Monday 5 December 2016

Ranieri tells his flying Foxes not to look down

Manchester City 1-3 Leicester City

Tim Rich

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez celebrates scoring against Manchester City
Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez celebrates scoring against Manchester City
Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez fires past Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart to make it 2-0 Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

They will crack, they must crack, these workaday players, these hand-me-down footballers, once they realise the sheer scale of what they might achieve. Or will they?

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Leicester City's victory at Manchester City was so total it seems hard to believe they will be claimed by the nerves so many predicted would seize them by the throat long before this astonishing Premier League season reaches its climax.

"It is the first time in their lives that these players are doing something special. It is important not to look down or behind you," said their manager, Claudio Ranieri, in the aftermath of a victory forged by two decisive interventions from Robert Huth and a piece of brilliance at pace from Riyad Mahrez.

"Like a climber, you need to look up. If you look down, you go: 'Oooohh, my God, look where we are'."

Leicester are top of the Premier League, five points clear with 13 matches remaining. There is nothing above them but blue sky and some astonishing dreams.

Attack

At the Etihad Stadium, Leicester did what they have done all season. They scored first - no team has scored more opening goals - and then their defenders threw themselves at every opposition attack.

And the more Manchester City pushed forward, the more open they became to the speed of Mahrez or Jamie Vardy.

Ranieri was surely right when he pointed out that the pressure is on those clubs who need Champions League football and whose supporters and investors demand the title.

Leicester's pressure had come at the end of last season when they appeared doomed to relegation and their futures and the futures of those who worked at the King Power Stadium in ticketing and corporate hospitality were at risk.

"Last season was a big, big pressure for them," said Ranieri. "Now they can remember the pressure they faced last season. They can smell how it was and stay calm now.

"There is pressure on other teams who have spent a lot of money to win the Premier League or the Champions League. Of course, they are nervous but it doesn't matter to me. It is not my problem."

Unlike their opponents, involved in domestic cup competitions, European football and, in Tottenham's case, the Thursday-Sunday grind of the Europa League, Leicester have just 13 fixtures left. They won 10 of those corresponding games earlier in the season.

Only two clubs have taken the title from as unlikely a starting position in the modern age. Ipswich Town and Nottingham Forest were both freshly promoted and Leicester's template seems very similar to that of the side Alf Ramsey managed to the title in 1962.

Ipswich, like Leicester, went out of the cups early, while their principal opponents, Burnley and Tottenham, slogged their way to the FA Cup final.

When The Times summed up Ipswich's achievement it was with words that could apply now to Leicester: "They have accomplished the impossible, beating the best that money could buy, cocking a snook at tradition and proving that team spirit and basically simple tactics are an unbeatable combination."

The combination of forces at work in the Manchester City dressing room is more difficult to fathom.

They now know what they have long suspected, that manager Manuel Pellegrini is surplus to requirements and so, judging from the lethargy of his performance in a game they had to win, is Yaya Touré.

Pellegrini's two centre-halves, Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi, were completely inadequate against the pace of Mahrez and Vardy.

Asked about Pep Guardiola's appointment, their fellow Argentinian defender, Pablo Zabaleta, remarked: "We need to deal with it."

They do not seem to be dealing with it and neither do Bayern Munich, whose players were angered by the timing of the announcement.

On Saturday they were held to a scoreless stalemate by Bayer Leverkusen in one of their most barren displays of the season. The price of Pep may already have risen.

Independent News Service

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