Jamie Vardy and Leicester City provided a thrilling reminder of the form that took them to the Premier League title last season four days too late for dethroned boss Claudio Ranieri, as a limp Liverpool were dispatched 3-1 at the King Power Stadium.
A home crowd peppered with banners paying tribute to the amiable Italian, who was sacked last Thursday following a run of five consecutive top-flight defeats, had no cause to approach mutiny as their side located an intensity and drive sorely lacking over recent weeks.
Vardy followed his strike in the 2-1 Champions League loss to Sevilla last week with Leicester's first in the Premier League in 2017 and Danny Drinkwater displayed impeccable technique to net a sumptuous long-range second. Watch the goal below –
Drinkwater's goal was flamessss ?????? pic.twitter.com/6nMzV41AeX
— FBL ?? (@FOOTBALRLIFE) February 28, 2017
It got better in the second half when Vardy headed in a third and, although Philippe Coutinho pulled one back for Liverpool, the Foxes moved out of the bottom three and the famous namesake of Leicester's interim boss Craig Shakespeare could barely have scripted a better initial pitch for him to take the job on a full-time basis.
The day-to-day in such roles provides considerable headaches, as Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will attest. A 16-day break from action and a training trip to La Manga seemingly did little for the Reds' competitive edge as they fell well short of the swashbuckling brilliance that took down Tottenham last time out.
Like Leicester, they have only one Premier League win this calendar year and are in fifth having played a game more than Manchester City and Arsenal in third and fourth, while sixth-placed Manchester United are a point behind with a game in hand.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) February 27, 2017
Shinji Okazaki replaced Ahmed Musa in a Leicester starting XI that reverted predominantly to the shape and personnel that brought them glory last season and the Japan international was to the fore in a positive start from the hosts – Simon Mignolet keeping out a clever seventh-minute header.
The sight of Liverpool's defence retreating under a high ball forward from Kasper Schmeichel and being put under further pressure by a fine Vardy touch provided another flashback to Leicester's title heroics.
As has often been the case this time around, the England striker's finish was lacking, though he made amends in the 28th minute when Drinkwater slid a pass through a generously positioned Liverpool backline.
Vardy's darting run was followed by assured touches and a drilled low finish that left Mignolet with no chance and ended a league drought for the 30-year-old dating back to December 10.
Schmeichel was out quickly to prevent Coutinho registering a swift equaliser but Liverpool's lethargy remained and, after Vardy's backheel found Wilfried Ndidi to draw another stop from Mignolet, Leicester spectacularly doubled their lead.
James Milner's headed clearance sat up nicely for Drinkwater to sweetly smash into the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) February 27, 2017
Klopp's side finally settled into a sustained spell of convincing, probing possession early in the second period but Schmeichel saw Coutinho's shot all the way from 20 yards.
Title-winning captain Wes Morgan offered a demonstration of the defensive solidity that has appeared beyond him this term by deflecting a Sadio Mane effort behind and the King Power erupted once more after an hour.
Vardy overhit his initial cross but Riyad Mahrez and Christian Fuchs kept the move alive – the latter supplying a handsome cross from the left for Vardy to do the rest.
Schmeichel's best work of the night came springing to his left to deny Adam Lallana, shortly before Ranieri was serenaded with lights held aloft throughout the stadium after 65 minutes.
Coutinho, Liverpool's only reliable source of menace, timed his run to take Can's pass into his stride and slot home to threaten a nervy final quarter.
However, Leicester retained their poise, with Drinkwater narrowly missing out on his second by blasting over, and they must ensure a win that echoed their 4-2 December destruction of Manchester City is not a similarly isolated event.