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Leicester’s Champions League breakthrough keeps fairytale alive

March 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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In progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time, Leicester City preserved a golden thread stretching back all the way to last season’s miraculous Premier League title success.

Leicester City

The thread has worn close to breaking in recent weeks, with Leicester’s perilous slide towards the relegation zone costing popular manager Claudio Ranieri his job.

But after overcoming a 2-1 deficit to beat Sevilla in the Champions League last 16, the sense of fearlessness that became their hallmark a year ago has returned.

“They looked so fluid and had such amazing passion and determination,” the club’s former manager David Pleat told BBC Radio 5 Live after Leicester’s 2-0 win over Sevilla on Tuesday.

“I don’t think they would want either Real Madrid or Barcelona in the quarter-final. But who would have thought they would win the title last year? So whoever they face, who knows?”

As well as Barcelona and Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund also lie in wait in Friday’s last-eight draw.

Atletico Madrid and Manchester City are in pole position to join them ahead of the final two last 16 second legs later on Wednesday.

Asked who he hoped to avoid in the quarter-finals, Juve’s emblematic captain Gianluigi Buffon replied: “Leicester.”

The prospect of a genuine European superpower arriving at the King Power Stadium will further help to restore some of the magic dust that had been rubbed off amid Leicester’s domestic toils.

Eliminated from both cup competitions and fighting to keep themselves above the Premier League bottom three, the Champions League represents their only hope of prolonging last season’s fairytale.

Wednesday’s Daily Mail back-page headline said Leicester could “CARRY ON DREAMING”, while The Guardian said victory over Sevilla had seen Leicester “write a new fairytale”.

The Times said Leicester were “back in fantasy land”.

The great irony of Leicester’s resurgence is that it has taken the dismissal of Ranieri, architect of the title win, for the players to start playing like they had last season.

They had already found the Champions League to be well-suited to their preferred contain-and-counter strategy, however, having recorded four wins and kept four clean sheets during the group phase.

Ranieri tried to introduce greater sophistication to Leicester’s tactics, notably deploying Riyad Mahrez in a central role in the 2-1 first-leg loss to Sevilla, which was to prove his last game.

But the instant impact enjoyed by his successor Craig Shakespeare suggests Leicester’s players are both happier and more effective with the simple 4-4-2 formula used to such devastating effect last season.

“I think we have to play to our strengths,” said Shakespeare, Ranieri’s former assistant.

“You have to be concerned about the opposition, and know their strengths, but as a football club, we have to know our strengths.

“You saw that in abundance in the performance (against Sevilla), in terms of desire, but we can play a bit as well.

“(Beating Sevilla) epitomises what we’re about.”

Tactical factors only go so far in explaining the Leicester turnaround under Shakespeare, which started with successive 3-1 wins over Liverpool and Hull City.

The sight of Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki once again breathlessly harrying opposition centre-backs suggested the change has been as much psychological as anything else.

“There had to be something wrong there,” observed former England right-back Danny Mills, a Champions League semi-finalist with Leeds United in 2001.

“All those fans who thought it was a disgrace that Ranieri was sacked, they have got to eat some humble pie.”

With Leicester still only three points above the Premier League relegation zone, their players cannot afford to be distracted by dreams of European glory for too long.

But with the Champions League music guaranteed to boom out around the King Power on at least one further occasion this season, the Leicester fairytale may yet have more magic in store.

Ranieri pays the price as Leicester fairytale turns sour

February 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The anguished tone in Kasper Schmeichel’s voice told the story of the turmoil gripping Leicester as the Premier League champions slumped into a relegation crisis that triggered Claudio Ranieri’s brutal sacking on Thursday.

Renieri

“We’re the reigning champions and quite frankly it’s been terrible. It’s been embarrassing,” the Leicester goalkeeper told a television reporter after a dismal 3-0 defeat at home to Manchester United on February 5.

“It’s time for every single one of us, right from the top to the bottom of this club, to stand up and be counted because if we don’t, we’re going to end up getting relegated.”

A year on from a stunning 3-1 win at Manchester City that sent them five points clear at the league summit, the loss to United left Ranieri’s men a solitary point above the relegation zone.

Leicester’s Thai owners felt compelled to issue a vote of confidence in Ranieri, but the team remained in dire trouble after an even more damaging 2-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Swansea days later and the beleaguered Italian was about to pay the price.

Reports emerged that Ranieri was unable to quell squad unrest over his tactics and selection decisions, with the former Chelsea boss forced to deny claims his players were unhappy he had banned chicken burgers from the training ground canteen.

A 1-0 loss at third tier Millwall in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, in which his lethargic side were out-fought by 10 men for much of the second half, was another huge blow to Ranieri’s credibility.

His team had lost their past five league matches and were the only side in the top four English divisions without a league goal in 2017.

The final straw came in Sevilla, where Leicester were beaten 2-1 in a Champions League last 16 first leg clash that the Spanish side could easily have won by a far greater margin.

Ranieri had only signed a new contract in August, but by the time Leicester arrived home, he was a dead man walking.

Only 292 days after Leicester’s title triumph climaxed with the trophy presentation amid fireworks and a fanfare from opera singer Andrea Bocelli, Ranieri discovered his time was up.

It was a stunningly abrupt end to Ranieri’s reign and many had sympathy for the genial coach’s demise.

“After all that Claudio Ranieri has done for Leicester City, to sack him now is inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad,” Leicester legend Gary Lineker said.

But money talks loudest in the Premier League and the risk of losing over £150 million in television and commercial revenue if Leicester were relegated was too much for vice chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha to stomach with only 13 games remaining.

Leicester’s woes were embodied by the woeful form of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the rough-cut attacking stars whose goals and assists catapulted the Foxes to the title.

N’Golo Kante, Leicester’s other stand-out player last season, was the only departure during the close season and the club have failed to plug the hole created by his move to current leaders Chelsea.

Injury has hampered Nampalys Mendy since he signed from Nice and with Daniel Amartey an unconvincing stop-gap, Leicester splashed out £15 million ($18.7 million, 17.4 million euros) to sign Wilfred Ndidi last month.

Leicester lost head of recruitment Steve Walsh to Everton after last season’s triumph and their transfer activity since has been patchy.

Ahmed Musa has not convinced, Mendy has barely played, Ron-Robert Zieler has looked a less than capable deputy for Schmeichel and Luis Hernandez lasted just half a season before being sold to Malaga.

Ranieri stuck with a tried and tested 4-4-2 system throughout last season, but the Italian’s attempts to broaden his players’ horizons this term produced some confused performances.

