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Why talk of Leicester City sacking Claudio Ranieri is nonsense

Rob Meech

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Claudio Ranieri Leicester City

Even nine months on, Leicester City‘s Premier League triumph still seems scarcely believable. Defying mammoth odds of 5000/1, the Foxes sent shockwaves through world football by pulling off arguably the greatest upset in sporting history. From relegation favourites at the start of the campaign, Claudio Ranieri’s heroes embarked upon a journey that has given each of them immortal status. For masterminding their success, Ranieri, whose appointment was largely derided, won the inaugural Best FIFA Football Coach award.

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But the honeymoon is well and truly over. Rewind 12 months and Leicester were top of the table after thrashing Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. It was the moment they went from imposters to genuine challengers. Now, however, they are down in 16th position, one point above the drop-zone. The statistics make for alarming reading. Compared with this stage last season, Leicester have scored 20 fewer goals and conceded 15 more. As a result, they have 29 fewer points. Relegation is becoming an increasingly likely scenario. They have suffered four successive defeats and, such is the magnitude of their problem that they haven’t even scored a league goal in 2017.

Few expected Leicester to mount a strong title defence, but the speed at which their empire has crumbled has shocked everyone. So what has gone so spectacularly wrong? The ramifications of N’Golo Kante’s departure cannot be overstated. Leicester recouped £32 million from Chelsea for his sale, a figure that now seems derisory. The diminutive Frenchman was the heartbeat of the side and performed the role of two players, shielding the defence with his boundless energy and expert tackling while often acting as source of attacking moves.

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Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, an unstoppable partnership last season, are pale imitations of their former selves. Kante’s absence has been keenly felt here. Vardy, who scored 24 Premier League goals last season before snubbing a potential switch to Arsenal, hasn’t found the net since his hat-trick against Manchester City on December 10, while Mahrez looks uninterested despite having signed a new contract last summer. Another factor is the clampdown on shirt-pulling in the penalty area. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth used their physicality to their advantage last season, but this new directive has neutralised them.

Ranieri has spent more than £70 million in the transfer market since that memorable day at the King Power Stadium when he lifted the Premier League trophy, but it has not been enough to arrest their slide. This week, amid increasing speculation in the media about his future, the Italian received a ‘dreaded’ vote of confidence from the club’s owners. Often it is the precursor to the sack, but this time his very public backing appears to be genuine. And that is only right.

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Any suggestion that Ranieri’s position might be in jeopardy is frankly laughable. For what he has accomplished, he deserves the freedom of the city. Remember, despite their problems domestically, Ranieri has managed to guide little old Leicester to the knockout stages of the Champions League. This was the priority at the start of the campaign and it has provided supporters with another series of treasured moments. Leicester’s season in the sun will never be forgotten. Even if relegation does transpire, Ranieri’s legacy is assured – and so should be his job.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

Leicester City

West Ham and Leicester should pounce for Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri

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One player certain to be on the move this summer is Stoke City midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who will put an end to an unhappy spell at the bet365 Stadium, but could still stay in the Premier League to West Ham or Leicester.

Sky Bet offer odds as low as 1/10 that Shaqiri will depart this summer, with West Ham the leading Premier League club in the betting at 8/1 and Leicester City not far behind at 10/1.

That’s not to say that a stay in England is certain, particularly given that the two Milan clubs are favourites with Inter at 6/1 and AC Milan at 13/2, with Lyon also in the running at 8/1 level with the Hammers.

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The winger has not hidden his disappointment with the team’s struggles this season and the Potters now face an uphill battle if they are to avoid relegation from the top flight.

The Swiss international will not entertain the idea of playing second tier football after a decorated career has previously seen him play for the likes of Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

Having failed to live up to expectations since Mark Hughes brought him to England in 2015, he may be keen to make the move abroad, but with finances likely to be more attractive to remain in the Premier League he may not rule out such a move.

Leicester could be forced to sign a replacement for Riyahd Mahrez whilst West Ham will also be looking for options out wide when Joao Mario’s loan spell comes to an end.

