If Claudio Ranieri watched Leicester City's 3-1 win over Liverpool on Monday night, he might have been inclined to shake his head in disbelief. They somehow rediscovered the fight, the desire and the style of last season and completely battered a Liverpool side tipped for the top four. Where was that hunger and passion during Ranieri's final weeks?
Leicester, who last season defied odds of 5,000/1 to become the most unlikely Premiership champions ever and make Ranieri the FIFA Coach of the Year, have been dreadful this campaign. They came into the Liverpool game without a league win or even a goal in 2017, having lost their last five Premiership matches in a row, dumped out of the FA Cup by League One side Millwall and beaten in the Champions League by Sevilla. Leicester's owner's bit the bullet and sacked him, earning the scorn of football fans across the world.
Their decision might have been vindicated to some extent by the players' reaction: they went out on Monday night and swept Liverpool aside. Gary Neville was incredulous in the Sky Sports studio when he said Christian Fuchs, who had underperformed so badly in recent weeks, suddenly turned into Paolo Maldini. Jamie Vardy was full of energy and ran his heart out, resulting in two goals that put the Reds to the sword. It was a shocking performance. Fans will have been baffled as to how they could just turn it on so suddenly in the wake of Ranieri's departure. This is a man that turned an average team into Premiership champions and made them global superstars. How could they have been so bad for so long, and suddenly so good again?
Well, for starters, Liverpool made it easy for them. Playing a high line with Lucas Leiva at centre half against Vardy is pretty much the worst possible tactical decision you can make. Vardy was able to torment the cumbersome Liverpool backline because they made it so easy for the likes of Danny Drinkwater to ping balls over the top for him and let him run the channels, where he killed Lucas for pace every time.
They will probably not have an easier game all season. Now the fight to avoid relegation is really and truly on. Soccer odds at 5Dimes show Leicester are favourites to win their next game, at home to Hull City, but Marco Silva will not play into their hands like Jurgen Klopp did, and they can anticipate a far tougher game.
Hull have been rejuvenated since Silva took over and it should prove to be a ferocious battle. Just seven points now separate bottom club Sunderland and 14th placed Bournemouth, who are in freefall, and it is turning into a fascinating relegation battle. Leicester climbed out of the relegation zone on the back of that victory over Liverpool, and they now look less likely to be the first Premiership champions to be relegated the following season – something that looked a distinct possibility a few days ago. But they are just two points clear of the relegation zone, and any of the bottom seven could go down.
Sunderland have the goals of Jermain Defoe to fall back on and could pull off another great escape. Hull have been much improved of late. Crystal Palace are far too good on paper to go down. Middlesbrough defend really well. Swansea have hit form at just the right time and surged up the table thanks to Gilfi Sigurdsson's goals. Bournemouth have a four-point cushion and can be good going forwards. Any three of them could be relegated, but if you look at the squad's, Leicester really should finish top of that sorry mini-league. They have experience, pace and creativity in the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Demerai Gray, and a goal threat in Vardy and Islam Slimani. Beat Hull and they will be feeling a lot more comfortable, but it won't be easy and if they approach it with the carelessness with which they have gone into 90% of games this season they will lose, so Craig Shakespeare really needs to get them fired up again.