Leicester look the part as they move eight points clear

Claudio Ranieri’s side easily brush aside Swansea to throw down gauntlet to Spurs

 

Leicester City 4 Swansea City 0

Perhaps the most impressive part of this rout is the way Leicester City, closing in on an almost unimaginable piece of club history, made the latest stage of what increasingly looks like a victory procession such a stress-free occasion. Claudio Ranieri’s team played as though immune to nerves apart from possibly a few minutes at the start before they realised that Swansea City, with their accident-prone defence and end-of-season drift, would be obliging opponents.

There will certainly be more difficult assignments in the coming weeks when Leicester finish the season against Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea and at this stage, with an eight-point lead, it would be harrowing, to say the least, if this previously unremarkable club cannot end the most eccentric year of their lives in possession of the championship trophy. They need five points from their remaining fixtures to make certain of it but that assumes Tottenham Hotspur, in second position, win their last four games, starting tomorrow at home to West Bromwich Albion. Any slip-up from Spurs could shift the balance even more heavily in Leicester’s favour and there was absolutely nothing in this performance to suggest a late meltdown from a team whose durability and mental fortitude had been questioned – unfairly, by some degree - on the back of Jamie Vardy’s absence and the wild 2-2 draw against West Ham last weekend.

As it turned out, Vardy’s replacement, Leonardo Ulloa, scored two of the goals while Ranieri’s decision to bring in Jeffrey Schlupp on the left was also vindicated. Schlupp gave Leicester the pace and directness that they might have been missing otherwise in Vardy’s absence and, as a small insight into the togetherness of this team, there was a lovely exchange when he was taken off late on and Marc Albrighton took over on the left side of attack. Albrighton had lost his place in the starting line-up but the two players still shared a joke and a warm embrace and, within a couple of minutes, the substitute had added the fourth goal.

Leicester had played with the belief, structure and enthusiasm that, by now, we are all acquainted with. Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kanté were indefatigable in midfield. Riyad Mahrez, scorer of the opening goal, was full of soft-touch refinement on the right and, defensively, there were only sporadic occasions when Kasper Schmeichel’s goal was seriously threatened. Leicester have now kept seven clean sheets in their last nine fixtures and look, in short, like champions-in-waiting. ‚“Four-nil to the one-man team” their supporters sang.

Swansea, in stark contrast, looked like a team waiting for summer to arrive. When Ulloa headed in Drinkwater’s free-kick to make it 2-0 after half an hour it was the 20th time this season that Swansea have been caught out at a set-piece, accounting for almost half their goals-against column. Ulloa had eluded Ashley Williams in the build-up and the game was a personal ordeal for Swansea’s captain given his level of culpability in the first goal, presenting Mahrez with the ball from a lazy and misdirected pass out of his own penalty area.

Mahrez accepted the gift with the manner of a man who seems immune to human nerves. He was instrumental in the team’s ability to cope without Vardy - “Barcelona, we’re coming for you‚” was another chant – and it summed up this Leicester team that the free-kick for Ulloa’s goal came from Morgan, of all people, on the left wing, dispossessing Wayne Routledge and winning a foul in the process.

Swansea had begun the game with a no-striker formation that had Gylfi Sigurdsson as his most advanced player and the fact that Francesco Guidolin abandoned the system at half-time, bringing on two substitutes and reverting to a more orthodox 4-2-3-1 line-up, at least showed their manager recognised he had got it wrong from the start.

Leicester, in stark contrast, played with wit and know-how and, more than anything, an absolute refusal to show even a flicker of apprehension from the moment after ten minutes when Leroy Fer played an innocuous pass back to Ashley Williams and he made such a hash of moving the ball forward again it not only led to the opening goal but also had the effect of soothing the crowd’s early nerves.

Mahrez had followed in and, almost always in these situations, the attempt to block the ball generally comes to nothing. On this occasion the ball thudded against Mahrez’s midriff and suddenly it was at his feet, inside the penalty area, with Williams desperately scrambling across to try to make up for his mistake. Mahrez took his time, steadied himself and aimed a precise, unhurried shot inside the near corner of Lukasz Fabianski’s goal.

From that point onwards, there was a huge imbalance between the two sides. Schlupp set up Ulloa for his second after a breakaway that started from Leicester’s own penalty area and the home team were rampant by the time Albrighton turned in the fourth goal after some fine work from another of their substitutes, Demarai Gray.

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