Six weeks short of his 35th birthday, Jamie Vardy has lost none of the quality that helped him share the greatest moments of his career with Claudio Ranieri.
On Ranieri’s first return to the King Power Stadium as an opposing manager since he lifted the Premier League title with Leicester in 2016, Vardy made sure the Watford boss returned south empty-handed.
With the score 1-1 and the home side wobbling, Vardy defied the blizzard to produce two classic finishes and put his team 3-1 up at half-time.
Jamie Vardy slotted a brace just before half time to put Leicester in charge of the game
Striker Vardy celebrated in front of his former manager Claudio Ranieri on the sideline
The conditions were treacherous at the King Power Stadium due to the heavy snowfall
Emmanuel Dennis scored to make it 3-2 and fans could hardly see the ball through the snow
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND LEAGUE TABLE:
Schmeichel 7; Castagne 5.5, Evans 6.5, Soyuncu 6, Thomas 7; Soumare 6, Ndidi 6; Lookman 6.5 (Albrighton 75, 6), Maddison 7.5 (Dewsbury-Hall 88), Barnes 6.5; Vardy 7.5. Subs not used: Ward, Iheanacho, Perez, Amartey, Choudhury, Vestergaard, Daka.
Scorers: Maddison 16, Vardy 35, 43, Lookman 68
Manager: Brendan Rodgers 6.5
Bachmann 6; Femenia 6, Cathcart 5, Ekong 5, Masina 6.5; Louza 5.5 (Tufan 46, 6); Hernandez 6.5, Cleverley 6 (Joao Pedro 46, 6), Sissoko 6.5, Dennis 7 ((Fletcher 72, 6); King 6.5. Subs not used: Elliot, Ngakia, Rose, Gosling, Kabasele, Morris.
Scorers: King 30 (pen), Dennis 61
Manager: Claudio Ranieri 6
Referee: Andrew Madley 6.5
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The sides scored a goal apiece after the break as conditions worsened yet – as was so often the case five years ago – Vardy had made the decisive contribution. Ranieri was serenaded by Leicester fans and tapped his chest in appreciation, but the result will still leave a bitter taste.
‘I have to say thank you to the Leicester fans,’ said the Italian. ‘The reception was fantastic. The conditions were like Christmas Day but we didn’t lose because of the pitch. We created more chances than Leicester but they were more aggressive than us.’
James Maddison crowned an impressive display with the opening goal and, after Joshua King had levelled from the penalty spot, the playmaker created both Vardy’s strikes. Emmanuel Dennis scored Watford’s second on the hour, only for Ademola Lookman to seal Leicester’s second win in four days, after they beat Legia Warsaw in the Europa League here last Thursday.
Ademola Lookman scored to restore Leicester’s two goal lead and they saw out the win
Vardy claimed Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann – replacing the injured Ben Foster – wanted the match halted. He said: ‘At one point their keeper was trying to get it called off. But pitches have the undersoil heating and we weren’t worried.
‘Claudio Ranieri got the reception the fans wanted to give him. We knew it was down to business on the pitch, though.’
It was the Foxes’ first league triumph since their 2-1 victory at Brentford on October 24 and for now at least, should quell the restlessness here. After the 3-0 home defeat by Chelsea last weekend, manager Brendan Rodgers questioned supporters for booing the team at half-time and full-time.
Watford have now had a club-record 23 top-flight games without a clean sheet, while Leicester have kept only one in 19 in the league.
The home side took the lead in the 16th minute. William Ekong bizarrely opted to duck under Jonny Evans’ long pass and Maddison punished him with a smart volleyed finish.
Lookman slotted in and will hope to ignite his career at the club from here
The Foxes celebrated and deserved their lead having seen the 1-0 advantage slip
Yet despite missing key forward Ismaila Sarr, Watford looked confident in attack. Dennis and Adam Masina went close and Cucho Hernandez’s deflected shot hit a post before Wilfred Ndidi’s hasty challenge on Dennis allowed King to equalise from the spot.
Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel were the only members of the title-winning team in the starting XI and after 35 minutes, Vardy made his mark.
Maddison chipped a delightful pass into the path of Vardy, who reached the ball a fraction before Bachmann and lifted it gently over him – his first goal since the 4-2 win over Manchester United here last month.
Vardy celebrated by sliding on his knees past the Watford bench, where Ranieri was standing on the edge of his technical area, and pointing at Leicester goalkeeping coach Mike Stowell.
Joshua King scored a penalty to bring the Hornets back on level terms at King Power Stadium
James Maddison broke the deadlock with a fine strike to continue his recent form
‘I was just pleased to see him score,’ said Rodgers. ‘He and Mike Stowell have a great relationship but I’m not sure what the celebration was about. You are seeing confidence returning to the team and we look a real threat. James Maddison was excellent.’
Two minutes before half-time, Vardy found space at the near post and headed in Maddison’s corner for his second of the game and his ninth of the campaign. The 34-year-old should have had a hat-trick after seizing on Craig Cathcart’s error but fired too close to Bachmann.
By the start of the second half, the snow had started to fall so heavily that players were struggling to keep their balance.
On the hour mark, Timothy Castagne dawdled and was robbed by Dennis who ran through and finished superbly, though his celebrations were delayed by a long VAR check for a possible foul.
The restart was delayed as Leicester officials with leaf blowers and sweeping brushes cleared the snow from the pitch to make halfway line and the penalty area boundaries visible again.
Leicester soon found their fourth. Luke Thomas burst through the snow and released Harvey Barnes, whose low ball gave Lookman a tap-in, as Ranieri and his players complained about a challenge by Castagne on Masina in the build-up.
Midfielder Maddison scored early on to send the home supporters into raptures on Sunday
The snow started to settle on the ground and caused havoc for both sides in the East Midlands