Ranieri a breath of fresh air at Leicester who can write their own script
Leicester City are now 7/4 favourites with Coral for a top 10 finish. Rewind as far back as the beginning of April, and they were rooted to the bottom of the Premier League with nine games to go.
Credit has to go to previous boss Nigel Pearson, who found a way of getting the best out of his squad that was low on confidence at the time. A crucial 2-1 win at home to West Ham United, though, set in motion a four-game winning streak, which took them to fourth from bottom at the end of April by one point.
However, it didn’t stop there. Clearly, Pearson’s somewhat controversial tactics, if you can call them that, whether deliberate or otherwise, had a positive effect.
Taking attention away from his players’ poor run of form, Pearson became somewhat of a pantomime villain in the media, with his peculiar outspoken outbursts putting the spotlight on him and allowing his players to concentrate on getting results.
Whatever his motive, this clearly had a positive effect. Although they lost to champions Chelsea, the Foxes then went on to record comprehensive home victories over Newcastle United and Southampton, before an away stalemate against Sunderland, setting them up with a flourishing finish in their last game of the season; a 5-1 victory over QPR.
Ending the campaign four places above the relegation zone is a tribute to Pearson’s methods in the way he engendered team spirit, though ultimately the board decided they could not risk subjecting the East Midlands outfit to this type of negative press.
Many eyebrows were raised though with the appointment of his successor. Claudio Ranieri was seen as anything but a safe bet. Having inherited the nickname of ‘Tinkerman’ during his last spell in the Premier League with Chelsea for his constant tinkering of his teams, there was the suggestion that Leicester hadn’t really upgraded.
Hindsight is a funny thing. The naysayers could not have been more wrong and aptly the Italian has been more silver Fox so far this term, applying cunning to each match rather than indecision.
His activity in the transfer market as well is a clear indicator of his many contacts across Europe and his sway with top players; proven by his recruitment of all-action midfielder Gokhan Inler, who is already making last term’s player of the season Esteban Cambiasso seem like a distant memory.
Ranieri has an ability to also get the best out of players, as demonstrated by the remarkable rise of Riyad Mahrez, who at €450k is arguably one of the bargains of the Premier League in recent years, having signed from French outfit Le Havre last summer.
The Algeria international has already equalled his goal tally for last season, with four strikes, though, perhaps more impressive is his impact for the team. All of a sudden, Mahrez is their go-to man, the game-changer.
Ranieri clearly put his arm around him during pre-season and the result has been nothing short of exceptional. The same could be said for former Aston Villa player Marc Albrighton on the other wing.
Nothing more than an average player at best last season, he now appears to be a world beater. While some might say, he’s operating in the shadow of Mahrez, the 25-year-old is playing with confidence and has contributed three assists so far.
Going back to basics was evidently Ranieri’s plan in the summer. The use of genuine wide players and an orthodox box-to-box player; another in midfield who can be relied upon to distribute, defend and start attacks in Manchester United trainee Danny Drinkwater outlines a very balanced and conventional midfield four.
The swift nature of Nathan Dyer’s loan move from Swansea on deadline day outlines the efficiency and organisation of the board to act.
A helicopter had already been sent to the Liberty Stadium two hours before Leicester made their bid, though the quality of such a signing highlights not only the club’s ambition, but also how they have become such a magnet.
Without a doubt, Ranieri has brought in Italian influence of high stamina levels and defensive maturity, though communication at the back, compared to much of last season is there for all to see, and in this the experience of Robert Huth gives them an edge.
A variety of options in attack highlights a couple of Plan Bs for the Foxes. In Andrej Kramaric and Shinji Okazaki, they have two accomplished and savvy finishers, with the latter also an experienced campaigner who knows how to play against defenders. Jamie Vardy’s searing speed, meanwhile, and Leonardo Ulloa’s aerial ability lends an effective and alternative ‘little and large’ combination up front to wreak havoc.
Currently second in the Premier League, it is highly unlikely the Foxes will keep this up; however, Ranieri is on evidence so far, the man to take them forward and they have the luxury of being able to spend in January to add more quality.