Just nine months after the dizzy climax to their 5,000-1 title triumph, Leicester now face the prospect of becoming England’s first defending champions to be relegated since Manchester City in 1938.

Former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and ex-Chelsea boss Avram Grant are reportedly among the contenders to replace Ranieri.

Survival will be the new man’s only mission this season, but whoever comes in has little time to stop Leicester’s rags to riches rise coming to a depressing conclusion.

Chelsea held as Leicester woe deepens

February 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Chelsea extended their lead atop the Premier League to 10 points on Sunday as the team they seem destined to succeed as champions, Leicester City, sank to yet another defeat.

Chelsea

Bidding to go 12 points clear, Chelsea had to settle for a point after home debutant Robbie Brady’s arcing 24th-minute free-kick earned Burnley a deserved 1-1 draw at Turf Moor.

While the title beckons for Chelsea, it is receding deeper into memory for Leicester, who were left one point and one place above the relegation zone by a 2-0 defeat at Swansea City.

Leicester became the first English champions to lose five successive games since Chelseain 1956 and the first team to go six games without scoring at the start of the year since Stoke City in 1985.

Leicester’s owners gave manager Claudio Ranieri a vote of confidence after last weekend’s 3-0 loss to Manchester United, but the post-game rallying cry issued by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had little effect.

Swansea overcame the loss of former Leicester loanee Nathan Dyer to an early ankle injury to score twice in the latter stages of the first half at the Liberty Stadium.

Centre-back Alfie Mawson broke the deadlock in the 36th minute with an emphatic volley after Federico Fernandez had nodded Robert Huth’s clearing header back into the penalty area.

Swedish left-back Martin Olsson landed a hammer blow in first-half stoppage time when he hared onto Gylfi Sigurdsson’s first-time pass to rifle a shot past Schmeichel at his near post.

Ranieri made a double change at half-time, sending on Ben Chilwell and Islam Slimani, but the closest they came to establishing a foothold was a shot from the latter that was blocked by Lukasz Fabianski.

Swansea manager Paul Clement, named the Premier League’s Manager of the Month for January, has now seen his team win four games from six since his appointment as the successor to Bob Bradley.

They pulled four points clear of danger and now have a full two weeks to prepare for their trip to leaders Chelsea.

Chelsea continue to sit pretty at the top of the pile, although their advantage will be eroded to eight points if Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City win at Bournemouth on Monday.

Antonio Conte’s side took a seventh-minute lead at Turf Moor when Victor Moses slipped Pedro in to steer a low shot past Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton.

But Burnley levelled through £13 million ($16.2 million, 15.3 million euros) record signing Brady’s fine free-kick and managed to prevent Chelsea from registering a single shot on target in the second half.

“We must be disappointed at the point because I think this type of game we could win,” said Chelsea manager Conte.

“We know there is a long way (to the end of the season). It is important to work and play this type of game and fight.”

Burnley manager Sean Dyche, whose side have won 29 of their 30 points at home, said: “It was a strong performance against a top, top side.

“I want us to be awkward to play against and be productive and we showed that.”

Ranieri hopes Cup success revives Leicester

February 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Claudio Ranieri hopes Leicester’s FA Cup victory against Derby can provide a springboard to ease the spluttering champions’ relegation fears.

Derby

Ranieri’s side got a welcome boost as they moved into the last 16 of the FA Cup with a 3-1 win in a fourth round replay at the King Power Stadium on Wednesday.

Goals from Andy King, Wilfred Ndidi and Demarai Gray sealed Leicester’s first win in six matches at a most opportune moment.

Leicester are only one point above the Premier League relegation zone and face a crucial clash at fellow strugglers Swansea on Sunday.

Ranieri, who received a vote of confidence from the club’s Thai owners this week, believes the Cup success can lift spirits just in time to pull away from the bottom three.

“In this moment everything goes wrong but tonight one thing went right. Derby played good football and we won,” Ranieri said.

“This is what we needed and I wanted. Wilfred Ndidi made a very good goal, as did Demarai Gray.

“I’m happy with Ndidi. This young player full of personality and good character. We’ve chosen well.

“We want to do well in all competitions. We want to go forward in the FA Cup.

“The Premier League is not so good but we have to stay in the Premier League. This fresh air is good for the players.”

King has seen many ups and downs during his long spell with Leicester and the midfielder echoed Ranieri’s hope that the team’s fortunes could be taking a turn for the better.

“It’s been a tough few weeks and we’ve been getting a lot of criticism. Tonight we showed the fight we have got in the squad,” King said.

“It was important to get a win tonight to try to kickstart some form to take into the league.

“We have 14 massive games left in the league but now we are through in a couple of rounds of the cup. Why can’t we write another story in that?”

Mkhitaryan stars as United pile on misery for Leicester

February 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s masterclass left Leicester fighting for their Premier League survival as Manchester United cruised to a 3-0 victory over the troubled champions on Sunday.

Mkhitaryan

Jose Mourinho’s side condemned dismal Leicester to a fourth successive league defeat thanks in large part to Mkhitaryan’s dynamic contribution at the King Power Stadium.

The Armenian playmaker opened the scoring with a cool solo strike just before half-time and then teed up Juan Mata for United’s third goal after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had doubled the lead.

United’s first win in four league games extended their unbeaten run to 15 and lifted them to within two points of fourth-placed Arsenal in the race to qualify for the Champions League.

“I think we played like we normally play. We played well and tried to win,” Mourinho said.

“We are still in the same position but we are closer to the others so we keep fighting.”

Just nine months after their fairytale title triumph, Leicester are firmly embroiled in a battle to avoid relegation after winning only one of their last nine league games.

Claudio Ranieri’s team are a shadow of the relentless unit that ground opponents into submission last term and have yet to score a league goal in 2017.

They sit one point above the relegation zone and face a crucial clash at fellow strugglers Swansea next weekend.

“Last season everything was right and the players got confidence, now they are anxious. We have to stay together and keep fighting,” Ranieri said.

Given both sides’ recent struggles, it was little surprise that anxiety was the prevailing emotion in an error-strewn opening most notable for Jamie Vardy’s tetchy response to a touchline collision with Eric Bailly.

Riyad Mahrez, such a poised and inspired figure last season, summed up the malaise gripping Leicester when the Algeria winger responded to an early sight of goal with a woeful strike that flew well wide.

Marcus Rashford hadn’t scored in the league since netting against Leicester in September and the United striker, unmarked 10 yards from goal, squandered a good opportunity to end that barren run when he blazed over from Mkhitaryan’s pinpoint cross.

