English Premiership

Ranieri cautious over title chances

2015-12-18 08:15
Claudio Ranieri (Getty Images)

Liverpool - Claudio Ranieri is refusing to entertain the prospect of a Premier League title challenge from Leicester City even though his side travel to Everton on Saturday as surprise leaders.

Ranieri's side, who began the season among the favourites for relegation, have stunned the rest of the division with a superb run that has left them two points clear of second placed Arsenal.

The Foxes claimed the scalp of Jose Mourinho this week as Chelsea's 2-1 defeat at the King Power Stadium on Monday proved the Blues manager's final match in charge before he was sacked on Thursday.

While many pundits doubt Leicester's ability to last the pace in the title race, history suggests Ranieri's team are genuine contenders.

Victory at Goodison Park would guarantee top spot at Christmas and the Italian is aware that five of the last six festive table-toppers have gone on to lift the trophy.

Yet Ranieri wouldn't discuss Leicester's title hopes when asked if they could challenge and instead gave a typically cryptic response.

"I read that whoever arrives at the top on Christmas Day, blah, blah, blah," joked Ranieri. "But this is a strange league. Everything is strange."

Ranieri has shaken off his old reputation as a 'Tinkerman' who changed his team every week by staying loyal to a core group of players this season.

He must make at least two changes on Saturday, however, with Robert Huth suspended and Danny Drinkwater out with a hamstring injury.

Crucially, he will have Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez and England striker Jamie Vardy available, with the pair having scored 26 goals between them already.

ATTACKING TALENT

And the Italian has met with the pair to cool all talk of transfers away from the club in January.

"Already I spoke to the two guys and we continue together," Ranieri said.

"We can improve, to help grow the team, and maybe at end of the season we can speak.

"In my mind they are the first players I want to keep and continue with this group. It's a good group.

"It is important to maintain this mentality. I didn't wait for their answer!

"I suggested to them what is the best for them? If they believe in me, follow me.

"The owners made a contract for them a long time ago. For them there is a contract which they must respect."

Everton are brimming with attacking talent, but their ambitions are being threatened by an increasingly evident defensive weakness at set-pieces.

Having conceded one goal from a corner in drawing 1-1 at home to Crystal Palace just under two weeks ago, they let in another as they were held 1-1 at Norwich last Saturday.

Roberto Martinez's side have drawn their last three league matches, having thrown away a late lead in dramatic circumstances at Bournemouth too.

Had they won all three matches, Everton would be fourth in the Premier League, but instead they are 10th heading into the weekend fixtures.

"It is not the time to look at the table," Martinez said. "As disappointed as we are with the number of points we have dropped in the last few games, we have been very consistent and some of our attacking play has been exceptional.

"Now we need to develop a little bit of know-how and manage that attacking play. If we do that we will end up with the results we deserve."

Romelu Lukaku is aiming to score in a seventh successive Premier League game - and an eighth in all competitions - having had nine of his 15 goals this season set up by winger Gerard Deulofeu.

At the back, John Stones will be available despite suffering ankle and knee injuries at Norwich.

 

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Fixtures
Saturday, 04 April 2020
Sheffield United v Tottenham Hotspur, Bramall Lane 02:00
Arsenal v Norwich City, Emirates Stadium 02:00
Crystal Palace v Burnley, Selhurst Park 02:00
Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester United, The American Express Community Stadium 02:00
Watford v Southampton, Vicarage Road 02:00
Aston Villa v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Villa Park 02:00
AFC Bournemouth v Newcastle United, Vitality Stadium 02:00
Sunday, 05 April 2020
Manchester City v Liverpool, Etihad Stadium 02:00
West Ham United v Chelsea, London Stadium 02:00
Monday, 06 April 2020
Everton v Leicester City, Goodison Park 02:00
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