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> Ranieri heart­ened by Le­ices­ter ‘spirit’

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

MAN­AGER Clau­dio Ranieri said he had seen re­as­sur­ing signs of the ‘old’ Le­ices­ter City af­ter his team’s 1-0 Cham­pi­ons League vic­tory over Porto at the King Power Sta­dium.

Le­ices­ter’s fairy­tale Pre­mier League ti­tle suc­cess was built on a miserly de­fence, but they have suf­fered some heavy losses al­ready this sea­son, most re­cently los­ing 4-1 at Manch­ester United.

They pro­duced a far more dogged dis­play against Porto yes­ter­day, with Is­lam Sli­mani’s 25th-minute header and a spir­ited rear­guard ac­tion help­ing to pro­cure a sec­ond suc­ces­sive Group G win.

“I’m happy when I see my play­ers play like tonight, with our spirit,” said Ranieri, whose side were play­ing their first home game in the Cham­pi­ons League in the club’s 132-year his­tory.

“I recog­nise this team when it plays to­gether as a team. If we play in this way, I’m not sur­prised. I was sur­prised when we con­ceded three goals on a cor­ner on Satur­day (at United). Very, very sur­prised.

“I spoke a lot about cor­ners, to main­tain the clean sheet. My play­ers were very, very con­cen­trated; strong, at­ten­tive in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. It was good for ev­ery­body af­ter the bad de­feat in Manch­ester.

“We showed very good char­ac­ter, at­ti­tude and per­son­al­ity. Par­tic­u­larly in the last 10 min­utes when Porto tried to equalise. We were very calm, very at­ten­tive and closed all the spaces.”

Le­ices­ter’s win left them two points clear of FC Copen­hagen at the Group G sum­mit ahead of the two sides’ meet­ing at the King Power on Oct 18.

But, ever cautious, Ranieri said it was far too early to start think­ing about the last 16.

“I’m wait­ing. I’m San Tom­maso (Saint Thomas): if I touch, I be­lieve,” said the Ital­ian.

“Now we have to con­tinue to stay calm. Copen­hagen won 4-0 (against Club Brugge), are very well or­gan­ised, drew 1-1 in Porto. It is very im­por­tant for us now to clean our minds and go back in the Pre­mier League.”

Sli­mani’s goal means the for­mer Sport­ing Lis­bon striker has now scored seven goals in his seven ca­reer ap­pear­ances against Porto.

He got his head to an in-swing­ing cross from Al­ge­ria team-mate Riyad Mahrez, who had been picked out by a sweep­ing cross­field pass from Marc Al­brighton.

Porto’s de­feat ex­tended their run of games without vic­tory in Eng­land to 17 and, more dam­ag­ingly, left them five points be­low Le­ices­ter and three points be­low Copen­hagen in third place.

The two-time Euro­pean cham­pi­ons visit Club Brugge in their next game and man­ager Nuno Espir­ito Santo said his side can­not af­ford an­other mis­step if they are to avoid a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive group-stage exit.

“Copen­hagen won (against Club Brugge), so we have no mar­gin for er­ror,” said the for­mer Porto goal­keeper.

“We have to win the next match in Bruges. Noth­ing can be achieved without a win.”

Af­ter fail­ing to test Le­ices­ter goal­keeper Kasper Sch­me­ichel in the first half, Porto im­proved in the sec­ond and came close to snatch­ing a point when sub­sti­tute Je­sus Corona hit the post with a late vol­ley.

“The sec­ond half was to­tally dif­fer­ent. We came out strong,” said Nuno.

“This is the way we want to play. We want to con­trol the game, with pos­ses­sion high up the pitch. Our pos­ses­sion was good, (but) not enough to pro­duce a goal, so we have to be much more ef­fi­cient.

“But it makes me op­ti­mistic that in the fu­ture, this 20 min­utes can be dur­ing 90 min­utes. This is the chal­lenge for us.”

Ranieri balked at the news that he has been in­cluded among the can­di­dates to suc­ceed Sam Al­lardyce as Eng­land man­ager by Bri­tish book­mak­ers.

Le­ices­ter were given odds of 5,0001 to win last sea­son’s Pre­mier League ti­tle, prompt­ing the Ital­ian to re­spond: “The book­mak­ers? You know I have not a good re­la­tion­ship with the book­mak­ers!” – AFP


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