Mata could consider himself fortunate to escape with only a yellow card after the United midfielder lunged into a crude challenge on Vardy.

But, aided by Mourinho’s decision to switch Mkhitaryan into a more central role, United began to monopolise possession and finally forced Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel into action after 35 minutes.

Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba combined to work the ball into Rashford and the youngster’s quickly-taken low strike carried enough power to force a fine save by Schmeichel.

It was a warning Leicester failed to heed and United took the lead in the 42nd minute when Mkhitaryan punished a mistake from Robert Huth.

When Chris Smalling won a header in midfield, there should have been no danger but Huth made a rash and unsuccessful attempt to win the ball in the centre circle, giving Mkhitaryan space to nudge it past the defender and race clear of the Leicester defence before firing beyond Schmeichel.

Just 88 seconds later, Leicester shot themselves in the foot again when Antonio Valencia was allowed to run unchecked down the right before crossing towards Ibrahimovic.

Despite three Leicester defenders surrounding Ibrahimovic, the trio were all flat-footed as the United forward pounced to slot home his 20th goal of the season.

Ranieri sent on Demarai Gray and Andy King at half-time, but Leicester’s gloom deepened when Mata put the result beyond doubt in the 49th minute.

Mkhitaryan was tormenting Leicester with his clever passing and when the United playmaker deftly clipped the ball to Mata, the Spaniard was played onside by Morgan and guided his shot past Schmeichel from close-range.

Rashford and Mata couldn’t take chances to rub salt into Leicester’s wounds, but the damage had already been done.

Ranieri will hope it doesn’t prove fatal.

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy suspended for three games after red card

December 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ailing Premier League champions Leicester City suffered a blow on Tuesday as England striker Jamie Vardy received a three-match ban from the Football Association for his sending off against Stoke City.

Vardy

The 29-year-old, who had returned to form with a hat-trick against Manchester City in the previous game, will miss matches against Everton, West Ham and Middlesbrough.

The FA rejected the club’s claim of wrongful dismissal, which hinged upon Vardy being off-balance as he was harried by Glen Johnson when he challenged Stoke midfielder Mame Diouf just before the half-hour mark.

Referee Craig Pawson did not hesitate in showing him a red card for the two-footed challenge.

“Jamie Vardy will serve a three-match suspension with immediate effect after his wrongful dismissal claim was rejected, following an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing,” read the FA statement.

“The Leicester City striker was sent off for serious foul play during the game at Stoke City on Saturday 17 December 2016.”

Vardy’s suspension means Leicester will be without three key players for the game with Everton next Monday.

Defenders Christian Fuchs and Robert Huth will be absent as they serve a one-match suspension for picking up their fifth bookings of the campaign in Saturday’s ill-tempered Stoke match.

They were two of five Leicester players to be booked by Pawson in the final seven minutes of the first half — leading to angry scenes at the break — in a match which saw them come from 2-0 down to secure a 2-2 draw.

Pawson had been criticised for not sending off Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo for a similar two-footed challenge in their Premier League clash with Crystal Palace only a few days prior to the Vardy incident.

Leicester currently sit a lowly 15th in the table, just three points clear of the relegation places.

‘Naive’ Spurs nurse Champions League wounds

November 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Tottenham Hotspur were accused of being “naive” and manager Mauricio Pochettino of having made a reckless “gamble” following their embarrassing group-stage exit in the Champions League.

Spurs

Despite boasting the biggest wage bill in Group E, Tottenham were bundled out with a game still to pay following Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at French Ligue 1 title-chasers Monaco.

Pochettino’s youthful side came close to pipping Leicester City to Premier League glory last season, but former England international Phil Neville said their callowness had been exposed in Europe.

“They’ve made naive decisions in the Champions League and Tottenham are being punished,” the former Manchester United and Everton player told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“Positions you take in the Premier League don’t get punished. Here they do.

“They were wide open at the back, disorganised in midfield. The Champions League has been a real learning curve and they’ve been found out.”

Wednesday’s sports headlines in the British newspapers will have made grim reading for Pochettino, who was said to have made unnecessary changes to his starting XI.

The Times branded Tottenham “toothless”, while both The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph accused Pochettino of taking a “gamble” that had not paid off.

The Argentine raised eyebrows by pairing Eric Dier at centre-back with Kevin Wimmer, leaving Toby Alderweireld on the bench, and picking Kieran Trippier over England’s Kyle Walker at right-back.

Midfielder Dele Alli played with heavy strapping on his leg after only recently overcoming a knee injury and Neville felt he was “not fit”.

Dier, who usually plays in midfield, conceded an early penalty for a clumsy foul on Fabinho and although Hugo Lloris saved Radamel Falcao’s spot-kick, it was to prove only a stay of execution.

After falling behind to Djibril Sidibe’s 48th-minute header, Spurs equalised four minutes later via Harry Kane’s penalty, only for Monaco to re-take the lead within 39 seconds through Thomas Lemar.

“We got ourselves back in the game at 1-1 and it was schoolboy to concede straight after that,” Kane told BT Sport.

While Spurs’ Champions League fate was settled at Stade Louis II, it is at Wembley that their shortcomings have been truly exposed.

Spurs agreed to play their home games in the competition at England’s national stadium due to rebuilding work at their White Hart Lane home.

But despite attracting vast crowds they have not looked at home in their temporary abode, losing 2-1 to Monaco there in their first game before going down 1-0 to Bayer Leverkusen.

“I think we made too many mistakes at home at Wembley,” Pochettino conceded.

With Monaco and Leverkusen now assured of knockout-stage places, the best Spurs can hope for from their final game against CSKA Moscow is the dubious consolation of a Europa League berth.

Spurs have an option to move into Wembley for the entirety of the 2017-18 season, when they will need to vacate White Hart Lane, but six straight defeats there have prompted talk of a ‘Wembley curse’.

“Yes, we played at Wembley this year, but it has to be a fortress at home,” Kane said.

While Spurs remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League, they are currently in something of a rut, having won only one of their last nine fixtures in all competitions.

They visit league leaders Chelsea on Saturday in a fixture that will rekindle painful memories of their 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in May, which ended their bid for a first league title since 1961.

Widely lauded for his work at Tottenham so far, Pochettino needs to show he still possesses the power to inspire.

‘New Vardy’ set for Leicester return at Watford

November 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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A two-week break from Premier League action has brought good news and bad for flagging champions Leicester City, who visit Watford on Saturday.

Vardy

A 2-1 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion sent Claudio Ranieri’s men into the international break just two points above the relegation zone and with injury issues piling up.

