Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez revived memories of Leicester’s title-winning campaign Saturday as the recovery under Craig Shakespeare continued with a 3-2 victory at West Ham that eases the champion’s relegation fears. Since manager Claudio Ranieri’s firing, the Premier League champions have reeled off three successive victories to move six points clear of the relegation zone and sealed a first-ever place in the Champions League quarterfinals.
“No secret. I think hard work, endeavor, resilience,” said Shakespeare, who has been promoted to take charge until the end of the season. “I think we showed all them today aligned with some good footballers.”
Leicester’s title defense has been so pitiful that it has taken until March and a trip to the Olympic Stadium to finally win an away game in the league at its 14th attempt _ but only thanks to the second-half saves from goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
“In the second half when they had to fight for their lives, they have done it because they have momentum on their side,” West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said. “Unfortunately we haven’t had it on our side in the last few games.”
A run of three losses, after a pair of draws, has seen West Ham drop to 12th place and Leicester is now only three points behind.
Mahrez, who scored 17 goals last season in the astonishing charge to the title, put Leicester in front in east London after five minutes with only his fifth goal of the current campaign. The Algerian’s two goals in the three league games since Shakespeare took charge are as many as he managed in the previous 22 games under Ranieri, an alarming drop in form that was mirrored across the team.
Robert Huth’s header doubled Leicester’s lead within two minutes of Mahrez’s opener. After Manuel Lanzini pulled one back directly from a free kick, Jamie Vardy restored the two-goal cushion in the 38th minute with his third goal in the three league games under Shakespeare.
The striker had gone two months without a goal before this run of three wins in which Leicester has scored three times in each.
Vardy’s goal proved decisive after Andre Ayew’s second-half header put West Ham back in control. Ayew missed a chance to level when he struck over and Andy Carroll was twice denied from close range by Schmeichel.
“We had to not only defend our box well in terms of crosses but we also had to handle the physicality of Andy Carroll,” Shakespeare said. “We had the goalkeeper to thank for making some pivotal, crucial saves that helped us win the game. I would love to play silky football but this is the Premier League we are talking about.”
There’s also the unlikely bid for a first European title, with Atletico Madrid up next in the quarterfinals.