Nothing will come of nothing. Sacking Claudio Ranieri certainly hasn’t pleased the football romantics, or football fans in general, but for Leicester’s owners it looks to have had the desired effect. Interim boss Craig Shakespeare, who is rumoured to be in with a shot at the long-term role, certainly did his chances no harm by guiding his side to a 3-1 win over Liverpool on Monday night.
The Foxes looked a team not so much reborn, but they certainly look to have found a smidgen of the persistence and camaraderie that took them to the title last term. If they can continue in the same vein for the remaining 12 games of the season, or even in just six or eight of them, you’d think they’d comfortably avoid the drop.
Their performance raises two questions. The first: why could they not do that under Ranieri? Two: How can it have changed so quickly? Reports have suggested that the Leicester players were conspiring to get their old boss sacked, something that I find hard to believe. Conniving by name, conniving by nature maybe, but there is a huge difference to players getting
the manager moved on, and raising legitimate concerns with the powers that be at the club. The latter of which, is what I think may have gone on, given the players’ response to the claims.
And yet, Leicester have put all of that – the claims, the speculation, the bad publicity – behind them to produce their most impressive performance this season, against what frankly looked like a disjointed, fractured Liverpool side. As José Mourinho would be quick to point out, Liverpool’s languishing calendar, with no European football, should put them in prime position to push for greater things. But that simply doesn’t look the case, and José can save that rhetoric for his former employers at the top of the table.
Not to mention that Jamie Vardy looked back to his best. In the week he described being speculatively named in a player revolt against Ranieri as “untrue, unfounded and extremely hurtful,” and he was certainly out to prove a point. Netting twice, either side of Danny Drinkwater’s spectacular volley, the England international looked back to his scintillating form of last year. The first, a typical gut-busting run through the Liverpool rearguard to reach a Marc Albrighton pass and slot coolly past Simon Mignolet, the second a powerful header having beaten Emre Can in the air.
Liverpool found a reply through Philippe Coutinho, but a lacklustre performance will have let doubts of a spot in the top four seep in to the minds of players, coaches and fans alike. Their leaky defence has conceded 50 goals in two of the last three seasons (they other they let in 48), and it’s not looking promising this time around having seen Mignolet and Loris Karius pick the ball out of their net 33 times between them so far. Much of the talk this season has focussed on those two goalkeepers, but the blame can’t be lumbered on their shot-stopper this time around. It was, all round, a woeful performance.
They now sit a point ahead of fierce rivals Manchester United, who have a game in hand on the Merseysiders following their EFL Cup final win at the weekend. If that result goes United’s way, Jurgen Klopp’s men could sink to sixth – something fans wouldn’t have been expecting when the German arrived in the Anfield dugout. Not for the first time this season he’s been outfoxed, his players haven’t responded to his touchline tenacity and he’s fallen on the wrong side of a result. At February’s end, it’s two wins (in 12 games) since the turn of the year for Liverpool – one of which was a 1-0 scalp over League Two Plymouth.
Klopp’s got 12 games to turn their calendar year, and season, around. I doubt his employment status is in trouble as of now, but by the end of the season… the events of this week have only been a stark reminder of the brutality of the football business.
Header image credit; Zimbio