Monday 11 December 2017

Ranieri rocked by Euro 'shame' as focus switches to relegation battle

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

John Percy

Claudio Ranieri is battling against a growing sense of meltdown at Leicester City, admitting their Champions League thrashing has inflicted "shame" on the club.

Ranieri's fringe players suffered the heaviest defeat of any English team in the competition with Wednesday's 5-0 loss at Porto ending their unbeaten record in Europe.

Leicester could also be in the Premier League's relegation zone by the time they face Manchester City tomorrow evening after a dismal title defence in which they have lost seven of their 14 games.

Leonardo Ulloa, their £8m striker, has added to the unrest by revealing he is prepared to quit the champions next month, with Sunderland and Swansea likely to renew their interest.

And Ranieri is demanding a response this weekend against Pep Guardiola after his gamble to rest several key players backfired at the Estadio do Dragao.

"I am very sad because it was a big shame," said Ranieri (right). "Not for the five goals - last season we conceded five goals to Arsenal as well - but against Porto we didn't have a shot on target.

"I am very disappointed and I hope also my players are very disappointed. We must fight together, our strength last season was this.

"If we made a dream last season it was because we were together, not because we are a big team. We need the support of our fans. This part of the season is our key moment."

Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and record £29m signing Islam Slimani are all expected to return tomorrow as Leicester seek to recover from their two worst performances of the campaign.

Leicester are only two points adrift of the bottom three and Ranieri has admitted for the first time that complacency has afflicted his squad.

"The success from last season has gone, we have to react. It's another year and we have to do a lot more," he said.

"Have they become complacent? Yes, but the players must look at the table and know where they are. That brings them down to earth and everybody has to react. It's not important now to think about the bottom three. It's important to concentrate, be strong and stay together. The battle is open to a lot of teams."

Ulloa is set to become the first departure of the January transfer window as Ranieri moves to shake up his squad, with the £14m signing of Genk's defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi virtually complete.

A key player in the great escape under Nigel Pearson two seasons ago, Ulloa also scored four crucial goals last season to help Leicester win the title. Yet he has not started a game for the club this season and Leicester will demand over £10m for the 30-year-old.

"I want to play always. If I don't have minutes here I need to look for another team," he said.

"I am waiting for the window. I have a contract here and I need to think a lot about my situation and after that we need to make the decision together.

"It is the decision of the manager, we bought some strikers and now it is the manager's decision to play with the other strikers.

Yes, it is strange for me because last season I had good minutes and some games and now it is more difficult. I want to speak to him and after we make a decision for the club, for the team and also for me."

England international Danny Drinkwater played in the Porto defeat but will be missing tomorrow as he completes a three-match ban for violent conduct. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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