Wednesday 28 September 2016

Tinkerman to return as Foxes defend title and battle in Europe

Paul Doyle

Published 07/08/2016 | 02:30

So Claudio Ranieri has been focusing his players’ minds on the new demands that the Premier League champions will face this season. Photo: Reuters/Adam Holt
So Claudio Ranieri has been focusing his players’ minds on the new demands that the Premier League champions will face this season. Photo: Reuters/Adam Holt

The first step in overcoming a challenge is recognising it. So Claudio Ranieri has been focusing his players' minds on the new demands that the Premier League champions will face this season. For a start, he says, they must adapt to the loss of a player who did the jobs of two men last season, N'Golo Kante.

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With Jamie Vardy having spurned Arsenal's advances and Leicester having discouraged interest in Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater, Kante is the only member of last season's title-winning team to have departed so far, as Leicester prepare for the ceremonial kick-off to the new campaign by taking on Manchester United in today's Community Shield at Wembley. But Kante is no ordinary player. Ranieri has bought a £10m replacement from Nice - Nampalys Mendy - but says his players are still going to have to run and focus twice as hard to fill the void left by Kante, who joined Chelsea for around £32m.

"There will be a big difference," said Ranieri of life after Kante. "If Chelsea bought Kante, it's because he played as two players last season. The referee counted 11, but we were 12. Now everybody must understand that there is no Kante, so we have to be more close, more attentive. You remember last season I said that if one day Kante crosses the ball and scores with a header, it's normal. Now we have to think different and close space quicker. We must be smarter."

That will be all the harder today because Leicester are not fully primed for the new campaign. Not ideal for a team whose strategy is based on harassing opponents and attacking in devastating bursts. "Our play is not about possession," says Ranieri. "To do our play it is important to be 100 per cent fit."

Playing Manchester United at Wembley while not at full strength could be valuable preparation for a season in which Leicester will have to defend their domestic crown while competing in the Champions League for the first time.

The top teams in Europe's elite competition tend to hog the ball and have the ability to put Leicester's physical and mental stamina to an unprecedented test. Ranieri knows that the calibre of opposition combined with the workload of additional fixtures will stretch his resources. Players, he says, will need rests, not so much because of physical fatigue but because of the mental toll taken by the concentration and travel. That is why he intends to revive his Tinkerman reputation by rotating his squad.

"I asked my owner to have a minimum of 22 players, because I have to change something during the season," said Ranieri, whose five summer recruits are all expected to make important contributions this season - even if only Ahmed Musa, the Nigerian forward signed from CSKA Moscow, has substantial Champions League experience.

"It's not so difficult for the fitness to manage 16 or 17 more matches - it's mentally. When you play for the first time a team who play in the Champions League you lose a lot of mental energy. You want to kill the opponent and be aggressive, but it is difficult to recharge the batteries for a team that is playing in it for the first time. The big teams are used to playing in it, for us it is new. I must understand this modulation."

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