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August 11, 2015 / ultrafox1963

Foxes make flying start to season

Many Foxes arrived for the season-opener at home to Sunderland in trepidation rather than expectation. The departures of manager Nigel Pearson and talismanic midfielder Esteban Cambiasso had left fans reeling. Would their replacements be up to the challenges await during the months ahead?

On the evidence of this showing, the answer is an emphatic yes. City continued the form that had seen them pull off such an incredible escape from the drop last season, despatching a modest visiting side to leave a record Filbert Way crowd ecstatic.

Incoming manager Claudio Ranieri opted for a 4-4-2 formation, with Wes Morgan retaining the captaincy – and his place in central defence – despite being absent for the entire pre-season. In attack, Jamie Vardy was paired with Japanese debutant Shinji Okazaki. The signficance of this partnership would not become fully apparent until later in the weekend.

The encounters between these sides during the previous campaign had both been tense, dour stalemates, and it would have been little surprise to see this one follow the same pattern. Instead, though, the visitors pushed forward frequently during the opening minutes, with Jermain Defoe having a shot blocked from close range, and Kasper Schmeichel saving from Younes Kaboul and and Jack Rodwell in quick succession.

But any nerves within the home ranks were soon banished as City struck with their first effort on goal. A Marc Albrighton free-kick was flicked on by Vardy and found its way into the net via the far post.

City stepped up a gear as the Black Cats defence was left punch-drunk. Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez both caused havoc whenever they were on the ball and the duo combined to increase the home side’s lead as Mahrez glanced home another Albrighton cross.

The Algeria international continued the onslaught with a run that took him into the Sunderland penalty area. His trickery drew a foul from visiting skipper Lee Cattermole and with regular penalty taker Leo Ulloa on the bench, Mahrez himself stepped up to the spot to send City 3-0 up.

As Danny Drinkwater and Andy King commanded the midfield, City remained dominant throughout the rest of the half. Only a rare lack of composure by Mahrez stopped him from completing a hat-trick before half-time, as he blazed over from a Vardy cross.

It was the first time since October 2003 that City had led 3-0 at the interval in a Premier League clash. Although that occasion had seen them capitulate to defeat at Wolverhampton, few even among the Sunderland contingent anticipated any repetition.

Indeed the rampant home attack continued where they left off, with Vardy outstripping the Sunderland defence before sending a chip narrowly wide, while Mahrez teased and tormented a series of markers before striking the woodwork.

Another goal seemed only a matter of time, but it came against the run of play at the other end. Adam Johnson was allowed time and space to tee up Defoe and the veteran marksman duly opened his and Sunderland’s account for the season.

Stung into a response City launched further attacks on the visiting goal and Albrighton seized upon a weak Kaboul clearance to restore the home side’s three-goal advantage. The goal was no more than the winger deserved for an excellent performance in which he showed no ill-effects from what, for him more than any other City player, had been a particularly troubled summer.

Although more lax marking – which did not escape the manager’s attention – allowed Steven Fletcher to add a further consolation for Sunderland, City saw out the remainder of the game in some comfort, with Ranieri introducing summer signings Christian Fuchs, Yohan Benalouane and N’Golo Kante during the closing minutes. All did enough, along with the tireless Okazaki, to suggest they will play key roles within the squad during the rest of the season.

The icing on the cake came after the final whistle when results elsewhere ensured City would end the first day of the Premier League season in first place. Although Manchester City subsequently displaced them from top spot with a win on Monday night, this was a welcome contrast to the early months of the year when the side were marooned at the other end of the table.

There was a sting in the tail the following day, though, as a tabloid carried a story about alleged misbehaviour by Vardy in a Sheffield casino some weeks ago. The player has been mature enough to accept responsibility and apologise – a course of action which should see him avoid any lasting repercussions.

Overall, however, it was a very satisfying weekend for all connected with City and the performance should serve as a reminder to our critics – especially those among the ranks of the national media – that rumours of impending demise are very much exaggerated.

Man of the Match – Riyad Mahrez.

Opposing Man of the Match – Jeremain Lens.

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