Tuesday 17 July 2018

Ranieri looks on serenely as forceful Foxes defy naysayers

Contented Tinkerman quickly winning over sceptical fans, writes Dion Fanning

Football - Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Premier League - King Power Stadium - 22/8/15
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri
Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett
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Football - Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Premier League - King Power Stadium - 22/8/15 Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

Dion Fanning

Claudio Ranieri invited the media into his office last week, revealing that he had portraits of the other nineteen Premier League managers on his wall. Given the turnover of managers in football, he might need to get a bigger wall.

At the beginning of the season, many would have wondered if Ranieri would be around to welcome the other 19, whoever they turn out to be.

But Leicester have begun the season in extraordinary fashion. When Dele Alli scored for Tottenham ten minutes from the end at the King Power Stadium yesterday, it looked as if there was a necessary correction going on, that the two league wins told us very little and that Leicester's season would now become a familiar struggle.

Instead Riyad Mahrez equalised immediately, curling the ball past Hugo Lloris from the edge of the box and demonstrating that the good times might last forever, or at least until the end of August.

Leicester went close again after that with the outstanding Wes Morgan heading straight at Lloris in the final minutes before Tottenham made an attempt to win it at the end.

A victory for the away side would have been an injustice but Ranieri felt the draw was a fair result. "The weather didn't help us," Leicester's manager said of the suffocating heat which undermined his side's desire to run; he smiled when it was pointed out that the rain and wind will come.

But Leicester were the side most willing for much of the game. During the first half, it was possible to envisage a scenario where Tottenham would lose and the portrait of Mauricio Pochettino would be the first to be solemnly removed from Ranieri's wall.

Tottenham's coach expressed some frustration that his side hadn't taken the three points and promised to concentrate on whatever failing it is that has seen Spurs throw away leads in their last two matches, but they didn't deserve much more.

This week, they may complete the signing of Saido Berahino, which will provide Harry Kane with some company, something he was particularly lacking yesterday in the absence of the injured Christian Eriksen.

They had a fierce examination against Leicester, even in the heat. Jamie Vardy led the charge as he always does. "He is a warrior," his manager said, and Leicester have a few of them.

Ranieri's appointment was greeted unenthusiastically but that is changing. He named the same side for the third game in a row yesterday. Maybe this was a reminder that the 'Tinkerman' nickname said more about English football's resistance to new ideas during his years at Chelsea than anything else but it also demonstrated how Ranieri has wisely been happy to let the team play without attempting any early season assertions.

That had been easier after the first two matches which saw Leicester begin the season with a 100 per cent record with Mahrez the top scorer in the division. Yet this is entirely in keeping with the personality of the manager whose return, even if it is only August, has been remarkable as Leicester remain on top of the table.

The two sides have different expectations and are led by men at different stages of their careers who may even have different demands.

While Pochettino prowled and crouched and generally displayed more energy on the touchline than his players, Ranieri stood with his hands on his hips, his toes touching the sideline sometimes and, if he wanted to change his viewing angle, he dipped his knees occasionally, giving the impression of a man moving gently in time to a brass band as he strolled along a promenade.

He arrived in English football seemingly unconcerned with what he might have to endure. He had casually waved away the criticism that surrounded his appointment and the humiliations of his time at Chelsea, suggesting these were necessary accompaniments to the life he has chosen to lead. When Pochettino complained late in the game about a foul given against Ryan Mason, Ranieri ended up embracing the Tottenham manager as if to say, this too will pass.

Pochettino may not have reached that point of serenity. He had the urgency his side lacked. They appeared to be adopting Ranieri's approach to life. They strolled out before the game, revealing a lack of application which continued after kick-off. Mousa Dembele tried to get on the ball but with little idea of where he might be going while Erik Lamela gave another performance which suggested that things are never going to work out for him at Tottenham.

Lamela showed a beautiful touch to help create one of Tottenham's best chances in the second half but he fitted in to a Spurs side which seemed unprepared for the ferocity of Leicester and began the game as if the only thing on their minds was the drinks break halfway through the half.

With Mahrez on one side and Marc Albrighton on the other, Leicester were direct and powerful. New signing Gokhan Inler started on the bench but that didn't matter as Danny Drinkwater dominated midfield in the early stages. When Inler came on, he gave a brief demonstration of what he will bring to the side.

But this was still the Leicester that dominated teams at the end of last season with a home support contributing to the frenzy. They howled for a penalty which wasn't given when Jan Vertonghen jumped in on Mahrez. "It's not important, the referee is there for that," Ranieri said.

Spurs were better in the second half or had absorbed the key information from the first 45 minutes that Leicester need to be pushed back, even if they are dangerous on the counter-attack.

Typically, Leicester responded to Alli's goal and Ranieri could continue to enjoy his return to England. Although you get the sense he would have done that anyway.

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