Friday 30 September 2016

Ranieri urges Foxes to seize moment

Mark Ogden

Published 02/02/2016 | 02:30

Leicester host Liverpool tonight hoping to maintain their lead at the top. Photo: PA
Leicester host Liverpool tonight hoping to maintain their lead at the top. Photo: PA

Claudio Ranieri shook his head and smiled when asked whether he could envisage himself hoisting the Premier League trophy for Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season, but the Italian knows it is no longer in the realms of fantasy.

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"I am a positive man and a positive man takes everything step by step," Ranieri said. "But you are moving too fast, like a Formula One car."

As Leicester prepare to face Liverpool at the King Power Stadium tonight, however, Ranieri is fully aware that the lap counter is beginning to run down.

With 15 games to go, the Italian's team are three points clear at the top of table, 10 points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United, and facing a sequence of fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal which could define their season.

Having consistently played down Leicester's title hopes ever since his players climbed into the top four, Ranieri is now urging them to seize the moment.

"This has been a crazy league, very strange, but the players know that we can now do something good," Ranieri said. "This is the right moment to push a lot, to fight, because next season will not be the same.

Happy

"This season, we can fight because it is David against Goliath, but next season will be the truth. I said I wanted us to reach 40 points. We did that and I am happy.

"If we take more, I will be even happier, but now we face Liverpool and I want my players to look at the game as being the last game that finishes our season. We must be focused."

Liverpool and Arsenal remain the only two teams to have defeated Leicester in the Premier League this season and Ranieri admits that the outcome of the return fixtures, plus the trip to City on Saturday, will be crucial for his team's title ambitions.

"If you say to me that we will lose two more games between now and the end of the season, I will sign for that now," Ranieri said. "But yes, the next three games are very crucial.

"Every time I have said, 'Look where we are in a month', we have stayed in the top positions, so now I say let us look where we are at the end of February.

"I like positive energy. If you believe positively and talk with positivity, then you can do much more than if you are negative."

With City confirming that Pep Guardiola will replace Manuel Pellegrini as manager in the summer, Ranieri dismissed the prospect of Leicester's title rivals at the Etihad being distracted by the impending change of management.

"Of course, I feel sorry for Pellegrini, but this is our life," Ranieri said. "I am (an) old man, nothing in football surprises me. I knew from the start (when Roman Abramovich arrived) at Chelsea that I was finished at the end of the season. Abramovich tried to hire Sven Goran Eriksson, but could not get him from the English (Football) Association.

"Then (chief executive) Peter Kenyon spoke to say, 'If Claudio does not win the title, it will be a disaster', so I knew and I understood the situation.

"But everybody at Chelsea stayed very focused, we got to the Champions League semi-final and finished second behind the unbeatable Arsenal team.

"So I don't think it will affect the focus of the Manchester City players."

With Guardiola the big story of the day, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp also gave his view that the incoming City manager would be successful - but also believed that the league would provide a difficult challenge.

"Manchester City is a club with not too bad possibilities on the financial side, shall we say, and Pep Guardiola is a really smart person," Klopp said.

"They won't have the worst team in the world next year, but I love football because that doesn't mean everything. As we have shown once or twice, you can beat these teams.

"I don't think that it will be the same situation as he had in Spain, with Barcelona on the top level, or in Germany, with Bayern on the top level.

"He will enjoy the league because it is a great league and a real competition and he is a real competitor. That is what he wants."

As for Liverpool, Klopp's team are eight points off fourth place and with Aston Villa to come after tonight's game against Leicester, the Reds boss is not ruling out Champions League qualification but believes the coming fortnight will give him a better idea.

"I don't think we should think too much about it," he said. "We have an away game at Leicester and these three games will give a little sign as to where we can go in this season.

"Even after these games it is not over. I think we have showed a row of more than okay performances so you can say we have a little bit more consistency even when we have made a lot of changes. That is what we have to bring on the pitch all the time now that we can fight for the right results.

"Top four should always be a target so it is a target but at the end only our performances will have an influence on this situation and that is what we should be concentrating on."

Liverpool's injury crisis appears to be easing, with four players - strikers Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge, playmaker Philippe Coutinho and defender Martin Skrtel - due back in full training this week.

That is partly why Klopp was not particularly keen on pushing through transfer window deals once Shakhtar Donetsk rejected their £24m offer for forward Alex Teixeira.

"Martin needs two or three days' more time. Divock and Phil and maybe Daniel should return to training - I think Daniel on Wednesday and the other two guys on Thursday," he added.

"Martin, I think, (will train) at the weekend so these are all new transfers and that change is good for us."

The form of midfielder Joe Allen, who has had a resurgence in January having been a bit-part player, is also a significant boost for the German.

"For me Joe Allen was always a first-team player, hopefully it was not a misunderstanding when he was not in the line-up a few times," he said.

"A few months back when I first arrived he was not here as he was with the national team and before that he was injured.

"There was no doubt about his quality but he was not 100pc in shape and now he is. That is the best news. It is the next transfer for us. I like his style and he is very important for us so we have another new player now he has shown what he can do.

"I see it is really good to have him here so I wouldn't say it was a good possibility to show how it is when you come in (to the team). Now I think we both agree he is in a really good shape."

Independent News Service

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