Vardy gamble pays off
> Ranieri drops striker in 3-1 win over Palace
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