Thursday 8 December 2016

Ranieri hails team spirit of his defiant unsung heroes

Everton 2-3 Leicester City

Si Hughes

Published 21/12/2015 | 02:30

Everton boss Roberto Martinez with Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Everton boss Roberto Martinez with Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

As the rain battered down on Merseyside, Claudio Ranieri stood on an outdoor concourse beneath Goodison Park's Main Stand, his presence emitting warmth. He spoke quietly and considerately, as if he were releasing secrets.

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Riyad Mahrez had scored again - twice on this occasion - while Jamie Vardy had a role in each of Leicester's three goals. Vardy may have attempted to shoot past Tim Howard for the visitors' third but possessed the composure to pass the opportunity on to Shinji Okazaki. Ranieri's mind wandered back to the late 1980s, thinking of Napoli; where a genius was credited for rising a struggling club: making them Serie A champions twice.

Marksmen

"It is not only Vardy and Riyad," Ranieri said. "Maradona alone could do nothing. But together we have a very good team." While the achievements of Vardy and Mahrez - the first and joint second leading marksmen in the Premier League - provide Leicester with a trust that their conviction will be rewarded, there exists a wider strength, which Ranieri believes must remain.

In 1991, Napoli's hold on Italian football was over, Ranieri was placed in charge at a time of transition, and with the mercurial Maradona serving a long-term ban for cocaine abuse, he made the call to replace him with Gianfranco Zola.

Ranieri is adamant there will be no such drastic decisions taken in January: neither Vardy nor Mahrez will be sold, and there will be no attempts to capitalise on their position at the top of the Premier League either. He was asked about the reality of the transfer window opening. What will happen?

"Nothing!" he replied. "I have a very good team, and a very good team spirit; they are friendly with each and they help each other. If you get one, two, three [new] players you might break the dressing room. I have managed a lot of top teams and there were a lot of great players. Maybe here there aren't those great players but there is a team with great spirit."

Without regular partner Robert Huth and Marcin Wasilewski in his place; captain Wes Morgan had to be immense. Danny Drinkwater has similarly been an integral cog in the midfield but his absence was not really felt considering the energetic performance of Andy King. It is Ranieri, though, who makes it seem as though something magical is happening at Leicester. It is true that Leicester were defiant before, as their improbable escape from relegation in May suggested. Now, they are tactically superior. Now, they are easier to like.

Ranieri's advice is merely to remain calm. "Last season they had stress, not this year. If we make something special it is a miracle. If it doesn't happen it is a miracle anyway: so enjoy and play."

While Leicester's surge from the bottom of the table this time last year to the top has been incredible, Everton's position is perplexing.

Fatigue

Considering they possess a striker bang in form - Romelu Lukaku scored for the eighth game in a row here - somehow, Everton are stuck in 10th place like they were last Christmas, only without being able to reason that World Cup fatigue to important players and Europa League participation are contributing factors.

Injuries have had an impact, however. They miss James McCarthy desperately, his drive from midfield and the way he executes things quickly.

Captain Phil Jagielka has also been out for some time now and though his replacement Ramiro Funes Mori has settled reasonably well, the argument that the defender is a mistake waiting to happen was enforced here when he brought down Okazaki.

Roberto Martinez's "two goals is enough to win a game," theory was flawed here because the second, from Kevin Mirallas, arrived in injury time, and Everton were dead for quite some time by then.

Telegraph.co.uk

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