But an England goal for Jamie Vardy, ending a two-month drought, has given the Foxes a timely boost ahead of their trip to Vicarage Road.

“It was important for him and important for everybody to score,” said manager Ranieri.

“Of course he never spoke about it, but I know goalscorers always wants to score. Now we’ll see a new Vardy.”

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (broken hand) and close-season signing Nampalys Mendy (ankle) remain out and key midfielder Danny Drinkwater is a doubt with a rib injury.

But while Drinkwater was sitting out England’s games against Scotland and Spain, Vardywas scoring for the first time in 15 games in the 2-2 draw with the Spaniards at Wembley on Tuesday.

Having being dropped for his side’s last two Premier League games, the talisman of last season’s title triumph is set for a recall.

“Yes, I think he will have a run of games now,” said Ranieri. “He can play normally now.”

Vardy went 14 games for club and country without a goal after scoring for Leicester in their 4-1 defeat at Liverpool in September.

Vardy said: “It’s just always good to get that goal. That one is in the back of the net now and hopefully I can kick on and start putting more away.

“The gaffer (manager) spoke to us, the strikers. The way we play, we can’t get all of us on the pitch and that’s just football.

“That’s how it is. If I’m on the bench then it’s up to me to make an impact if I come on.”

Five defeats in their opening 11 games have left Leicester’s title defence effectively over and playing second fiddle to their first ever Champions League campaign.

They are closer to the bottom three than the top six, but Vardy has played down fears about a season of struggle.

“There’s no concern at all,” said the 29-year-old, whose side are on the brink of the Champions League last 16 ahead of Belgian side Club Brugge’s visit on Tuesday next week.

“We know that compared to last year we’ve played a lot of what you would call the big clubs early on, whereas it wasn’t the same last year.

“Although we know that we are where we are, we know that we can get out of it and we need to start that this weekend.”

Watford go into the match looking for a reaction following a heavy 6-0 loss at Liverpool last time out, but they have been boosted by positive news on the fitness of key players Sebastian Proedl and Heurelho Gomes.

Defender Proedl missed the trip to Anfield with a groin injury, while veteran goalkeeper Gomes was substituted due to a heavy knock, but Walter Mazzarri has revealed both are now fit.

“Gomes is back so we are happy,” said the Watford manager. “He is a player with incredible experience and every time he’s on the pitch he gives massive confidence to the whole team.

“Prodl is back, too, and I hope that will help get the confidence back to (how it was) before we played Liverpool.

“When you play against teams like Liverpool, if you don’t have the complete squad it is very difficult. Before Liverpool we were playing very good and weren’t conceding.”

Vardy is a ‘genetic freak’ like Bolt, says Leicester City scientist

September 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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England striker Jamie Vardy is a “genetic freak” like nine-times Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt, Leicester City’s head of sport science Kevin Paxton said.

Vardy

Vardy enjoys an unorthodox lifestyle in an era of increasing emphasis on marginal gains from advanced sports science, meaning his electric pace and immense stamina are largely natural.

In his autobiography, the Leicester forward revealed his unusual warm-up methods which included drinking a glass of port the night before a game while on match days he consumed several cans of a popular energy drink as well as a cup of double espresso.

Such unconventional habits appeared to have helped Vardy to score 24 goals last season as Leicester won the Premier League.

“I just think he is a genetic freak, his athleticism is as natural to him as Usain Bolt’s. But it doesn’t mean Bolt doesn’t train for that extra one percent,” Paxton told Reuters at the Soccerex Global Convention.

“There will always be exceptions, those stand-out outliers like ‘Vards’, but he works hard on the training ground even if he jokes about drinking cans of Red Bull.”

Vardy also admitted he had hampered his recovery from a dead leg soon after joining the Foxes in 2012 by drinking vodka mixed with sweets.

Paxton said Vardy’s naivety when he was recovering from injury was unlikely to be repeated as clubs now kept a much closer check on their injured players.

“Everything is more monitored these days,” he added.

“We are not at the stage where we know everything people are eating and drinking but we do have sleep and dietary questionnaires. It could be even more strictly monitored though.

“At some point you have to let go and allow the players to learn for themselves.

“The further you get up the chain, the more cut-throat it is, and it is all about small margins and tiny percentages.”

Man Utd thrash Leicester 4-1 without Rooney

September 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United dismantled Premier League champions Leicester in a ruthless 20-minute burst as Jose Mourinho’s decision to drop Wayne Rooney was rewarded with a 4-1 win at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Pogba

Leicester imploded defensively as United racked up four goals between the 22nd and 42nd minutes.

It was a stylish display from a United side who had entered the game under pressure after losing their last two league games, against Manchester City and Watford, with Chris Smalling opening the scoring after replacing Rooney as captain.

Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, with his first United goal following his world record £89 million ($115 million, 102 million euros) arrival from Juventus, were also on target after England captain Rooney was dropped to the substitutes’ bench.

But it was a chastening afternoon for Leicester despite an improved second-half display and a brilliant consolation goal from half-time substitute Demarai Gray.

It was the second successive Premier League away game in which Leicester had shipped four goals after doing so at Liverpool two weeks ago.

Leicester held their own early on with Robert Huth lashing a shot just over but it was United who edged in front in the 22nd minute after some neat play wide on the left had forced a corner.

It was delivered by Daley Blind and Smalling escaped the United defence to power home a header from six yards.

Rashford should have doubled United’s lead moments later when Leicester squandered possession and Zlatan Ibrahimovic galloped forwards and squared for the teenager.

But Rashford’s first touch was heavy and his shot flew over.

Ibrahimovic then went close to a goal after collecting a fabulous pass by Pogba, but the Swede’s effort on the turn just cleared the bar.

Next it was Pogba’s turn to let fly with an outrageous effort from 30 yards that bent towards the top corner but was forced away by Leicester goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler.

United finally added a second goal as they turned on the style eight minutes before half-time.

Ander Herrera started the move with a fine ball to Mata before a clever pass by Pogba and a fine flick by Jesse Lingard allowed Mata to blast past Zieler.

And the third goal arrived just two minutes later as Leicester handed a chance to Rashford which the youngster snapped up.

The visitors were caught napping as Blind took a quick corner and Mata was free to square for an unmarked Rashford to finish from close range.

It was 4-0 before half-time as another corner by Blind was headed in by Pogba as he leapt above Christian Fuchs.

Leicester made a double change at half-time with key duo Vardy and Riyad Mahrez withdrawn ahead of the Champions League meeting with FC Porto on Tuesday.

