Slowly, slowly, as Claudio Ranieri often opines, Leicester City’s title defence is gathering steam. A shadow of themselves at Hull and stymied by Arsenal seven days ago, the champions defied an apocalyptic downpour to edge past Swansea City and deliver a statement of intent to the rest of the Premier League.
A trademark Jamie Vardy finish and Wes Morgan’s volley either side of half-time secured the hosts’ first victory of this fledgling Premier League campaign, easing the tension brewed by an irregular opening fortnight for Claudio Ranieri’s side.
Leroy Fer’s late header had the King Power locals chomping on their fingernails as the players splashed around on an increasingly sodden turf but the hosts dug in the trenches to hold out for Ranieri’s 100th league victory in English football.
The Italian, befitting his carefree nature, didn’t even know of that feat until informed afterwards by a journalist. “I just found out,” he said. “It’s okay, no? I hope to make another 100! I think the first-half was very, very outstanding for us. The rain was unbelievable. Three points is good. A first victory for us is good. I am happy.”
Swansea’s most recent junket to the East Midlands - a four-goal submission in April - was a significant turn of the page in the Leicester City fable last season. Three weeks into this new campaign, this meeting didn’t carry the same weightiness.
There was fanfare for the champions’ homecoming against Arsenal last week; cheerleaders, an enormous tifo in the Spion Kop, a raucous replay of Andrea Bocelli’s Nessun Dorma. It was back to basics this time around. The tickertape had finally been swept away. “We must forget that now,” Ranieri said this week. “I look only to the future. That is my philosophy.”
Leicester started brightly with Daniel Amartey, in for the injured Nampalys Mendy, cutting an authoritative figure in midfield. After nine minutes of gentle probing, Shinji Okazaki burst free of his man before playing Vardy in behind. Swans defender Federico Fernandez, wary the England striker was inches away from taking his gallop into the penalty area, hacked Vardy to the deck just in time.
Mahrez, however, was unable to test Lukasz Fabianski with the subsequent free-kick from 19 yards. Leicester’s strong start quickly became a blitz on the Swans’ goal as the East Midlands sky burst open. Danny Drinkwater’s header, on 20 minutes, lacked the power required and drifted out wide to Vardy. Skipping past Kyle Naughton, the 29-year-old’s cross was too deep for either Okazaki or Marc Albrighton.
Controversy came moments later, as it so often does where Robert Huth is concerned, as Leicester were denied a penalty. The German took a tumble under pressure from both Jordi Amat and Fernandez but referee Roger East was unperturbed. Modou Barrow felt the brunt of his unhappiness. From victim to guilty party in seconds, Huth was booked for a heavy challenge on the Gambian international.
Leicester’s rampaging start reaped its due reward just after the half-hour. Mahrez seized upon a loose ball hard earned by Amartey and offloaded it to Drinkwater who, in turn, found Vardy in space behind Amat. The Spaniard could only watch as the former Fleetwood man did what he does best. Slicing a path through on goal before arrowing it past Fabianski, via the post, Vardy then settled a running dispute with the visiting fans.
Cupping his ear and pointing to the name on the back of his shirt, their ribbing of him earlier had not gone unnoticed.
Swansea were poor at times - fragile at the back and impotent up front - but at least they worried Kasper Schmeichel before the break. Barrow cannoned down the right flank, forcing Morgan to poke it away from Wayne Routledge, before the latter composed himself and lucklessly fired wide from distance.
As the conditions turned from a light shower into something more akin to a scene from War of the Worlds, the last action of the opening period saw a drenched Okazaki sting the gloves of Fabianski from 22 yards. It took just seven second-half minutes for the superior Foxes to double their advantage.
An in-swinging corner from Christian Fuchs initially dumfounded captain Morgan, bobbling mid-air between him and Huth, before the Jamaican took hold of the situation and belted it beyond Fabianski. The onslaught had only just begun with Leicester pouring forwards in pursuit of a third.
A workable avenue to that end presented itself in the 55th minute when Okazaki was bundled down by Amat in the area. However, Mahrez, liable to fluffing his lines from 12-yards in the past, was denied by Swansea’s Polish goalkeeper at his bottom-right post. If that had unnerved the hosts, the sight of the fourth official’s board carrying the number “1” added to their anxiety.
Schmeichel, ever-present last term, had overreached himself to prevent Fernando Llorente from narrowing the arrears moments before. On came understudy Ron-Robert Zieler, a new £2.3m signing from Hannover. Ranieri would later conform that the Danish goalkeeper will have an operation on a hernia on Monday.
Leicester’s clean sheet was soon muddied when, from nowhere, Fer leapt to apply a powerful header to Barrow’s cross from the flank. But it was Ranieri’s men who went closest to scoring again as Mahrez and Ahmed Musa, a second-half substitute, both spurned fine opportunities to settle the contest.
“I think the result is correct because Leicester played better than us,” Swansea boss Francesco Guidolin said at full-time. “Strong, like last season ... I saw a team play good football with intensity. At the end we had the possibility to draw the game but I think Leicester deserved to win.”
Leicester City (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel (Zieler 57’), Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, Mahrez, Amartey, Drinkwater, Albrighton (Musa 75’), Okazaki (Ulloa 80’), Vardy.
Subs not used: Hernandez, Chilwell, Gray, King.
Swansea City (4-5-1): Fabianski, Naughton, Fernandez, Amat, Kinsgley, Cork (McBurnie 86’), Fer, Sigurdsson (Montero 59’), Barrow, Routledge (Ki Sung-Yueng 59’), Llorente.
Subs not used: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Van der Hoorn, Fulton.
Match rating: 7/10
Attendance: 31,727 (965 away)
Man of the match: Drinkwater
Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire)
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