English Premiership

Five challenges facing Ranieri's Leicester

2016-05-04 22:17
Jamie Vardy's party

London - Having stunned world football by defying odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League, the challenge facing Leicester City is how to preserve their new-found status.

With preparations for a first ever Champions League campaign high on the agenda, we look at five issues that the club's inspirational manager Claudio Ranieri must keep in mind.

Hold onto the stars

Unheralded when they joined Leicester, bargain buys such as Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante are now household names and the champions' resolve to hold onto their stars is likely to be seriously tested over the close-season transfer window. Top scorer Vardy and dazzling winger Mahrez each signed new contracts during the season, but are tipped to be the subject of big-money offers from rival clubs, while midfield powerhouse Kante, who signed from Caen last year, has been linked with a string of major teams.

Strengthen smartly

Belying the 'Tinkerman' nickname he was saddled with at Chelsea, Ranieri has kept faith with the same starting XI for much of the season and used fewer players than any other team. But next season's Champions League adventure will stretch resources and it is also unlikely that Leicester will enjoy the same luck with injuries as they have during the current campaign. The challenge for Leicester is to add Champions League experience -- something the squad lacks -- without disturbing the unique team spirit that has developed over the last season and a half. "You could invest extremely heavily and attract the wrong type of player," Tim Bridge from financial consultants Deloitte's Sport Business Group told AFP. "You need to balance sound investments with dreams." Ranieri, meanwhile, has declared: "We don't need the superstars."

Maintain the momentum

Leicester's surge to glory began in April 2015, when, under Ranieri's predecessor Nigel Pearson, they won seven of their last nine games to haul themselves from the foot of the table to 14th place at the season's end. It provided the impetus for this season's fairytale feats, but history shows that surprise title-winners seldom succeed in converting their achievements into long-term success. The last unfancied team to win the Premier League, Blackburn Rovers in 1995, finished seventh the following season and were relegated within four years. Verona, shock Serie A champions in 1985, came 10th in 1986 and went down in 1990. Montpellier, who pipped Paris Saint-Germain to the Ligue 1 title in 2012, came ninth in 2013. Nobody expects Leicester to retain their title, but while some slippage is expected, they must be careful not to fall off the page altogether.

Prepare for the backlash

Leicester took the Premier League by surprise in 2015-16, but in 2016-17 their rivals will be ready for them. Ranieri's men were able to ambush their opponents with counter-attacking tactics this season, but in a sign of things to come, teams got wise to them over the campaign's closing weeks and began to play much more defensively. Teams now know not to expose themselves to the break-neck pace of Mahrez and Vardy, so Leicester will need to develop more sophisticated tactics. It will mean devising alternatives to the successful 4-4-2 system introduced by Ranieri and probably acquiring midfield players more adept at patiently probing for gaps than the all-action pairing of Kante and Danny Drinkwater.

Keep feet on the ground

Ranieri has managed expectations superbly over the past nine months, incrementally raising Leicester's targets and refusing to discuss the title until it was practically in his grasp. He will need to exemplify the same calmness if his players are to avoid being swept away by the hype that now surrounds them. He has already made a start by setting a modest target for next season: finishing in the top 10.

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