And they almost had some joy when David De Gea dived at the feet of Islam Slimani but gifted possession back to the visitors with a poor throw.

Fuchs wasted the chance, however, with a poor cross.

And at the other end Mata tried to add his second goal with a firm shot that Zieler parried well.

It was one of the half-time substitutes who salvaged a modicum of respectability for Leicester with a goal of real quality on the hour-mark.

Gray collected a crossfield pass from Daniel Amartey and cut inside Lingard before lashing a brilliant shot past a helpless De Gea from 25 yards.

But United were soon back on the attack as Zieler made a smart save from Ibrahimovic.

Two more Leicester substitutes combined for what should have been a second goal but Andy King produced a tame shot from a Jeff Schlupp cross and De Gea saved easily.

Gray then went within a whisker of replicating his stunning goal with an almost identical effort which De Gea scrambled back to push over the bar.

Rooney relishing ‘perfect’ cup draw against rivals City

September 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United will have a perfect opportunity to redeem themselves against neighbors Manchester City when the sides clash in the fourth round of the League Cup, captain Wayne Rooney has said.

Rooney

Pep Guardiola’s side drew first blood in the Manchester rivalry this season, beating United 2-1 away in the Premier League on Sept. 10, triggering the first of three successive defeats for Jose Mourinho’s side.

United got back to winning ways against third tier Northampton Town in the cup encounter on Wednesday and Rooney will be looking for revenge against City when the sides clash at Old Trafford in late October.

“For me, I think it’s the perfect draw,” he told MUTV. “With what happened in the league, it’s a chance for us to get revenge for that result. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.

“I think City will have 7,000-8,000 fans here, which will obviously make it an even better atmosphere. I think a cup game against City at Old Trafford is the perfect draw for us.”

Rooney also remains convinced that United will be in contention for silverware this season, despite an underwhelming start.

“I think he’s (Mourinho) been brilliant since he’s come in,” the midfielder said.

“Training has changed a lot. The training has been really good and it’s interesting to see how he prepares for games with tactics, how we approach games, and it’s been really good.

“I’m sure obviously we will come back and definitely be challenging this season.”

The 30-year-old has come under intense media scrutiny for his lackluster performances this season but Rooney said he chose to ignore “rubbish” criticism.

“Yeah, I think I’ve had that my whole career… a little bit more of late, I think, but that’s football,” he added.

“I listen to my coaches and my team mates, the people around me, and I don’t really listen to what a lot of people out there are saying because a lot of it is rubbish.

Seventh-placed United host champions Leicester City in the Premier League on Saturday.

Fabregas gives Chelsea win at Leicester, Norwich beat Everton

September 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas gave his manager a reminder of his talents by scoring twice in extra time as they fought back from two goals down to knock Premier League champions Leicester City out of the League Cup 4-2 on Tuesday.

Britain Football Soccer - Leicester City v Chelsea - EFL Cup Third Round - King Power Stadium - 20/9/16Leicester City's Danny Drinkwater and Andy King with Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas at the end of the matchReuters / Darren Staples

Spaniard Fabregas has played a bit-part role in Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side since the start of the season, but produced two neat finishes in the space of two minutes to turn the third-round tie on its head.

Record eight-times winners Liverpool eased past Derby County 3-0, while Arsenal enjoyed a 4-0 stroll at Nottingham Forest.

It was a bad night, however, for Premier League sides Everton and Bournemouth, who exited the competition at the hands of second-tier opponents.

Everton were dumped out 2-0 at home by Norwich City, while Bournemouth suffered a 3-2 home defeat by Preston North End.

In the standout fixture, Chelsea seemed to be heading out when Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki twice capitalised on poor defending to put the Foxes ahead.

But the Chelsea fightback began when Fabregas’s corner was headed back across goal and over the line by defender Gary Cahill just before halftime and they equalised with a stunning volley from Cesar Azpilicueta four minutes after the restart.

With extra time approaching, Leicester defender Marcin Wasilewski was sent off for a second yellow card after a clumsy charge into Diego Costa, swinging the momentum Chelsea’s way.

From that moment there only looked like being one winner and Fabregas’s clinical finishes secured Chelsea’s spot in the fourth round as well as giving the Spain international a boost after a difficult start to the season.

Conte has preferred former Leicester player N’Golo Kante, Nemanja Matic and Oscar in central midfield in Chelsea’s opening encounters but Fabregas showed he still has something to offer when he clipped the ball home two minutes into extra time.

Two minutes later, he smashed a left-foot effort into the net after Leicester failed to clear a high ball in the box.

“I was happy to play from the start and if I can help the team then fantastic,” Fabregas told Sky Sports.

“Hopefully this will shut up a few journalists who are chatting rubbish all the time.”

Liverpool, beaten on penalties by Manchester City in last season’s final, booked their spot in the next round with goals from Ragnar Klavan, Philippe Coutinho and Divock Origi and it was an equally straightforward romp for Arsenal.

Forest’s Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner lined up against his old club, but it was Arsenal’s new arrivals who shone.

Their Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka rifled in the opener from distance and Spaniard Lucas Perez scored a penalty and a fine individual goal. England forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain netted the fourth goal in stoppage time.

Everton were undone by a former favourite as Steven Naismith returned to Goodison Park to torment his old employers by scoring Norwich’s opener after 41 minutes before Josh Murphy struck a rising drive from distance to complete the victory.

Preston striker Simon Makienok bagged a hat-trick including an extra-time winner to help them past Bournemouth.

Newcastle United progressed with a 2-0 victory at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, having lost to the Midlands side by the same scoreline in the Championship on Saturday.

Reading won 2-1 away to Brighton & Hove Albion and Leeds United beat Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in all second-tier ties.

On Wednesday in-form holders Manchester City and their new manager Pep Guradiola visit Swansea City, while Jose Mourinho’s struggling Manchester United outfit travel to third-tier Northampton Town and Tottenham Hotspur host Gillingham.

Champions Leicester break club record for striker Slimani

September 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Premier League champions Leicester City paid a club record fee for Sporting Lisbon’s Algeria striker Islam Slimani just hours before the transfer window closed on Wednesday.

Football Soccer - Pazos Ferreira v Sporting - Portuguese Premier League - Mata Real, Pazos Ferreira, Portugal - 23/1/16 Sporting's Islam Slimani celebrates his goal against Pazos Ferreira. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

The player has moved for an initial 30 million euros (£25.4 million) with a further five million in add ons, Sporting said on their website (www.sporting.pt). That eclipses the fee the Midlands club paid for Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa last month.

