Friday 19 January 2018

King and Vardy share stage for stylish finish

Leicester City 3 Everton 1

Leicester City's Welsh midfielder Andy King (right) is tackled by Everton's Costa Rican midfielder Bryan Oviedo. Photo: Adrian Dennis/Getty Images
Leicester City's Welsh midfielder Andy King (right) is tackled by Everton's Costa Rican midfielder Bryan Oviedo. Photo: Adrian Dennis/Getty Images
Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez controls the ball under pressure from Everton's Tom Cleverley at The King Power Stadium yesterday. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy gets his hands on the Premier League Trophy after yesterday's match against Everton at The King Power Stadium. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Everton's Costa Rican midfielder Bryan Oviedo (lefts) vies with Leicester City's French midfielder N'Golo Kante during the match at the King Power Stadium. Photo: Adrian Dennis/Getty Images
Leicester City manager Claudio with the crown of the Premier League Trophy after the Barclays Premier League against Everton. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

It was not something we have seen at past Premier League title-winning parties: two Italian men of a certain vintage stood side by side, like long-departed émigrés on the prow of an ocean liner as the country of their birth looms on the horizon, while the credits roll and the beautiful music plays.

Claudio Ranieri alongside old friend, the tenor Andrea Bocelli, who lost his sight as a child playing football. When the title is won and the silly wigs are donned, the party can occasionally grate a bit. But this was a profound pre-match moment that was emotional and mesmerising. It was a title-celebration for grown-ups.

Con te partiro - Time to say goodbye - is a reality that Ranieri has confronted many times in his career. Leicester is his 16th appointment of a 29-year managerial career, but there will be no goodbye yet as he looks forward to the Champions League. As for Roberto Martínez, it must have felt like they were playing him out.

A historic day for Leicester, another disastrous one for Martínez and Everton. Ranieri will know better than any what the Everton manager will have been feeling as he serves out the last games before his inevitable sacking.

There were times when you wondered whether Martínez would keep his job long enough to face Sunderland on Wednesday and then Norwich City at Goodison Park next Sunday. The nature of the occasion meant that his team were always likely to be a sidenote, but no-one could have predicted they would retreat to the margins of the game so insipidly that they were booed at half-time by their own fans. Martínez will have read the signs from his vantage point: this team was not playing for him.

John Stones is finding himself in the wrong place so often these days, you have to wonder how much Roy Hodgson will be prepared to trust him at Euro 2016.

With 64 minutes played, 21-year-old Matthew Pennington - in only his second Premier League start - fell for the old Jamie Vardy trick of getting one pace ahead and drawing the foul to win a penalty. There are many more experienced defenders than Pennington who have struggled with Vardy this season.

Leicester set about the task as if it were just another home game that had to be ticked off the list and three points taken. Even the absence of the suspended Danny Drinkwater and Robert Huth made no difference to the side who were ahead within five minutes through Vardy and never looked back.

It was a special occasion for Andy King, who has winners' medals now with Leicester for League One, the Championship and the Premier League but has had to settle for a more peripheral role. Not this afternoon, when he crossed for Vardy's first goal and then scored the second himself on 33 minutes, his second league goal of the season.

Everton were dozing badly for the first, when Riyad Mahrez threw the ball to King and he picked out Vardy as Stones drifted away from the striker. Later, Vardy would lash his penalty past Joel Robles. King's goal was made by Mahrez, who was tackled at the last by Leighton Baines, which inadvertently put the ball on a plate for the Leicester midfielder.

Leicester won a second penalty on 71 minutes after Darron Gibson mistimed a challenge on Jeffrey Schlupp. This time, Vardy's energy took over from his usual composure and he sent the ball over the bar with his hat-trick there for the taking.

Otherwise, this was one of those days when, if it could go wrong for Martínez, it inevitably did. There was a late goal from substitute Kevin Mirallas, but the traffic was mostly all the other way.

When Ross Barkley was substituted with nine minutes left, he headed straight down the tunnel. That said a lot about the relationship of one of the two most talented players in this Everton side with the manager who would claim to have overseen his key development. If there is any doubt in the mind of Everton's new billionaire majority investor, Farhad Moshiri, about Martínez, then one expects it has been vanquished.

As for Ranieri, he occupies a different realm when it comes to the outrageous fortunes in the life of a manager. His team formed a guard of honour for him when he came on to the pitch with Bocelli at the start and you suspect that, in all, this afternoon exceeded even his expectations.

There are not many of these days in most managers' careers, and many never taste success like this at all.


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