Claudio gets it right on his big day – and so too do his players
When Claudio Ranieri was unveiled as the new manager of Leicester City, the Italian immediatly announced that he wouldn't be making wholesale changes to the successful side that rampaged to safety last season.
If pre-season didn't quite suggest that, the ex-Chelsea chief's first line-up as Foxes boss certainly did. Just one of Leicester's new signings made Ranieri's starting XI to face Sunderland - former Mainz striker Shinji Okazaki, who was snared before the Italian's arrival - with fresh arrivals Christian Fuchs, Yohan Benalouane and N'Golo Kante named among the substitutes.
When Claudio Ranieri was unveiled as the new manager of Leicester City, there were also a large number of amused folk who foresaw only a season of disaster following the departure of choke-holding journo-baiter Nigel Pearson. In fairness, the pair could barely be more different.
Ranieri arrived in Leicester with a tattered reputation following his ill-fated spell in charge of Greece, during which they famously lost to the Faroe Islands, bookending a colourful 11-year spell away from English football's top flight of moderate success. The self-confessed "original Tinkerman", then, had some serious work to convince not only his critics, but Leicester's home faithful who had just gotten used to the idea of making their home ground a fortress at the tail end of last campaign.
They needn't have worried - at least not just yet, anyway. "You finished very well last season. I want you to start like that again," he told his players pre-match. Clearly, something went in.
Propelled by brilliant wingers Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez, who both wreaked havoc cutting inside on their stronger foots, and spearheaded by eye-popping lung-buster Jamie Vardy, Ranieri's men ran riot in the first 25 minutes and were 3-0 up courtesy of a brace from Mahrez and Vardy's flicked opener. Lee Cattermole was hauled off after half an hour for the visitors.
"If I think now Mahrez, I can also remember Shinji, or Vardy, or Albrighton," Ranieri beamed after the match, reacting to a question about the Algerian. "Today we played like a team and that’s what I want. When you do that, sure there are one or two not 100% but the team support the others. Today Riyad made something good, but only because the others support him."
This game had six goals - Sunderland twice pulled back to within a two-goal deficit first courtesy of the lively Jermain Defoe, and then substitute Steven Fletcher - but arguably Mahrez and Vardy could have easily notched three goals apiece and few would have balked.
Leicester's venom came from the flanks, where Albrighton and Fennec trickster Mahrez - a £400,000 signing from Le Havre in January 2014 - were supplied ably by Danny Drinkwater and Andy King. Note how easily the Foxes were able to create chances from wide positions, as the Black Cats' high line was brutally exposed. Advocaat will also be alarmed by just how badly his side were defending balls into their box.
"The result scares me a little bit," mused the Sunderland boss post-match, and also hinted that the club needed to spend more before deadline day. But did he regret reversing his decision to take on the job again? asked one journalist, mischievously. "No, that's too early..." Either way, there's some thinking to do for the Dutchman before he hides behind the sofa during Match of the Day - not least as he took Cattermole off partly because of a yellow card the north-east native never actually received. (Not that the assumption is wholly unfair.)
It wasn't quite the perfect day for Ranieri, meanwhile, but the affable Italian will certainly take it with his customary smile. For him, a glass of wine may well be in order as he settles down in front of the telly.
- The last Sunderland manager to win a Premier League game on the opening weekend was Steve Bruce vs Bolton in 2009/10 (D4 L2 since).
- Since the start of April, Leicester have won more points than any other Premier League side (25).
- The Foxes have won 6 and lost just 1 of their last 7 league games at the King Power Stadium.
- Jamie Vardy has 5 goals and 4 assists in his last 11 league appearances.
- Leicester scored 3 goals before half-time for the first time in the Premier League since October 2003. They went on to lose that game vs Wolves 4-3.
- Leicester have scored 14 goals in their last 4 Premier League home games.
- Jermain Defoe has now scored in 15 different Premier League seasons, and has 129 goals in total.
- Marc Albrighton assisted and scored in a Premier League game for the first time.
- Albrighton ended last season with 3 assists but already has 2 after the opening game of 2015/16.
- 6 of Steven Fletcher’s last 9 Premier League goals have been headed.