The 28-year-old Slimani has joined Leicester on a five-year deal, said a statement on City’s website (www.lcfc.com)

“To join a team like Leicester City is a huge honour and I can’t wait to get started,” said Slimani.

“I’ve always wanted to play my football in the Premier League and to get the opportunity to do that with the reigning champions was something I simply could not turn down.”

Slimani had been given permission to leave the Algeria squad preparing for Sunday’s African Nations Cup tie against Lesotho to have a medical with Leicester.

He scored 27 goals for Sporting last season, having moved to the Portuguese side from CR Belouizdad in his homeland in 2013.

Leicester, who have begun their title defence with a win, a draw and a defeat, next visit Liverpool on Sept. 10.

Hull stun champions Leicester

August 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Leicester’s Premier League title defence got off to an embarrassing start as the champions crashed to 2-1 defeat at troubled Hull in the season opener on Saturday.

Hull

Just three months after their astonishing title triumph, Claudio Ranieri’s side were brought back down to earth by a team whose preparations for the new campaign were marred by the resignation of manager Steve Bruce and their failure to sign a single player.

Adama Diomande gave Hull a first-half lead before Riyad Mahrez brought Leicester level with a penalty shortly after the interval.

Robert Snodgrass drove in the winner 12 minutes into the second half as a team in crisis on and off the pitch became the first to beat the defending English champions on opening day since Manchester United defeated Arsenal in 1989.

“It was great to see the team and staff all pull together and surprise so many people. The players have enjoyed themselves today,” Hull caretaker manager Mike Phelan said.

Hull have approached the season in a state of turmoil, with no permanent manager following Bruce’s resignation on July 22, and a thin squad stretched to its limits by injuries.

Phelan went into the game with just 13 fit senior players, and named a substitutes’ bench consisting largely of untried youngsters, including three teenagers.

Hull’s supporters have blamed owners Assem and Ehad Allam for a lack of investment in the squad, and graffiti calling for them to sell the club was found daubed on the outer walls of the stadium on Saturday morning.

As stewards hastily tried to paint over the vandalism before kick-off, supporters gathered outside to display banners and chant for the Allams to leave.

A Chinese consortium, led by businessmen Dai Yongge and Hawken Xi Liu, has expressed an interest in buying the club, and its key figures were at the match to watch the Premier League season begin.

Leicester were sharper for the opening 30 minutes, but were unable to capitalise on the chances they created, with Jamie Vardy a particular culprit.

Vardy, who scored 24 league goals last season, miskicked horribly after new signing Ahmed Musa had darted down the left to roll the ball back to him 16 yards from goal.

After Danny Drinkwater had screwed wide from Mahrez’s inviting right-wing cut-back, Vardy was then thwarted by some dogged Hull defending.

Christian Fuchs got clear after playing a one-two with Musa and, when goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic raced out to block, the ball ran loose to Vardy – but Jake Livermore threw his body in the way of the shot.

Vardy then skied an easy chance after Musa had dashed past the flat-footed Curtis Davies.

Hull rode the pressure, though, and took the lead in the second minute of first-half stoppage time.

Kasper Schmeichel clawed out Davies’ near-post header from a Snodgrass corner, but Diomande’s overhead kick flew into the net.

Leicester responded immediately after half-time, winning a penalty within 20 seconds of the restart as Tom Huddlestone was judged to have clipped Demarai Gray inside the area.

Television replays suggested the contact may have been outside the area, but Mahrez sent Jakupovic the wrong way with a cool spot-kick.

However, spluttering Leicester were only level for 10 minutes.

Ahmed Elmohamady was quick to intercept a Schmeichel throw, and raced down the right to create space for a cross that Danny Simpson half-cleared, before Snodgrass drove in the loose ball.

Ranieri’s response was to throw on Shinji Okazaki and Daniel Amartey in a bid to find an equaliser, and Mahrez almost delivered with a 25-yard free-kick that Jakupovic shovelled away.

Snodgrass almost caught out Schmeichel with a free-kick from wide out on the right, which the goalkeeper had to beat away at his near post.

By the time the match entered its closing stages, the Hull fans were singing ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ and chanting ‘We are top of the league’.

Ranieri extends Leicester stay

August 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has signed a new four-year deal that is set to keep him at the Premier League champions until June 2020, the club announced Wednesday.

Football - Leicester City - Claudio Ranieri Press Conference - King Power Stadium - 20/7/15New Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Boyers

The 64-year-old Italian joined the Thai-owned Midlands side just prior to the start of last season after former manager Nigel Pearson was sacked. He led the Foxes to their first English top-flight title as they stunned the Premier League’s established elite.

“Leicester City Football Club is delighted to announce that its first-team manager, Claudio Ranieri, has signed a new contract with the Premier League champions,” the club statement said.

Leicester were 5,000/1 to become champions of England when Ranieri took charge, yet they lost just three league games all season and won the title by 10 points.

“From the moment I talked to the owners about their vision for Leicester City, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of for a long time,” Ranieri told the club’s website on Wednesday.

“The energy that exists at this club — from the owners and the staff to the players and supporters — is something very special. I am very happy and proud that I will be part of it for years to come,” he added.

“Last season, that spirit and our hard work helped us to achieve something magical.

“If we can continue to work hard, maintain our passion and continue to fight with all our hearts, I am sure we can continue to be successful together.”

Leicester vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha said: “Twelve months ago, we brought to Leicester City a man whose knowledge and experience, we felt, could lead us into the next phase of our long-term plan.

“What he would go on to help us achieve, in the time we have achieved it, has been beyond anything we could have anticipated.”

Leicester’s Premier League success gave Ranieri a first top-flight title in a managerial career spanning three decades and including second-placed finishes in England (Chelsea), Italy (Juventus and Roma) and France (Monaco).

The Foxes, beaten 2-1 by FA Cup-holders Manchester United in the Charity Shield at Wembley last weekend, begin the defence of their Premier League title away to Hull on Saturday.

Ibrahimovic fires Manchester United to Community Shield win

August 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his arrival in English football with an 83rd-minute winner as Manchester United edged Leicester City 2-1 at Wembley on Sunday to win the Community Shield.

Man United

The former Paris Saint-Germain striker had a quiet game, but he out jumped Wes Morgan to head home Antonio Valencia’s cross and earn Jose Mourinho his first piece of silverware as United manager.

Leicester talisman Jamie Vardy had earlier punished an error by Marouane Fellaini to cancel out FA Cup match-winner Jesse Lingard’s first-half solo goal for United, who claimed a record-extending 21st Community Shield.

