Ranieri soothes Le­ices­ter nerves ahead of fi­nal push

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The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL - By Ian Win­row at Sel­hurst Park

Le­ices­ter City’s as­cent to the top of the ta­ble may have prompted an ex­haus­tive search for a prece­dent, but the man­ner in which Clau­dio Ranieri’s side are main­tain­ing the most un­ex­pected ti­tle chal­lenge in decades is text­book.

Ranieri is do­ing an ex­cel­lent job in in­su­lat­ing his play­ers from the ex­pec­ta­tion now be­gin­ning to sur­round them, and while nerves may be be­gin­ning to show, Le­ices­ter are pro­gress­ing on the back of sin­gle­goal vic­to­ries, built on the foun­da­tion of clean sheets. Satur­day’s win was the fourth 1-0 vic­tory in five games, sug­gest­ing they are mov­ing to­wards the cham­pi­onship in a man­ner rem­i­nis­cent of Chelsea 12 months ago, al­beit in very dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

With ev­ery vic­tory, though, an­tic­i­pa­tion grows and while the man­ager may have claimed af­ter Satur­day’s vic­tory he would be happy no mat­ter what the out­come of this sea­son, his ad­mis­sion that the ti­tle was now Le­ices­ter’s to lose con­firmed the stakes had risen.

Cer­tainly, the re­ac­tion of those vis­it­ing sup­port­ers who re­mained in­side Sel­hurst Park long af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle sug­gested ex­pec­ta­tion had re­placed hope, while the right­back Danny Simp­son’s ad­mis­sion that a num­ber of his for­mer team­mates had ex­pressed their hope Le­ices­ter could fin­ish the job served to un­der­line the club’s sta­tus as the neu­tral’s choice to suc­ceed.

The groundswell of na­tional sup­port, though, will only add to the pres­sure and the test of nerve that lies ahead in the re­main­ing seven games. So far, though, Ranieri’s side have proved more than equal to that test and if anx­i­ety is be­gin­ning to creep in, the man­ager’s ap­proach, to­gether with an im­pres­sive de­fen­sive record, is en­sur­ing it does not take hold. Ranieri’s light touch, it seems, is pay­ing off. “I don’t know how he keeps us re­laxed, he just does,” said Simp­son. “We came in af­ter the game and we were all knack­ered, just sit­ting there. We had a few min­utes, lis­tened to the man­ager, and that’s it. We did the job and we go again.

“He doesn’t say much. He just says well done to get the win, tough place to come and we have got the clean sheet. He leaves the analysing of what we did wrong un­til dur­ing the week. He’ll go home and watch the game and pick out his points. He prob­a­bly can’t tell us this week be­cause most of the lads are away on in­ter­na­tional duty so it will be next week when we re­group as a squad.”

Ranieri’s view on why his side is re­main­ing so calm? “Be­cause we don’t speak about the ti­tle,” said the man­ager, who added to the sense of Group suc­cess: Riyad Mahrez (cen­tre) earns the plau­dits for his win­ner ease by re­veal­ing he would visit fam­ily in Rome dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional break.

“We speak about our per­for­mance, how we played the last match and how we must play to­day. When I saw my play­ers were very con­cen­trated be­fore the match, dur­ing the match, I am very calm. OK, we can win, we can lose, but our per­for­mance is good. And then when our per­for­mance is good, you can’t tell them any­thing be­cause if they make a mis­take, it is nor­mal.”

It helps that his play­ers are not mak­ing mis­takes, cer­tainly not in de­fence where an­other solid dis­play en­sured they were able to with­stand late pres­sure from a Palace side seek­ing a first win in 13 league games and pro­tect the 33rd­minute lead pro­vided by Riyad Mahrez. “We just love de­fend­ing,” added Simp­son. “We love clean sheets. I think we have just got that no non­sense thing. You can see us, we don’t mind boot­ing it into row Z. We don’t mess about, we will put it out for a throw-in and ev­ery­one re­groups and we just make it as dif­fi­cult as we can for the op­po­si­tion.”

The se­cond-half dis­play pro­vided a counter to a first half when Le­ices­ter’s at­tack­ing strengths were to the fore, prompted by an out­stand­ing dis­play by mid­fielder Danny Drinkwa­ter in front of Roy Hodg­son.

For Alan Pardew, the Palace man­ager, there was a grow­ing con­cern his side were be­ing drawn to­wards the bot­tom three. “The con­fi­dence is in the group. They’re a strong group. We’ve had wins in this run of league form, which had got us into the semi-fi­nal of the FA Cup, against Premier League op­po­si­tion. We came so close against Sun­der­land and Liverpool, they were cru­cial games that we didn’t get over the line. So, to­day we haven’t got any­thing. We go to the next one. That’s all we can do.”

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