Fes­tive re­unions

Ranieri re­turns to Stam­ford Bridge to start dif­fi­cult De­cem­ber

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Pete Reilly

Ful­ham be­came the first Pre­mier League team to blink when they sacked man­ager Slav­isa Jokanovic be­fore the in­ter­na­tional break. The man they turned to was his for­mer man­ager as a player, Clau­dio Ranieri, and it’s so far, so good for the Ital­ian.

The man who brought An­drea Bo­celli to sing to the King Power Sta­dium crowd af­ter lead­ing Le­ices­ter to the most un­likely of Pre­mier League crowns has al­ready got a tune out of his new team, beat­ing list­less Southamp­ton in his first game in charge.

There was much to be pos­i­tive about in that 3-2 vic­tory. The Cot­tagers came from be­hind and once they were pegged back af­ter tak­ing the lead, they dug deep and found a win­ner. Bet­ter still, Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic was back among the goals for the first time since Septem­ber, notch­ing a brace, and An­dre Schur­rle also net­ted to con­tinue his fine scor­ing run.

For­got­ten man

The Ger­man, like his new man­ager, will find him­self at for­mer club Chelsea this week­end when Ful­ham make the short­est of jour­neys to Stam­ford Bridge for the West Lon­don derby. Ranieri spent four years at the club in a pe­riod that many of their fans will ei­ther have for­got­ten or were not there for, com­ing as it did at the start of the Abramovich era, the last man­ager be­fore Jose Mour­inho ar­rived and changed the club into se­rial cham­pi­ons and per­ma­nent fix­tures in the Cham­pi­ons League.

It was at Chelsea that Ranieri also signed Jokanovic as a player and in­tro­duced him to English foot­ball. There is an­other Ital­ian in the home dugout at Stam­ford Bridge now. Mauri­cio Sarri has needed no time at all to ad­just to English foot­ball and im­parted his phi­los­o­phy from Napoli on his new charges with im­me­di­ate ef­fect. They suf­fered their first loss of the sea­son last week­end against Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur at Wem­b­ley and they will want to get back to win­ning ways in the lo­cal derby.

Past play­ers

Some of the play­ers look­ing to get one over on Ranieri’s side are his for­mer charges. N’Golo Kante won the Pre­mier League with the Ital­ian be­fore sign­ing for Chelsea, where he won an­other ti­tle, and has since gone on to be­come a World Cup win­ner. He’s one of the first names on Sarri’s teamsheet, even if he de­ploys him in a dif­fer­ent role to Ranieri and pre­vi­ous man­ager (and an­other Ital­ian) An­to­nio Conte.

Danny Drinkwa­ter might not be as lucky, the ex-Man­ches­ter United trainee be­came an Eng­land in­ter­na­tional dur­ing his time at Le­ices­ter with Ranieri but has found him­self on the fringes of Sarri’s side and has not played since the Com­mu­nity Shield in Au­gust.

Ranieri has al­ready made it clear that he would be happy for his re­union with Drinkwa­ter to last longer than Sun­day’s meet­ing and is will­ing to take the player on loan in the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow.

The re­unions are com­ing thick and fast for Ranieri. Next up af­ter Chelsea is Le­ices­ter City in what is sure to be an emo­tional re­union for the Ital­ian and the team that he led to the most un­ex­pected of Pre­mier League ti­tle wins in the 2015-16 sea­son. The city of Le­ices­ter and its foot­ball club are still in mourn­ing for the re­cent death of their chair­man Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha and four oth­ers in a he­li­copter crash at the King Power Sta­dium af­ter their draw with West Ham United in late Oc­to­ber.

Emo­tional re­union

It was Sri­vad­dhanaprabha and his son Aiyawatt, the club’s new chair­man, that brought in Ranieri to re­place Nigel Pear­son in the sum­mer of 2015 and less than 12 months later, they were the cham­pi­ons of Eng­land for the first time in their 132-year his­tory. Many of the play­ers that the Ital­ian turned from rel­e­ga­tion fa­vorites to 5000-to-1 Pre­mier League win­ners are still at the club and will be in Claude Puel’s start­ing 11 when they line up at Craven Cot­tage on Wed­nes­day.

Look­ing up

Ful­ham then travel north for Ranieri’s first game out­side of West Lon­don. They meet Man­ches­ter United where the Ital­ian will face the man who re­placed him as Chelsea boss, Mour­inho. United are strug­gling for form but have pro­gressed through to the knock­out stages of the Cham­pi­ons League af­ter yet an­other late goal res­cued them against Swiss side Young Boys.

Even an out-of-sorts Man­ches­ter United is a tough task and Ful­ham have strug­gled on the road so far this sea­son. Worse than that is the fes­tive pe­riod fol­lows where English foot­ball’s hec­tic sched­ule rears its ugli­est head. Ranieri has lit­tle time to as­sess the prob­lems that sti­fled Jokanovic’s side as they ad­just to the Pre­mier League fol­low­ing pro­mo­tion from the Cham­pi­onship via the play­offs.

He’s had a solid start in beat­ing the Saints but the new man at Craven Cot­tage will have to be in­dus­tri­ous to en­sure he con­tin­ues in the same vein. A fir­ing Mitro­vic is a start for a team that has strug­gled for goals, find­ing the right po­si­tion for the hugely tal­ented Ryan Sesseg­non is an­other thing that needs to be fixed quickly.

It is goal dif­fer­ence that is keep­ing Ful­ham at the foot of the ta­ble, even with last week’s vi­tal three points, but they are also in a po­si­tion where a cou­ple of wins will take them well clear of the drop zone. The ques­tion is: Can even one of the game’s great­est op­ti­mists see them ac­cru­ing those points with this tough run of games?

If any­one can ring in the New Year with Ful­ham in ful­some fes­tive cheer then it is Ranieri. Dilly ding, dilly dong.

Ful­ham man­ager Clau­dio Ranieri gives his team in­struc­tions dur­ing the Pre­mier League match against Southamp­ton at Craven Cot­tage on Novem­ber 24 in Lon­don, Eng­land.

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