His pace, power and strength could catch the eye of both sides but they will have their work cut out to convince him to remain in England this summer.

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Tottenham would be the perfect move for Leicester star Demarai Gray

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Having failed in their bid to bring Demarai Gray to Wembley for the 2017/18 season, Tottenham could be reigniting the interest in the hope of signing the young winger ahead of their move to New White Hart Lane.

Reports originating from ESPN say that Spurs are looking to sign the England under 21 captain after Leicester City refused to do business for the former Birmingham man in the past.

Gray’s form has not been as convincing as some may have hoped for this season, with just four goals and three assists from 39 appearances in all competitions, but that has not put Daniel Levy and company off.

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Demarai Gray has found his game time limited of late, despite only missing three Premier League games to date this season. Since the turn of the year, the winger has made only four starts for the Foxes and may relish an opportunity to be trusted more regularly, particularly at a club like Tottenham.

Working under Mauricio Pochettino would undoubtedly be a huge draw given his reputation for developing young players. That is believed to be key to his interest in Gray, who could follow in the footsteps of the likes of Eric Dier and Dele Alli in joining the club and going on to become regulars in the Premier League and for England.

Leicester will not be keen to part ways with one of their most exciting young talents and will command a huge price, which may put Levy off, but there are few English players in his age range with such potential and if anyone could justify such a fee, it may well be Gray.

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17 goals in 32 games: Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy better now than title-winning season

The Englishman’s fine form has gone somewhat under the radar this season.

Jake Jackman

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Jamie Vardy was a late developer, but he has emerged as one of the best strikers in the Premier League since Leicester City were promoted to the division.

His best season came when the Foxes sprung a surprise to win the league title during the 2015/16 campaign.

It would have been easy for the striker to trail off after that incredible year, but he has continued to work hard and is going into this summer’s World Cup as England’s form striker.

Considering Leicester are finishing the season with a stutter, the performances and consistency of Vardy have gone under the radar, but he deserves a lot of credit for his excellent goal-scoring campaign.

In 32 Premier League matches, he has scored 17 goals at a rate of one every 165.2 minutes. It is impressive for any striker to score as regularly as that and the 31-year-old will feel that he is at the peak of his powers.

Leicester have lost three of their last four matches and that has meant that the focus hasn’t been on the team. However, Vardy continues to deliver the goods in the final third, having scored in each of the Foxes’ last five matches.

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The England international currently has the record for scoring in the most consecutive Premier League matches scored. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he has managed to hit another hot streak.

It can even be argued that Vardy has improved since Leicester’s league-winning season, especially when it comes to the mental side of the game.

He has become a more intelligent player and that is evident through his positioning and anticipation in the final third.

The 31-year-old gets a lot of chances from being in the right place in the right time, whereas during the 2015-16 campaign, the majority of his goals were carbon copies of each other. There would be a long ball over the top and his pace would give him the chance. Now, he is a much more complete player.

In addition to improving the mental side of his game, Vardy has become a more clinical finisher as shown by his sharp increase in chance conversion.

During the incredible title-winning season, the striker had a chance conversion rate of 20.9%. This campaign, it stands at a very respectable 28.8%. This is due to the striker gaining more experience and knowing how to take the chances that come his way.

Michael Owen once said that the Leicester City man wasn’t a natural finisher. That is no longer the case.

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The stats also show a style-shift in Vardy, as he averages only 0.39 ball recoveries per ninety minutes, as opposed to the impressive 1.47 that he managed during the excellent season of two years ago.

This suggests that the striker realises that his body can no longer go as it once could and he is decreasing his overall workload due to this. As a result, he can focus on taking up dangerous positions and scoring goals.

Although Vardy is not likely to surpass his 2015/16 total of 24 goals, it can be argued that this season is just as impressive. He is playing in a mid-table side and has shown an improvement in his finishing, which was already at a high level during the title-winning campaign.

The Foxes front-man knows that he won’t get as many chances to score as he did back then, but he is making sure that he makes the most of them.

England will favour Harry Kane this summer in Russia, but the Leicester City forward will have a big role to play for the Three Lions. His form this season shouldn’t be ignored.

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