Ranieri running out of time in battle to steady the ship as players lose faith
Claudio Ranieri has pledged to "fight and survive" as he battles mounting unrest at Leicester, and has taken desperate lengths to shake the champions out of their slump.
Last season's miracle men could be in the relegation zone by the time they face Manchester United tomorrow afternoon and Ranieri is under growing pressure less than nine months after lifting the title.
The Italian has resorted to drastic measures during Leicester's struggles which include:
l Instructing his players to train on the morning of midweek games.
l Confusing his players by changing his tactics less than two hours before kick-off.
l Angrily confronting a member of the backroom staff nose-to-nose in the dressing-room after a row about football boot studs.
There are also growing suggestions that Leicester's players are running out of patience with Ranieri's methods and tactics, with some complaining that there are no clear instructions on the pitch.
Ranieri is also said to be distant and aloof with staff, marginalising No 2 Craig Shakespeare, while the incident where he allegedly clashed with a backroom member after the Champions League tie at FC Copenhagen highlighted the apparent disharmony behind the scenes.
There is now a genuine prospect of Leicester dropping into the Championship, becoming the first title holders to suffer relegation since Manchester City in 1938.
Senior Leicester sources have insisted that Ranieri's job is safe, pointing to the board's patience with Nigel Pearson while the club were bottom of the table for much of the 2014-15 season.
The Italian has reached the knockout stages of the Champions League, an achievement which should have extended the feelgood factor. But ahead of two pivotal games against United and Swansea, the following weekend there is a sense that Ranieri is running out of time despite last season's achievement.
Yesterday, the 65-year-old was in defiant mood and insisting he had not sought any assurances over his position with the owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and his son and vice-chairman Aiyawatt.
Yet when asked if he was "unsackable", after last season, he replied: "Everything (is possible) - but also I think this season the bookmakers made a mistake.
"It's not my philosophy to think about this. If my thoughts go there, I remember what was said by my chairman the first time I met him. He said 'If we go down will you stay with us?' And I said 'Yes'. Now, why do I have to think about this? I am thinking to fight and to survive.
"I know only one way. If you are a loser in this moment you go down and you are a loser. Our aim is 40 points. That's it."
Yet Leicester are 19 points adrift of that target after only five league wins this season, and they are yet to score in the league in 2017.
Swansea and Hull are showing signs of life under new management and Leicester are only two points above the dreaded dotted line.
The malaise cannot all be pinned on Ranieri, who has remained dignified and loyal to his players in public.
Many of those players were rewarded with substantial contracts in the summer - with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez signing new deals worth £110,000 a week - while other influential figures from last season such as Danny Drinkwater and Wes Morgan have struggled to match the consistency and intensity.
There was discontent in the dressing-room from some players who were not rewarded, with Leonardo Ulloa clearly hinting after the 5-0 defeat in Porto that it had bred resentment.
Ulloa's attempts to force a move to Sunderland last month ultimately failed, despite the striker accusing Ranieri of betrayal and threatening to go on strike.
Yet many of the players from last season are said to be exasperated over the frequent tinkering and change in tactics from Ranieri, which they believe have left them exposed.
An hour and 40 minutes before the 0-0 draw at Copenhagen in November, Ranieri completely changed his formation to 3-4-3, bamboozling his players.
In the defeats by Chelsea and Southampton, Morgan and Robert Huth were seen gesticulating to the technical area in apparent confusion over how they were being asked to play.
Ranieri's decision to make his players train on the morning of the FA Cup tie at Derby last Friday also went down badly.
Morale is said to be low and attempts to voice concerns over formations and too much focus being spent on the opposition have apparently been ignored.
Recruitment has also been a huge issue since the summer, with director of football Jon Rudkin under increasing scrutiny from supporters.
Former head of recruitment Steve Walsh - who departed to join Everton in July - is also culpable, despite helping discover the likes of Vardy, Mahrez and N'Golo Kante. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
- Leicester v Man Utd, live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 4.0