“It’s an important victory, but we have lots of work to do,” Mourinho told BT Sport.

“I would be not ambitious if I said it was a fantastic performance. It wasn’t. It’s always important to start with a trophy.”

Mourinho dedicated the win to his predecessor Louis van Gaal, who was sacked after leading United to the FA Cup.

United, who have confirmed they are close to re-signing former player Paul Pogba from Juventus, open their Premier League campaign at Bournemouth next Sunday.

“It feels good,” said Ibrahimovic after the traditional curtain-raiser to the English season.

“The first official game, we play for a trophy and we win. Something big is going on with our team.”

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri handed official debuts to close-season signings Ahmed Musa, Luis Hernandez and Nampalys Mendy.

While his side came up short, he was encouraged by the brightness of their display, three months on from their 5,000-1 Premier League triumph.

“I’m very pleased with our performance,” said Ranieri. “I watched the same team as last season. Only the result is against us.”

Leicester launch their league title defence at Hull City on Saturday.

Mourinho deployed his new-look strike partnership of Wayne Rooney and Ibrahimovic and both players made their presence felt in Leicester’s penalty area early on.

Rooney headed straight at Kasper Schmeichel from Luke Shaw’s cross and the Leicester goalkeeper was also obliged to field a hooked Fellaini shot after Ibrahimovic had leapt to win a high ball.

Leicester attacked the game with the intensity that characterised last season’s title triumph and procured several chances of their own.

Vardy drew last-ditch tackles from Daley Blind and impressive United new boy Eric Bailly with trademark darting runs, while Shinji Okazaki glanced a header against the bar from a Marc Albrighton corner.

With Ibrahimovic and Rooney both dropping deep, United lacked an attacking focal point, but in the 32nd minute Lingard took matters into his own hands.

After eluding the sliding Andy King, he drove towards goal, slipped the ball beneath Leicester captain Morgan’s sprawling challenge and confidently tucked a shot past Schmeichel.

It came at the same end as his spectacular extra-time winner against Crystal Palace in May’s FA Cup final.

Within minutes, United’s celebrating fans were singing: “Pogba’s coming home!”

Ranieri introduced Musa and Demarai Gray at half-time and the former played a big role in Leicester’s 52nd-minute equaliser with an enterprising run from deep.

But the goal owed almost everything to a mistake by Fellaini, whose under-hit back-pass enabled Vardy to nip in, round David de Gea, and score.

Following a glut of changes by both sides, Musa squandered a chance to give Leicester victory when he headed Robert Huth’s flick-on over the bar from point-blank range.

Within minutes Ibrahimovic had punished his wastefulness, soaring above Morgan to meet Valencia’s cross with a downward header that hit the left-hand post and bounced into the goal.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan made his official United debut as a stoppage-time substitute.

It was Mata who made way, having only entered the fray in the 63rd minute, and the Spaniard, frozen out by Mourinho during their time at Chelsea, exchanged angry words with the United manager as he came off.

Mourinho played down the incident and said he had taken Mata off to help his team defend against long balls.

Foes reunited as Mourinho, Ranieri meet at Wembley

August 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Jose Mourinho locks horns with old adversary Claudio Ranieri as FA Cup winners Manchester United tackle fairytale Premier League champions Leicester City in Sunday’s Community Shield at Wembley.

Mourinho

Mourinho, who has succeeded Louis van Gaal at United, twice pipped Ranieri to the Serie A title during their time in Italy, where he goaded the Italian about his age, lack of success and poor command of English.

But Ranieri took revenge last season, overseeing a 2-1 win over Mourinho’s Chelsea in December that proved to be the Portuguese’s last game in the job and finishing the campaign with the league trophy in his hands.

Asked about his rival on Friday, Ranieri said: “We are used to living with the pressure and without pressure we are not the same. Jose always tries to win and his career speaks for itself.”

Mourinho, 53, succeeded Ranieri, 64, as Chelsea manager in 2004 and quickly built on the foundations laid by his predecessor, steering the west London club to back-to-back Premier League titles.

Their paths did not cross directly until 2008, when Mourinho joined Inter Milan and beat Ranieri’s Juventus to the league title.

Reacting to a claim from Ranieri that Mourinho needs to win things to feel sure of himself, the Inter coach said his rival had “the mentality of someone who doesn’t need to win” and was “too old to change”.

Ranieri joined Roma, who pushed Inter all the way in a taut 2009-10 title race, only forMourinho’s men to prevail by two points and beat them in the Coppa Italia final en route to a glorious Treble.

Publicly, Mourinho’s attitude towards Ranieri has since softened.

He described Leicester’s 5,000-1 title win as “magic” and the pair were photographed embracing prior to a Soccer Aid charity match in June.

But privately Mourinho will be itching to get under Ranieri’s skin, particularly having beaten him only twice in their six head-to-head encounters to date.

While Leicester continue to bask in the afterglow of an achievement that electrified world football, things are no longer quite as they were when captain Wes Morgan lifted the Premier League trophy on May 7.

N’Golo Kante, the redoubtable midfield driving force behind their title success, has joined Chelsea in a £30 million ($39.5 million, 35.4 million euros) move.

Talisman Jamie Vardy, last season’s 24-goal top scorer, has committed himself to the club with a new contract, but Riyad Mahrez has been linked with a move away amid reported interest from Arsenal.

Six new signings are bedding in, led by Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa, a club-record £16 million capture from CSKA Moscow, who struck an impressive brace in a 4-2 defeat by Barcelona on Wednesday.

That loss in Stockholm followed a heavy 4-0 reverse at Paris Saint-Germain’s hands and having previously drawn 1-1 with Celtic, Ranieri’s side have gone three games without a win.

United, though, have been scarcely more impressive in pre-season.

They beat Galatasaray and Wigan Athletic, but crashed to a 4-1 defeat against Borussia Dortmund and saw a scheduled meeting with Manchester City fall victim to the Beijing rain.

“We need minutes for the players. Now we have Leicester and it is not a training session. It is a game,” Mourinho said.

“We have six changes, not three, so that gives me the chance to give minutes to some people, players who I know cannot have the condition to play 90 (minutes). We will try to do a little bit of everything.”

With Van Gaal having departed after two years of turgid football and underwhelming results, United’s fans will hope the Wembley showpiece provides signs of a revival underMourinho.

New signings Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the swaggering Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all in line to feature.

Left-back Luke Shaw, meanwhile, is making up for lost time after nine months out due to a double leg break.

Mahrez ‘distracted’ by transfer talk, says Ranieri

August 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Speculation about a possible transfer to Premier League rivals Arsenal has unsettled Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez, manager Claudio Ranieri has said.

