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Atletico Madrid v Leicester: Foxes hunt for European success hit by Ranieri exit row


In the big time: Jamie Vardy leads Leicester’s training at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid yesterday. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

In the big time: Jamie Vardy leads Leicester’s training at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid yesterday. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Getty Images

In the big time: Jamie Vardy leads Leicester’s training at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid yesterday. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare reiterated his conscience is clear after former manager Claudio Ranieri hinted someone at the club betrayed him.

The Foxes chief continued to field questions about the Italian ahead of their Champions League quarter-final first leg at Atletico Madrid tonight - one of the biggest games in the club's history.

Ranieri finally spoke about his sacking on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football and absolved the players from any blame in his February dismissal but did say "maybe it could be somebody behind me".

Shakespeare has always been clear over his relationship with Ranieri - that there were no problems between the pair - and was again robust in his stance.

"Free speech is there for anyone, I don't have a problem with that. I'm quite comfortable in my own conscience," he said. "I was at the Under-23s, but I've seen clips of it (the interview). Claudio was in good humour and came across exactly as I know him.

"My stance, from my first interview, is I remember coming in and stating I spoke to Claudio the night he was relieved, he thanked me for my time, I thanked him.

"It was good to see him enjoying his football as he did. I thought he came across really well.

"My stance is still the same. We never had any falling out. I haven't seen it live, I have only seen quotes this morning and I think I've answered the question."

Leicester face Atletico as the only English club left in the competition having beaten Sevilla 3-2 on aggregate in the last 16, with Ranieri dismissed just 24 hours after their 2-1 first leg defeat.

But, despite being underdogs against the LaLiga side, Shakespeare insisted the Foxes are not about to roll over.

"In terms of life experiences you use them as you go along, you have new ones and this is one for us in the Champions League this season," he said.

"We have enjoyed it but make no mistake we're there to compete and not to make the numbers up. These players deserve this opportunity and we aim to keep that going."

Yet Shakespeare will warn the side against collecting bookings with Robert Huth, Wilfred Ndidi, Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy all a caution away from missing next week's second leg.

He said: "We are very well disciplined as a team, but yes, the players will be reminded about their responsibilities and not to get any stupid cards for things like encroaching.

"It is something we will talk about with the players."

Captain Wes Morgan travelled with the team but misses the game with a back problem which has sidelined him for the last four games.

Kasper Schmeichel will captain the side in Morgan's absence and believes their last-eight clash is what the squad have been waiting for.

He said: "When you look at the DNA of our team, the type of characters, the journeys everyone has been on, these are the kind of nights when you are playing League Two and watching Champions League on TV, you were working for.

"You can't help be inspired, the big games, the pressure games, is what you play for. If picked, then being captain is something you always dream of. It is a shame the circumstances, I would much rather have Wes ready to play.

"He has been to every game, home and away, being captain and leading the team. That's his way, he is a natural leader and I think it is great he is there with us at every game, leading with his influence."

Leicester lost 4-1 on aggregate to Atletico in the UEFA Cup first round in 1997 - after a 2-1 first leg defeat in Spain - and Schmeichel said the players know all about the history.

He added: "Leicester's European history isn't exactly extensive, but the games they have played we do know about. We do know about it and are hoping for a better outcome."

Former Leicester winger Steve Guppy has backed the Foxes to shock Atletico Madrid 20 years on from his own European heartbreak when he conceded a dubious penalty in the first leg.

"They can win, absolutely. Atletico are a very durable side, have a lot of experience in the Champions League, have good players but will be concerned about Leicester's strengths," he said.

"What they've achieved is simply phenomenal and they have raised the bar. To win the Premier League shocked the world.

"But I'm proud of the time I had at Leicester and proud of the team Martin (O'Neill) assembled. But this group are also capable of beating Madrid. It's their turn to see if they can do it."

Belfast Telegraph