It came too late to save Claudio Ranieri, but Leicester City finally remembered they are the reigning Premier League champions with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool on Monday.
After five successive defeats without a goal – a run that cost Ranieri his job and had Leicester spiralling towards relegation – caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare took centre stage to mastermind an instant impact on the pitch.
Quite whether Leicester’s players were simply reacting to criticism that they had undermined Ranieri’s command or benefitting from a change of script will become clearer in the weeks to come as they battle to avoid relegation.
But England striker Jamie Vardy, whose goals fired the Foxes to the title but which have dried up alarmingly this season, looked reborn as he scored twice while the tenacity of the likes of Marc Albrighton, Danny Drinkwater and Riyad Mahrez overwhelmed a Liverpool side who never got out of the blocks.
If fans’ favourite Ranieri, whose title success last season against all the odds stunned the soccer world, was watching on television at home he would have been scratching his head.
“I could see in their eyes that they were up to the fight in the warm up,” the 53-year-old Shakespeare said.
“I know the criticism has hurt and perhaps there was a little more fire in the belly because of that.
“They (the players) have had to take criticism but we set the tone, they were excellent in the first 10-15 minutes. All I asked of the team was to remember what they were about.”
Vardy, who has not scored a league goal since December, said Shakespeare had told him to play further forward and he menaced a shaky Liverpool defence throughout with his pace.
“I told Jamie Vardy to be a nuisance and a threat for the team,” said Shakespeare, who has been Leicester’s assistant manager since 2001. “He was outstanding tonight.”
Sheakespeare would not speculate on whether he would be offered the job on a full-time basis.
“My remit was get them ready for Liverpool and I have done that. Let’s see what happens,” he said. “I think it might be too early but the club will come to me if there are any changes.
“Three points, it’s a start. It’s only one game but it’s a start. I think I can do the job.”
While Leicester celebrated climbing out of the bottom three, two points above the drop zone, Liverpool’s confident 2-0 win against high-flying Tottenham Hotspur a fortnight ago proved to be a false dawn after a torrid January.
Manager Juergen Klopp was at a loss to explain his team’s shoddy performance that left them in fifth place, a point outside the Champions League qualifying spots.
“Bad start, bad in the middle and bad at the end,” he said. “I spoke to them in the dressing room, that’s not enough for sure, not even close to being enough.”