Stress-free Ranieri insists he will not tinker with Leicester miracle
Everton 2-3 Leicester City
As Christmas-time transformations go, it is right up there with Ebenezer Scrooge sending a turkey to Bob Cratchit. Leicester City, bottom of the Premier League last December 25, will sit top on Christmas Day this year thanks to a 3-2 victory at Everton on Saturday which led manager Claudio Ranieri to declare their season a miracle, whatever comes next.
Ranieri's unheralded group of players have given themselves a free hit at a top-four finish, if not the title, and his view is that his surprise leaders will not be playing under any of the pressure facing the sides around them.
"Why are we under pressure?" asked Ranieri. "Last season they had stress, not this year. I think they enjoy it and they must continue this way. If we do something special, it is a miracle. If it doesn't happen, what we are doing is a miracle just the same so [we should] enjoy it and play."
The closer Leicester get to Ranieri's oft-stated 40-point goal - they now have 38 - the more questions he will face about what comes next. "Now I want to achieve the other two points and afterward I'll speak calmly to my players to understand what they think about what we can achieve and I'll tell them what my idea is," added the Italian.
There will also be questions about whether Leicester should strengthen their squad next month, yet Ranieri sounded wary of tinkering with his tight-knit group, given that team spirit has been so significant in their remarkable blossoming.
"I get asked what will happen in the window… Nothing," he said.
"I have a very good team, and a very good team spirit. They are friendly with each other and they help each other. If you get one, two three players you might break the dressing room.
"I have managed top teams and there were a lot of great players. Maybe here there aren't those great players but there is a team with great spirit.
"And I believe there are great players inside them which nobody saw before."
It is a measure of Leicester's cohesion that they were good enough to earn a first win at Goodison in 30 years despite not being at their best. They had to grit it out before eventually prevailing through two Riyad Mahrez penalties and a Shinji Okazaki goal. "It is difficult for the other teams to play against us," noted Ranieri. "We are very concentrated. Tactically we try to do our best and when we get the ball we are very, very dangerous."
It was odd to hear Everton's manager, Roberto Martinez, speak of Leicester's greater know-how when Gareth Barry alone had more Premier League appearances than the visitors' starting XI combined. What Everton do miss is the experience of injured centre-back Phil Jagielka after yet another match in which defensive failings cost them dearly. Romelu Lukaku has now scored in seven straight league games, but Everton have won only five of 17 league matches this term - and not one against a top-half team. At this stage last year, they had only five wins too but Martinez could point to the distraction of the Europa League; now he has no such excuse.
"The three goals we conceded were very poor from our point of view but it is where we need to learn," said Martinez. How many more lessons they need is a moot point.