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Date with destiny awaits reanimated Vardy

London (AFP) – When Jamie Vardy pictured himself making history in the Champions League, the record he set in Leicester City’s loss to Atletico Madrid was probably not what he had in mind.

The England striker came off during last week’s quarter-final first leg at the Vicente Calderon having completed none of his two attempted passes, in what is thought to have been a Champions League first.

Leicester’s 1-0 defeat left Atletico in charge of the tie ahead of Tuesday’s return leg, but with Vardy now back among the goals, his team-mates hope more memorable milestones are ahead.

“Strikers go through it. I don’t know why some people panic, because he is not going to score every game,” said Leicester right-back Danny Simpson of Vardy’s early-season struggles.

“He is still the same player, it had just not been happening. But in training nothing changes with him, his attitude and his confidence. He still believes in himself.”

Having scored 24 goals last season in Leicester’s 5,000-1 Premier League title win, Vardy found the net only five times in the first 22 games of the current campaign as his side slithered down the table.

But since Claudio Ranieri’s dismissal as manager, he has been a man reborn, taking his tally to six goals in seven league games with a sharply taken effort in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace.

While Vardy’s goals have helped Leicester move clear of danger, the team’s return to form under new manager Craig Shakespeare has not been to everyone’s liking.

Leicester’s players have been accused of betraying the man who oversaw last season’s fairytale, with Vardy cast as chief conspirator.

“The story is out there, then people pick it up and jump on it and you’re getting death threats about your family, kids, everything,” he said recently.

“I try to get on with it, but when people are trying to cut your missus up while she’s driving along with the kids in the back of the car, it’s not the best.

“It’s happened plenty of times. It is terrifying.”

– ‘Cheat’ –

Vardy says he now gets “abuse at every stadium”, although he admits that he feeds on the notoriety.

“Do I enjoy it? Yeah, it’s just me,” he says. “I wouldn’t change it.”

The return of the angry Vardy has been a central component of Leicester’s renaissance under Shakespeare, as witnessed in their last 16 second-leg victory over Sevilla.

Vardy’s aggressive pressing set the tone for Leicester’s 2-0 win and he succeeded in getting Samir Nasri sent off for aiming a headbutt at him, an incident that left the Frenchman branding him a “a cheat”.

Vardy had sown the seeds of success in the first leg, snaffling an away goal that meant Leicester returned to England with a 2-1 deficit their performance barely merited. Ranieri was sacked the day after.

It was, however, the only goal Vardy has scored in the Champions League this season.

At the age of 30 and with Leicester not expected to qualify for the Champions League again in the foreseeable future, Tuesday’s game may represent his last chance to leave a mark on the competition.

Unsurprisingly, he has an admirer in Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

“I like him. I really rate him as a player,” said the former Argentina bruiser.

“As a striker he is the kind of powerful striker Atletico have had. He stretches the game and is always fighting to stop the opponent playing out from the back so he can pounce on any mistake.

“Last season he was very consistent. At the start of the season he struggled a little bit, but he seems to be back on form.”

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