Three points clear with 14 games to go. They can’t, can they? It is perhaps time to put away that question for it demeans the team of this season. Whatever happens now, Leicester’s shredding of convention is among the greatest stories ever told in the Premier League.
Jamie Vardy cracked goals No 17 and 18, both in the second half, to eat even further into the psyche of Leicester’s title rivals. They were utterly different in complexion yet both typical of the way this incredible predator works.
The author of much of Vardy’s plunder, Riyad Mahrez, has decorated the King Power Stadium with real beauty this season but it was little more than a speculative punt that led to Vardy’s audacious first, smashed over Simon Mignolet on the volley.
Dejan Lovren was eviscerated by Vardy’s pace and the bounce of the ball, but would hardly have expected the execution that came. The second was more prosaic yet electric in its own way given the speed of his reaction when the ball ricocheted across the box, again at the expense of Lovren.
The wonder here was not how Leicester might be leading the Premier League but how Liverpool became the only team to beat them on the road this season. That anomaly was ruthlessly avenged here, leaving Liverpool with only three wins in the past 10 league matches.
There was always concern in this neighbourhood when the computer coughed up Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal consecutively in February. If we come out of that thumb screw without defeat, we might just stay up was the prevailing orthodoxy.
That was then. Leicester’s colonisation of the English football summit is arguably the most extraordinary feature of the Premier League epoch. The impending arrival of Pep Guardiola might demonstrate the heft and prestige of the English game, but for sheer implausibility and romance, there is no more compelling a tale than the emergence of this unfashionable East Midlands outpost as a footballing power house.
It is perhaps unkind to describe the likes of Robert Huth, Marc Albrighton and Danny Simpson as jobbing footballers but that is what they are, in reputation at least, when compared with the global figures ranged against them in this mad title race.
And if Guardiola is the guru of the day what to make of Claudio Ranieri, little more than an avuncular chump inviting sneers when his left-field appointment was announced in July? There will be some rewriting of history if this carries on.
Mahrez flashed Leicester’s first effort past a post with 1 minute 20 seconds on the clock. In the ninth minute Shinji Okazaki had a header tipped on to the bar by Mignolet after Vardy had skinned Lovren down the left to tee him up with a beautifully flighted cross.
Leicester’s secret lies in their compact shape, the industry of N’Golo Kanté and Danny Drinkwater, key pistons in the blue engine, and of course the coiled springs that are Vardy and Mahrez.
Liverpool covet efficiency just the same, but do not have quite the cohesion, engine mapping or the express pace at the point of attack of a Vardy. Possession was not their problem in the opening period, incision was, though they were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Huth whacked Adam Lallana with his elbow.
Though Jürgen Klopp’s motif is pressing, it was Leicester who would not leave their opponents alone. Liverpool had Mignolet to thank for maintaining parity with a brilliant one-handed save to deny Mahrez. Within a minute the Belgian showed his other side that so frustrates, fumbling a clearance and relying on the girder-like Mamadou Sakho to bale him out.
As the half neared its end Ranieri took to orchestrating from his technical area, waving the players back into shape as Liverpool swarmed the Leicester box. Again he needn’t have bothered. Kasper Schmeichel was not called upon to make a save.
The pattern of the first period was quickly re-established after the break, Liverpool moving the ball about methodically if slowly, Leicester looking for Vardy at every opportunity. His goal haul this season is all the more remarkable for the limited touches he has. The boy lives off scraps.
Liverpool showed a fine passing sequence involving James Milner and Emre Can releasing the German in front of goal. Can caught the ball cleanly only for it to deflect wide for a corner. It was 10 minutes into the half before Liverpool registered their first shot on target, a cross-cum-shot from Alberto Moreno that Schmeichel punched gingerly clear.
Then boom, on the hour Vardy did what he does best and made a gormet dish out of a morsel, smashing Leicester into the lead from what was at best a hopeful punt down the park. One bounce over the head of Lovren then away it went, arching over the helpless dive of Mignolet into the back of the net.
Liverpool responded by bringing on Christian Benteke for Jordan Henderson, but without a significant shift in formation, you wondered how that might improve their prospects. It was Liverpool’s goal that was increasingly under threat, Okazaki having what looked a decent penalty shout overlooked.
It didn’t matter. Two minutes later Vardy had the stiletto out again, the first to react at the far post when Okazaki’s shot deflected across goal off Moreno. Lovren should have done better, Mignolet too. Together they had a poor night, mugged by the man of the hour.Reuse content