Puel in need of more sur­prises to halt un­rest

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Football - At the King Power Sta­dium

Claude Puel is fac­ing yet an­other cru­cial pe­riod in his trou­bled reign at Le­ices­ter City, but is back­ing his play­ers to defy the book­mak­ers.

Puel’s po­si­tion is un­der pres­sure again and he has risked fur­ther alien­at­ing sup­port­ers by in­sist­ing the boos at the fi­nal whis­tle of Satur­day’s de­feat by Southamp­ton were “not my con­cern”.

The next four games will cer­tainly be a con­cern to Le­ices­ter, as they pre­pare to face Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers, Liver­pool, Manch­ester United and Tot­ten­ham in a test­ing se­quence of fix­tures.

It prom­ises to be a piv­otal four weeks for the French­man, as he bat­tles grow­ing un­rest be­hind the scenes and crit­i­cism over his style of play from sup­port­ers.

Yet Le­ices­ter have al­ready shown a propen­sity for the un­pre­dictable, after ef­fec­tively sav­ing Puel’s job with wins over Chelsea, Manch­ester City and Ever­ton dur­ing the fes­tive pe­riod.

“I think peo­ple can­not make a lot of bets on us be­cause it’s al­ways a sur­prise, and I hope we will con­tinue the sur­prises,” said Puel.

“We have strong teams for the next games and we will see if we can main­tain the sur­prise.”

After los­ing to Cardiff, this was Le­ices­ter’s sec­ond suc­ces­sive de­feat at home against a rel­e­ga­tion strug­gler and there was a de­press­ing in­evitabil­ity about it all for the home fans. They are grow­ing tired of Puel’s side fail­ing to break down teams who put men be­hind the ball and, de­spite Southamp­ton be­ing re­duced to 10 men with the dis­missal of Yan Valery, a come­back never looked likely.

There is also grow­ing con­cern over the per­for­mances of Jamie Vardy, whose qual­i­ties as a cen­tre­for­ward are be­ing nul­li­fied by Puel’s game plan at home.

Harry Maguire, the Eng­land de­fender, has ad­mit­ted Le­ices­ter’s poor form at the King Power Sta­dium is a huge dis­ap­point­ment.

“Be­fore the Southamp­ton game, we were sev­enth in the ta­ble and if we fin­ish there at the end of the sea­son it is a great sea­son. It is what we aim for and we have achieved what we have aimed for,” he said.

“The frus­tra­tion comes from our per­for­mances at home. At home against the bot­tom eight we haven’t been good enough. We hold our hands up there.”

This was one of Maguire’s poor­est per­for­mances, but he was not alone. James Mad­di­son is strug­gling to re­dis­cover his prom­ise from ear­lier in the sea­son, while even Ben Chilwell – usu­ally a stand­out player – was un­der par.

Maguire said: “Wolves away will be tough and then there are three oth­ers after that. Hope­fully we can rise to the oc­ca­sion and get some more points on the board and set us up for an ex­cit­ing end to the sea­son.”

Southamp­ton are now up to 16th after this de­served win and op­ti­mism con­tin­ues to build. James Ward-prowse gave them the lead from the penalty spot then Shane Long’s first goal since April came after Valery had been dis­missed for a sec­ond book­able of­fence.

Le­ices­ter did re­spond through Wil­fred Ndidi’s close-range fin­ish but Southamp­ton held on to move out of the rel­e­ga­tion zone.

Ward-prowse be­lieves the im­pact made by man­ager Ralph Hasen­huttl has been re­mark­able. “We have a clear struc­ture and a plan of what to do with and with­out the ball,” he said.

“You can see in the per­for­mances and games we’ve had, there’s an idea and a phi­los­o­phy, and that’s grown. We’ve had good and bad re­sults but the progress is there to be seen and that’s the way the club needs to be go­ing.” Text­book “kids these days” growl­ing from Graeme Souness (below) on the tele­vi­sion cov­er­age at Wem­b­ley, when the Sky pre­sen­ter asked him a lead­ing ques­tion about what he thought of the pitch con­di­tion. “That?!” thun­dered Souey. “It’s a fab­u­lous pitch to play on.” Stan­dard.

De­fi­ant: Claude Puel said fans’ boos at the fi­nal whis­tle were ‘not my con­cern’

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