Vardy gam­ble pays off

> Ranieri drops striker in 3-1 win over Palace

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

CLAU­DIO RANIERI took the big­gest gam­ble of his Le­ices­ter City reign and then watched the Premier League cham­pi­ons stylishly spare him a post-match in­quest.

There was some­thing of a swag­ger about Ranieri’s side as they saw off Palace with ease at the King Power Sta­dium on Satur­day.

And for Ranieri, the de­ci­sion to omit Jamie Vardy from his start­ing line-up for the first time in the Premier League was rewarded as the two for­wards he re­called, Ahmed Musa and Shinji Okazaki, scored the goals that set up vic­tory.

Chris­tian Fuchs net­ted a spec­tac­u­lar third for the Foxes be­fore Yo­han Cabaye pulled a goal back for a Palace side who made the early run­ning and hit the cross­bar through Chris­tian Ben­teke at 0-0, but who were then over­whelmed by the Premier League cham­pi­ons.

Aside from a two-game sus­pen­sion last sea­son, Vardy had started ev­ery Premier League game since March 2015, a month be­fore Nigel Pear­son’s side would light a fire un­der the “great es­cape” that be­gan an ex­tra­or­di­nary pe­riod for the club.

But af­ter the striker picked up a mi­nor groin in­jury in Wed­nes­day’s Cham­pi­ons League win over Copen­hagen, Ranieri opted to make a change he knew would lead to a ma­jor post mortem in the event of de­feat.

In­stead, Musa re­paid the first chunk of his £16 mil­lion (RM80m) sum­mer trans­fer fee be­fore Okazaki fin­ished em­phat­i­cally and Fuchs added a sub­lime mo­ment by cel­e­brat­ing his new three-year con­tract with a stun­ner.

It was a price­less win for Le­ices­ter, who hith­erto had strug­gled to com­bine their fine Cham­pi­ons League form with con­vinc­ing do­mes­tic dis­plays.

Ex­plain­ing his de­ci­sion to start last sea­son’s top scorer on the bench, Ranieri said: “It’s nor­mal be­cause we have to play so many matches. All the matches are im­por­tant and when you see Okazaki and Musa in train­ing I have to put them on the pitch.

“It wasn’t (be­cause of) in­jury. If he was in­jured he wouldn’t have come with me on the bench. I don’t know if he needed a rest, but when you have some good play­ers it’s right to have a rest.”

Ranieri, who cel­e­brated his birth­day on Thurs­day, said: “I think it’s the best per­for­mance of the sea­son. We won and played well and the only thing I don’t like is we con­ceded a goal.”

Ea­gles boss Alan Pardew said: “They were good... there wasn’t much weak­ness in the team and we had to work hard for ev­ery­thing. They def­i­nitely gave us a test and un­for­tu­nately they were bet­ter than us.

“Most teams will find it dif­fi­cult here, we weren’t far away from our best.” – The In­de­pen­dent

Le­ices­ter City’s Ahmed Musa (left) shoots past Crys­tal Palace’s Joe Led­ley to score the open­ing goal of Satur­day’s English Premier League match at the King Power Sta­dium. – AFPPIX

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