Ranieri's light is out but Leicester spark into life at the right time

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The Italian manager was relieved of his duties last week, but his former charges put in a performance against Liverpool to remember


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There was a light-display in the 65th minute around the stands of the King Power Stadium in tribute to sacked manager Claudio Ranieri; the man who came from Italy to coach Leicester City to their first and only Premier League title.

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This game against Liverpool was Leicester’s first match since the Thai owners not so much swung the axe as put the old sheepdog out of his misery.

There have been precious few moments this season when Leicester’s football matched their output from the last campaign but tonight was one. It is indeed a shame for Ranieri that he had to be sacrificed before his team produced it.

What Ranieri, interim first-team coach Craig Shakespeare and the players did last season was not rocket science. It was simple football – well executed – and it served them well.

"He told us what he wanted us to do, which was very simple and basic and we’ve done that," said defender Danny Simpson to Sky Sports. "Let’s hope we can carry that on for him."

Ranieri – it has been suggested – overcomplicated the formula this season in an effort to make Leicester less predictable but that left his players bemused and dissatisfied with what they were being asked to do.

Shakespeare took the team back to basics here and got a result – and a performance – worthy of being in last season’s canon.

Leicester City Liverpool King Power Stadium

The level of disdain that has been levelled at Leicester’s champion players in the past few days is undeserved. No matter how likeable Ranieri, it was not him out there making saves and blocks or providing dribbles and goals.

A group of ordinary players played above themselves for a full campaign; to ascribe the credit for their success solely to Ranieri is wrongheaded.

"I’d be lying if I said it’s not hurt the lads," Simpson said. "Of course it has. We can come out and say this and say that but it’s football that does the talking. I think everyone tonight was fantastic but we have to kick on now."

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And if that is the prevailing perspective then surely it cuts both ways. If Ranieri was responsible for the success last term then he should carry a slice of the blame this time.

Nobody is in any doubt that Leicester needed a reboot. They didn’t get it in abundance in the Janaury transfer window – Wilfred Ndidi was the only player signed since the title win to feature here – and removing the manager was the only remaining and viable option.

The players here demonstrated their resilience – not to mention guts – to pull out a performance in front of their public. As it happened the King Power Stadium got behind their team from minute one but the 11 starters could easily have borne the brunt of fan dissatisfaction – for the results, for the league position and for how the manager ended up on the scrapheap. Their positivity rubbed off on the players; their encouragement succour for a team shorn of confidence. Leicester responded.

"We all know we’ve not played how we can," Simpson admitted. "We’re first to admit that but Leicester carries on."

Jamie Vardy has been blunted most of the season- here Shakespeare asked his men to play to the striker’s strengths and was rewarded with two goals. His first featured a glorious pass slipped through by Marc Albrighton – another one of those alleged to have featured prominently in conversations with the owners ahead of Ranieri’s dismissal. His second – from a Christian Fuchs cross – was a well-taken header.

Both Vardy goals depended initially on Leicester springing their scampering superstar to chase balls from deep. It’s what he’s good at.

Danny Drinkwater’s strike – to put Leicester 2-0 up – was good enough to win any match.

Leicester v Liverpool

Fans with faces of Ranieri Leicester Liverpool Premier League 20170227

banner Ranieri Leicester City Liverpool

Liverpool fell right into the trap and – although they scored – will have disappointed their own manager Jurgen Klopp for the manner in which they allowed this night to become the Leicester restoration.

It was a night on which most things went right for the hosts and one on which it was hard to differentiate between the team chasing the Champions League places and the one trying to avoid the Championship.

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This one game is not enough to rescue Leicester’s season but it’s a start. As much experience as this squad has of winning titles, only a year earlier it also performed a miracle escape from the relegation zone.

"We’ve got to do the exact same we’ve got this season otherwise it means nothing," said Simpson. "From the lads’ reaction tonight I’m pretty sure they will."

Such is the craziness of life at the King Power. Tonight – with Ranieri’s light gone out – felt like the night the fairytale really ended and Leicester City could get on with the job of staving off the drop. 

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