Ranieri soothes Leicester nerves ahead of final push
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.”