Who needs Vardy? Foxes make light of striker’s ban
Leicester City 4-0 Swansea City
Mahrez helps extend title lead before picking up PFA Player of the Year award
A team from Leicester University have been recording seismic activity inside the King Power Stadium all season, but yesterday it was a cyclone rather than an earthquake they detected.
El Ciclon – The Cyclone – was the nickname for Leonardo Ulloa from his time in Spain and the 29-yearold Argentine striker blew away an admittedly powder-puff Swansea City side who looked not just on the beach but playing as if wearing flipflops as well.
If Swansea, safe from relegation, performed as if they had nothing to play for, then Leicester reacted to this fixture as if their lives depended on it. “We are fearless” read the banner draped over the home supporters prior to kick-off and the players put in a performance to justify those sentiments.
It helped that there was such a wall of noise ringing around this stadium, which swept away any nerves and lingering anger over last Sunday’s draw against West Ham United and Jamie Vardy being suspended, as well as doubts brought about by Tottenham Hotspur closing in.
This was the first time that Leicester had taken to the pitch in a league match without their talismanic striker since March last year. Vardy watched from an executive box as he serves the first of what could turn out to be a two-game suspension. Leicester coped admirably without him.
This emphatic victory means they need just five points from their final three matches – away to Manchester United, at home to Everton, away to Chelsea – to ensure they will win the first league title in their 132-year history.
But it might not even come to that. Spurs are at home to West Bromwich Albion tonight – a match they should win – but, trailing the leaders by eight points, Mauricio Pochettino’s men have no margin for error as they desperately try to catch Claudio Ranieri’s side.
The Italian had delivered his rallying cry and finally declared that Leicester were going for the title after the previous weekend’s draw against West Ham United and Vardy’s red card. “Dilly-ding, dillydong”, Ranieri’s bizarre reaction in a press conference last week to the club achieving Champions League football next season, will become a phrase of legend and countless T-shirts – and here was the wake-up call after the alarm bells. A wake-up call followed by a wave of emotion. “We play with our heart and it’s difficult to beat those who play with their heart and soul,” Ranieri said afterwards.
It was after a late winning goal by Ulloa, in the last minute against Norwich City, in February that it emerged a seismometer installed in a school close to the stadium had On the march: Leonardo Ulloa powers in a header for Leicester’s second goal detected “sudden energy release” – a minor quake with a magnitude of 0.3 – from City fans when the ball had hit the net.
That win also fuelled belief. It grabbed the attention of the rest of the league. There was even a social media account set up – @VardyQuake – to give updates of when the earth moved again. It more than likely shifted once more with Ulloa’s last-minute penalty against West Ham, which earned a precious point eight days ago. He took his chances here, too.
How would Leicester cope without Vardy? Would the Tinkerman tinker? Rightly, Ranieri decided not to. Too much variation would have led to doubt. Instead, Leicester retained their 4-4-2 formation, with Ulloa in for Vardy and Jeffrey Schlupp replacing Marc Albrighton, who has appeared tired of late. Both were outstanding.
It helped that Swansea selfdestructed, conceding a comical goal after just 10 minutes when Ashley Williams carelessly tried to sweep the ball from the edge of his own penalty area out to Neil Taylor but only managed to find Riyad Mahrez. Even then, Mahrez had to bring the ball down, Williams stood off and the Algerian calmly steered it inside Lukasz Fabianski’s near post.
It was all the more painful for Williams in that he had history with Mahrez. The pair clashed after the meeting between the sides earlier in the season, when Leicester had brushed Swansea aside, courtesy of a Mahrez hat-trick. Here was another goal; another gift.
There was then another blunder. Williams was involved again as he failed to deal with Ulloa, who was first to an inswinging Danny Drinkwater free-kick and powered his header in at the near post.
Leicester did not relent. There was a determined break from Schlupp, who beat Àngel Rangel to a clearance down the left and proved too quick for the covering Federico Fernández. Suddenly through on goal, Schlupp broke through Williams’s desperate lunge and prodded the ball across goal, where Ulloa slid in to turn it home.
The striker departed to a standing ovation – the only concern was he appeared to have hurt his back – but still Leicester pressed, with three substitutes combining. Demarai Gray ran from deep, brushing past two feeble challenges and crossing to Andy King, who headed the ball back to him. Gray’s firsttime shot was beaten out by Fabianski but only to Albrighton, who drilled the ball high into the net.
Cue another spike in that seismometer.
In the stands: Jamie Vardy looks on