Former England striker Gary Lineker, Leicester City’s most famous and perhaps favourite son, wondered aloud last week whether last season’s Premier League triumph had all been a crazy dream, so dismal had their defence of the title been.
The collective will seemed to have long evaporated, along with Jamie Vardy’s goals and Riyad Mahrez’s magic. Yet on Saturday, on a rainy December night, the King Power Stadium was transported back to those balmy, wonderful May days.
Mahrez looked like the player of the year again with his exquisite assists, Vardy scored his first-ever hat-trick for the Foxes and Claudio Ranieri’s men seemed to be infused with their old spirit as they beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 4-2.
When Vardy returned to the dressing room afterwards, Ranieri smiled that he had told his key striker who had not scored for the club in 16 matches: “Oh, welcome back!”
He could have been speaking to the entire team whose performance, so redolent of the steel and style that had earned them the title, made a mockery of their unwanted possession of the worst record of any defending English league winners since Ipswich Town in 1962-63.
“It was the true Leicester today,” Ranieri said proudly.
On Wednesday, albeit with a second-string squad, Leicester had been appalling in their record 5-0 thrashing by Porto in the Champions League and Ranieri admitted he and the players had thrashed out the problems for an hour after the game.
So it was that a new-look Leicester should emerge, looking very much like the old Leicester: not worrying about lack of possession but striking quickly and inventively on the counter and defending resolutely.
“The big champions react at the right moment,” Ranieri enthused. “We know when we play well we can win. Today they made an effort for the team. That is what I love.”
The victory, which also featured a goal for old favourite Andy King, offered the tantalising prospect that Leicester could now go on and produce the sort of performances they had hitherto saved largely for Champions League nights.
“The next matches are very important until Christmas because we are in a battle for relegation,” Ranieri added, with his side still only four points above the drop zone.
His old smile was back, though. “I said I need warriors and they showed me what I wanted to see,” he beamed.