LONDON • In the latest sign that Leicester City are true Premier League title contenders, they have gone from surprise package to a known quantity that rivals just cannot stop.
Leading up to Liverpool's 2-0 defeat at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday, Reds manager Juergen Klopp knew all about the leaders' threat on the counter-attack and their dangerman. But his side just could not prevent one of the goals of the season from Jamie Vardy.
It came on the hour, from a typically quick and bold Leicester counter-attack, encapsulating all the sense of adventure of Claudio Ranieri's fearless Foxes.
It was a goal made by another of the players of the season, Riyad Mahrez, who spotted the potential of the situation, saw Liverpool's defenders back-pedalling and hooked the ball forward.
Vardy was running down the right, anticipating the delivery. Dejan Lovren slowed, clearly not expecting that Vardy would dare attempt a shot on goal from there.
Lovren naively allowed the ball to drop and bounce up invitingly to Vardy. Liverpool's other centre-half, Mamadou Sakho, was pointing with urgency towards goal, as if signalling to Simon Mignolet what Vardy's intentions were.
The angle was still tight, the distance still long. Vardy did not pause, his right boot making powerful contact with the ball from 30 metres out and sending it flying over a startled Mignolet.
If there was one thing Liverpool could be excused for not anticipating, it would be a Vardy goal from outside the penalty area. His previous 16 in the league this season had all come from inside the box.
It was an unbelievable pass from Riyad Mahrez and unbelievable what Vardy did... It was unbelievable, amazing, fantastic.
CLAUDIO RANIERI, Leicester manager, on Vardy's goal from 30 metres out.
Yet, 12 minutes later, the Fox in the Box was back for a league-leading 18th goal, netting from close range in front of Roy Hodgson, the England manager.
Hodgson could not suppress a smile when Vardy, pushing for a place at Euro 2016, opened the scoring. Neither could his club manager.
Years in a row in which the Premier League leaders at the start of February have gone on to win the title.
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy has scored from outside the penalty area for the first time in the Premier League.
Goals Liverpool have conceded in their last six away league games.
"It was an unbelievable pass from Riyad Mahrez and unbelievable what Vardy did," Leicester manager Ranieri said. "He watched the ball arriving, watched the opponent and watched the 'keeper.
"He looked at the 'keeper out of the goal and hit it. It was unbelievable, amazing, fantastic."
Klopp could only sigh. "It was a world-class goal," he said.
Vardy is expected to sign a new, 31/2-year contract within the next few days, and the double was further proof that his wages deserve to be doubled to £80,000 (S$166,000) a week.
"It's nothing people don't know, I'd like to be here for a long time," Vardy told Sky Sports.
Asked where the opener against Liverpool ranked among his most memorable goals, he said it was the best yet.
"I don't (think I've scored better). I had been looking all game and he (Mignolet) was quite far off his line," Vardy added.
"As soon as Riyad (Mahrez) had played it through it's bounced quite high and I've got no support so I just took my chance and luckily it's gone over the top of him."
The victory sets up a top-of-the-table clash for Leicester against Manchester City, three points adrift, on Saturday.
"The team are in good condition," said Ranieri. "Now it is important to recover the energy because we have to run a lot against Manchester City. We are free of pressure. The players have a good feeling."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE