Belfast Telegraph

Taggart hoping Mahrez can give Leicester some more bite

By Graham Luney

Leicester City legend Gerry Taggart is like the rest of us - scratching his head at the Foxes' disastrous Premier League title defence.

If last season's Premier League story was one of the greatest football stories ever written this season has been one of its worst nightmares.

City boss Claudio Ranieri believes he can lead Leicester to calmer waters as the "sharks" begin to circle but his side are just one point above the drop zone after Sunday's 3-0 home defeat to Manchester United.

Former Northern Ireland international Taggart, who turned out 142 times for the Midlands outfit, has suggested this season that the Foxes were collapsing under the weight of expectation.

"It's simple really, players are dealing with expectation that they simply aren't used to," said the 46-year-old.

"Defending your title is difficult for any team, not just Leicester. The numbers of quality players coming in to the league has levelled out the competition. More teams, such as Watford and Everton, are taking points off the bigger teams more regularly."

But Taggart said the club's poor form was bound to affect the dyanmic of the group, saying: "It's impossible for it to be sweetness and light, there's going to be conflict in the dressing room."

Riyad Mahrez, who starred last season, has failed to impress for the Foxes this term and Taggart has underlined the importance of continuing attempts to ignite the Algerian's form.

Mahrez was crowned PFA Player of the Year after scoring 17 times and producing 11 assists in 2015-16, but this campaign he has only found the net by converting three penalties, while laying on just two goals.

"We have seen a glimpse of his pure class in the first FA Cup game against Derby," said former Foxes defender Taggart. "He wasn't suffering tiredness from the Africa Cup of Nations. He came on and showed his class and we have been lacking that in the league. When players go away for the Africa Cup of Nations you are hoping and praying that teams go out early and Mahrez has come and turned it on. He was looking for passes and threading balls through and the team has lacked that."

Under-pressure Ranieri has received a vote of confidence from the club's Thai owners, who pledged their "unwavering support" for the Italian.

And last night's FA Cup win over Derby County brought some much needed cheer.

Republic of Ireland boss and former Leicester chief Martin O'Neill said: "It is a really big win - I'm delighted they've done it. I think there has been a lot of doom and gloom around the place and that will lift it."

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