Claudio Ranieri enjoyed a dream start to his Leicester City tenure, Riyad Mahrez starring in a 4-2 win over Sunderland on the Italian’s return to the Premier League.
Former Chelsea boss Ranieri got his first season back in England since 2004 up and running with a comprehensive success against a ragged Sunderland outfit with Jamie Vardy and Marc Albrighton also on song.
Vardy – handed an England cap in June following an impressive debut Premier League season – gave Leicester an 11th-minute lead amid a shambolic first-half display from the visitors before Mahrez celebrated his new contract with Leicester’s second.
Sunderland skipper Lee Cattermole failed to provide a calm head for his side, instead bringing down Mahrez inside the area and allowing the winger to give Leicester a commanding advantage. Cattermole was hauled off almost immediately and replaced by Steven Fletcher as the Wearsiders changed from a 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 formation.
Black Cats boss Dick Advocaat – persuaded to stay on after keeping Sunderland up last term – was given hope when Jermain Defoe pulled one back on the hour but Marc Albrighton capitalised on more dismal Sunderland defending just six minutes later to make it 4-1.
Fletcher had the final say but there was to be no opening-day comeback for the visitors – Advocaat left with food for thought, especially at the back.
Kasper Schmeichel was busy early on for the hosts – keeping out Defoe’s close-range strike before saving debutant Younes Kaboul’s header from the resulting corner.
However, Leicester quickly got into their stride and led from the first attack of the game as Albrighton’s free-kick found Vardy. The forward’s glanced header was enough to beat Costel Pantilimon and ensure an ideal start to Ranieri’s reign.
Things improved further when Mahrez doubled the advantage. Another expert delivery from Albrighton caused the danger with Mahrez this time flicking the ball past Pantilimon.
Mahrez continued to prove a menace and, when his guile elicited a clumsy challenge from Cattermole inside the area, the Algeria international tucked home his side’s third from the spot.
The winger would have had a first-half treble had he done better with Vardy’s cut-back before the break, with the England man bursting down the left and clipping an effort wide early in the second half.
Sunderland had started the second period relatively well, perhaps following stern words from Adovcaat, with Defoe showing his lethal touch to convert Adam Johnson’s through-ball and give the travelling fans something to cheer.
Hopes were extinguished and quickly re-lit again when Albrighton’s strike was followed by Fletcher’s close-range header after good work from Jeremain Lens.
In between, Pantilimon was fortunate not to be sent-off for a clear handball outside the area when rushing out to clear a through ball.
There was to be no denying Leicester, though, with Ranieri’s men, unlike their hosts, showing the hallmarks of their impressive late-season form last term.
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