Champions League: Leicester again seek European antidote for domestic woes

Claudio Ranieri urges players to recapture togetherness that made them champions

For Leicester City the Champions League anthem seems to have the effect of smelling salts. Two thrashings in the Premier League have been followed by victories in Europe's premier club competition and, in the wake of the drubbing at Chelsea on Saturday, the challenge for Claudio Ranieri's players is to clear their heads again and repeat the trick for a third time.

FC Copenhagen are Leicester's opponents at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday in a game that cannot come quickly enough for the English champions on the back of another chastening defeat. They have lost all four Premier League fixtures on the road this season, conceding 13 goals in the process.

"We've had a chat, things have been said and resolved, and we move on," goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said. "It's a long old season. We've had some bad performances away from home. We started badly in the first half in games and we haven't been able to recover. But we're definitely confident that we're going to turn this around."


Ranieri, for his part, seems relaxed. The Italian made the point, with a smile, that Leicester’s defensive record at the same stage last season was actually worse – they had conceded 15 goals in eight matches, compared with 14 now – and brushed off a question about whether the season could turn into a relegation battle. He also reminded everyone that he saw this domestic blip coming.


“At the beginning of the season I said it’s normal when the team loses something when you play in Europe for the first time,” Ranieri said. “They [the players] are human, they are not machines.”

At the same time, Ranieri expects better in some areas. He stressed the importance of showing greater concentration when defending set pieces – Diego Costa’s goal in Chelsea’s 3-0 win was the fifth shipped from a corner this term. The manager would also like to see a bit more of the Leicester of last season, their sense of togetherness as much as anything else.

“I think my players made the world crazy with what happened last season. They showed fantastic character and spirit; it was a fairytale,” Ranieri said.

“I’d like them to continue to show this. The result is not important for me. I want them to show their strength, their love for football, the team, for Leicester – and for this reason I want more.”

Leicester's problems are not confined to defence. They have averaged only a goal a game in the league and Jamie Vardy has now gone seven matches without scoring, prompting harsh criticism from Alan Shearer, who accused him of "sulking" and a "lack of effort".


Quick to leap to Vardy’s defence, Ranieri blamed his own tactics for the striker’s approach against Chelsea.

"Shearer was a fantastic goalscorer, but he knows there are months when you can and can't score," Ranieri said. "If he is speaking about the Chelsea match, I spoke with Jamie and said stay with David Luiz, don't run and don't press.

“For me, it was important to have a point of reference for my players to try to counter-attack and leave him against David Luiz. That’s what happened; it’s not his fault, it’s my fault maybe. Jamie for us is very important. I am very confident in him. For me, it’s important he stays calm and keeps going, and sooner or later he will score a goal.”

Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani are set to return against Copenhagen after being rested at Chelsea, a decision that Ranieri defended on the basis that the Champions League "in this moment is the priority" as Leicester go in search of the win that would put them within touching distance of the knockout stages.

Copenhagen will be no pushovers. Stale Solbakken, Copenhagen's manager, has presided over a 23-match unbeaten run. The Danish champions are top of their domestic league and sit second in Group G after drawing 1-1 at Porto and thumping Club Brugge 4-0.

Leicester, however, have already demonstrated this competition is to their liking. The bigger question surrounds their league form.

“I don’t think it’s a time to worry or panic at all,” Schmeichel said. “You look at the last few seasons, we haven’t been the quickest of starters. We come good during the middle of the season and we become really good towards the end. At the moment we’re working hard on a few things and it will come, I’m sure.

Guardian Service