Belfast Telegraph

Claudio Ranieri urges Leicester to maintain new-found defensive solidity

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri feels his team's recent improvement defensively holds the key to the champions climbing up the Premier League table.

The Foxes have kept four clean sheets in the last seven matches in all competitions, after preventing the opposition from scoring in just three of their first nine games of the season.

Ranieri's side have reserved their best form for the Champions League so far and are on the brink of qualification for the knockout stage after not conceding a goal in the competition.

Leicester are 11th in the Premier League table ahead of this weekend's round of fixtures and will hope to extend their unbeaten run to three games at home to West Brom on Sunday, which would be their longest league streak without defeat this campaign.

"We are getting better. But it's not only the defenders, all the team now is better with the fighting spirit of the squad," Ranieri said.

"We improve because it is not only the defenders, but everybody. It comes from the philosophy that when you lose the ball, you must get it back.

"N ow we want to stop conceding goals. This is the base to improve your place in the table. Don't concede and sooner or later you score and can win.

"For us it is important to keep going in this movement. We want to improve our table position so this match against West Brom is a match that we must win or try to win."

The last three meetings between Leicester and West Brom have seen 14 goals scored, with last season's corresponding fixture finishing 2-2 after Ranieri's side triumphed 3-2 at The Hawthorns.

The Italian is expecting another open encounter but would settle for a 1-0 win heading into the two-week international break.

" I expect the same match as last season - a very tough match," he said. "They defend and counter-attack very well. For me, Tony Pulis is a very good manager and we expect this kind of match. But maybe just one goal this time - for us."

This time last season Jamie Vardy was nine matches into his record-breaking run of scoring in 11 successive Premier League games, but 12 months on the striker has not found the net in 11 outings for Leicester. However, Ranieri is not concerned.

He said: "Jamie is a goalscorer and all the goalscorers in the world have good periods and bad periods. It's important for him to stay calm and sooner or later he will start to score again. He is still working hard for the team."

Leicester will be without goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel on Sunday after he fractured a bone in his hand against FC Copenhagen in midweek, so s ummer signing Ron-Robert Zieler will get a run in the team.

Striker Islam Slimani is expected to return to the squad after a thigh injury, while Ranieri hinted at changes to his starting line-up, with the likes of Andy King, Marc Albrighton, Danny Simpson and Shinji Okazaki vying for recalls along with Slimani.

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