier League goal and also played the through ball that released Vardy for their second.

By that point, Stoke were as good as raising the white flag and when Leonardo Ulloa slid in Leicester's third, following a lovely piece of skill from Mahrez, their misery was complete.

It was certainly not much of a way for Mark Hughes to celebrate his 500th game in management and tempting, given how poorly the visitors performed, to think that Stoke's players had one eye on Tuesday's League Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool. Hughes hopes that Ryan Shawcross, who limped out of this game in the first half with a back problem, could be fit to play at Anfield and also backed his players to bounce back.

Ranieri, in contrast, is able to switch off for a few days and has encouraged his players to put their feet up while he goes back to Italy.

"It was very important to be top of the Premier League at the end of January because now comes a very tough February, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City to come," the Leicester manager said.

"It is unbelievable, but it is good. We are ready to fight. Now the players will have three days off so they can clear their minds and then they will come back and we start to work hard again. This league for us is very exciting."

Hughes had long seen enough. "It wasn't a great day for us, we didn't produce anything of note to be honest," the Stoke manager said. "From our point of view, we're looking to bounce back quickly, we've got a huge game on Tuesday and I back my team to respond."


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