Belfast Telegraph

Claudio Ranieri expects mind games but isn't willing to engage

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri expects rival clubs to step up the mind games during the Barclays Premier League run-in as they would regard it as a disaster to be beaten to the title by the Foxes.

Last weekend's 3-1 away win over Manchester City has put Ranieri's side five points clear at the top with 13 matches to go, but they face another trip to face a title rival on Sunday when they play at Arsenal.

Ranieri has repeatedly said his side are able to play without pressure because they are hugely exceeding expectations, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is among those trying to change that.

In his pre-match media conference, the Frenchman claimed that Leicester's lack of European football could actually hamper, not help, as it leaves the players more time to think about the position they are in and feel the pressure of the chasing pack.

But Ranieri sounded unconcerned.

" We don't have the pressure, we did our job. Our goal is okay, anything more which comes is fantastic," the Italian said.

"I know slowly, slowly somebody will want to put pressure on us. They say, 'Okay, Leicester - sooner or later - will go down'.

"Now, some people are thinking, 'Maybe Leicester can win, it's important to put pressure on them, to say something because we spent a lot of money, if we don't win it's a disaster'."

Leicester's win at the Etihad Stadium last weekend saw them prevail against an expensively-assembled side which cost many multiples of the money spent on the Foxes squad.

Although Arsenal have had a relatively frugal season, signing only Petr Cech last summer and Mohamed Elneny in January, they are expected to field a team including the likes of £42.5million midfielder Mesut Ozil and £35million forward Alexis Sanchez on Sunday.

Figures like those leave Ranieri confident all the pressure remains on the teams immediately behind his trying to close the gap.

"We work so hard to achieve this level, we want to stay there, it's no pressure for us," he said.

"We want to fight face to-face-with strength and respect. The pressure is about the other teams.

"We have a pressure for our little gap, Arsenal spend a lot of money, they have pressure.

"Tell me why I must feel the pressure? Why are so many journalists here? It's a great story, so why the pressure, let's enjoy it."

January signing Daniel Amartey will not feature as he continues to gain fitness following his move from Copenhagen, while Jeff Schlupp (hamstring) and Matty James (knee) are out.

At the start of the season, bookmakers made Ranieri one of the favourites to get the sack early in the Premier League season, but now his side are odds-on to be lifting the trophy come May.

"I hope the bookmakers, this time, are right but I am very pragmatic," the 64-year-old said.

"Give me points and not words. We want to continue to dream - nobody wake us up, please."


From Belfast Telegraph