Britain Football Soccer - Celtic v Leicester City - International Champions Cup - Celtic Park - 23/7/16Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez arrives before the gameAction Images via Reuters / Craig BroughLivepic

The 25-year-old Algeria international, who signed from Ligue 2 side Le Havre in 2014, has become a hot property after scoring 17 league goals and winning the PFA Player of the Year during Leicester’s remarkable title-winning campaign.

Leicester have already had to fight off advances from Arsenal to keep striker Jamie Vardy, but lost midfielder N’Golo Kante to Chelsea for a reported fee of 32 million pounds.

“Maybe Riyad is distracted a bit by all of these rumours and speculation,” Ranieri told British media. “But that is also an experience for my players. It is important that he understands that he should stay with us.

“He has to improve his fitness and play for the team as well as last season.”

Leicester, beaten 4-0 by French champions Paris St Germain in a friendly in California on Saturday, kick off their title defence with a trip to newly-promoted Hull City on Aug. 13.

Midfield general Drinkwater waits for Leicester offer

July 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater admits he is still waiting for a new contract offer despite the Premier League champions moving to secure the futures of other stars.

Drinkwater

The 26-year-old England international, who played a pivotal role in last season’s remarkable title success, has seen contracts offered this summer to key trio Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez.

Vardy has already signed his four-year deal — a second new contract in the last year — after rejecting a move to Arsenal.

Drinkwater says he would also like to commit his future to the East Midlands club.

“I am not going chasing the club,” said Drinkwater.

“It is up to them to approach me.

“I would love to commit but I just want to play football.

“I still have two years left on my contract so it is not a be all and end all if I don’t sign a new one in the next few weeks.

“I’m still under contract so I can’t really say too much but I’m a Leicester City player at the minute.

“It’s up to them how they handle it.”

Winger Marc Albrighton and captain Wes Morgan are among other players still waiting for offers after Vardy’s future dominated the agenda in the close season.

“Arsenal are a massive club and a club a lot of people would love to play for so ‘Vards’ committing his future to Leicester must put the club in a good light,” said Drinkwater.

Leicester are globe-trotting this summer to gear up for the new season, with this week’s training camp in Austria followed by friendlies in Glasgow, Los Angeles and Stockholm against Celtic, Paris Saint Germain and Barcelona respectively.

That is ahead of their first ever Champions League campaign and Manchester United fan Drinkwater admits he used to watch his own heroes in the competition, even paying for a tour of Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium.

“As a fan you just look at the players walking out and you are buzzing for them,” he said.

“So if I’m the one they’re buzzing for that adds a bit more excitement.

“I remember in Moscow, when we beat Chelsea in the final, they kept us in the stadium for about two hours afterwards and I was raging.

“We nearly missed the flight home because of it but we were celebrating so it wasn’t too bad!”

Now Drinkwater is targeting European glory and an England place after missing out on Roy Hodgson’s final Euro 2016 squad.

“If there was something I could have done more to get in the squad I would have done it, but I am not sure there was,” he said.

“Roy pulled me into a room and explained the situation and I understood what he was saying.

“I was disappointed but there was nothing I could have done by that stage.”

Guardiola, Mourinho and Ancelotti primed for new challenges

July 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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The fat lady may be clearing her throat at Euro 2016 but the three tenors of the coaching world Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are due for the first rehearsals with their new club sides.

Mourinho

All three are renowned not only for their coaching ability — they have all won multiple Champions Leagues — but also their vastly different characters.

For Manchester City’s Guardiola and Manchester United’s Mourinho it sometimes borders on the cult of personality.

Ancelotti will not have to put up with Mourinho’s penchant for barbed comments as he has replaced Guardiola in the Bayern Munich hotseat.

One remark that Mourinho will unable to drag back out is labelling Claudio Ranieri a “loser” — the Italian silenced that one by guiding Leicester City to a shock Premier League title last term.

However, the football world can expect sparks to fly between Mourinho and Guardiola, especially now they are both in the same city.

A bitter rivalry between the two already exists from their time in Spain when Mourinho’s Madrid ended Guardiola’s glorious reign at Barcelona by winning La Liga in 2012.

Many will hope the Mourinho who pitches up at United will not be the highly strung out-of-sorts figure who left Chelsea under a cloud last term.

Usually Mourinho’s early days at a club are more civil and respectful, even if that often turns out to be a false dawn.

The 53-year-old Mourinho shrugs off the criticism of his combative nature designed to get under the skin of his rivals on the touchline.

Unsurprisingly, one of the Portuguese’s greatest admirers is Alex Ferguson, no stranger himself to the mind games of Premier League management.

“I look at Jose and I see myself reflected in many of the things he does,” said Ferguson.

“We’re only human. We can’t hide our emotions. They’re always there, they’re part of who we are, of our character.”

While Mourinho lets his emotions bubble to the surface, 45-year-old Guardiola seems self-contained and almost cold in his press conferences, only once letting the mask slip when Mourinho had provoked him one too many times.

This coldness appears to be borne out by the man who replaced him at Barcelona and his former assistant Tito Vilanova’s testament about when he was undergoing treatment for cancer in New York, where Guardiola had gone on sabbatical.

“He visited me once in New York when I’d just arrived, but during my recovery from the operation… I was there for two months and I didn’t see him,” Vilanova said in July 2013, nine months before he died.

Ancelotti engenders respect and popularity wherever he has gone on a European tour of the continent’s biggest clubs taking in AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.

At Madrid the 57-year-old succeeded Mourinho and, much to the chagrin of the latter, coached them to their long-awaited 10th European Cup trophy. A feat Mourinho was hired to achieve, but failed to deliver in his three years in the Spanish capital.

Mourinho’s spell at Real turned sour with the players — he dropped iconic goalkeeper Iker Casillas — and even when Real’s form dipped in Ancelotti’s second season in Madrid a star-studded squad made clear their preference for the Italian.

“I think we are a better team now than under Mourinho in all aspects of the game. I think this is clear to see for all — for both fans and journalists,” said Real defender Sergio Ramos.

“I don’t like this injustice, where one coach gets all the credit, whereas the other doesn’t get recognition.

“I go by what I have experienced, not by what I have been told. It is enough to look at what he has won here and how long it took.”

Ancelotti, like Guardiola a Champions League winner as a player and as a coach, has become phlegmatic about the insecurities of the job.

“My ass is earthquake-proof,” he told The Financial Times in 2014, summing up how his fear of the sack has diminished over the years.

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