Revenant Ranieri can put Chelsea past to rest by beating Mourinho
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | December 13, 2015
When Claudio Ranieri was sacked as manager of the Greece national team some 13 months ago, who would’ve thought he’d bounce back with a Premier League return? To have Leicester City top of the table before facing former club Chelsea beggars belief.
It has been quite some journey for this energetic Italian coach since Blues owner Roman Abramovich ditched Ranieri in favour of Jose Mourinho during the summer of 2004. Daggers were drawn then, and the rivalry between them has dogged the former ever since.
The Foxes, 4/1 with Coral for a top four finish, is the eighth job Ranieri has readily taken on since his Stamford Bridge sacking. A return to Valencia in the wake of his west London departure didn’t work out, while an even shorter stint at Parma was much more encouraging as he kept them up in 2006/07.
Tinkerman a journeyman?
Ranieri’s willing work then resulted in Serie A elite outfits Juventus, Roma and Inter Milan all respectively handing him the reins. Although, his part in rebuilding the Turin titans after the disgrace of relegation due to that 2006 match-fixing scandal has largely gone uncredited, he also found the ghost of Mourinho haunting him while with the Giallorossi and Nerazzurri.
Before joining Inter as one of a string of successors to ‘the Special One’, Ranieri re-established Juve and Roma as Scudetto challengers, but was put firmly in the shade by Mourinho’s magic after he guided the blue half of Milan to a historic treble in 2010. Insults were thrown in Italy.
Doing much the same for Monaco as he did for the Old Lady, Ranieri returned the Principality club to Ligue 1 and mounted a credible title challenge during 2013/14, but was sacked when they finished second to PSG. That disastrous subsequent steering of the Pirate Ship, as Greece are nicknamed, suggested he was finished in coaching.
Not a bit of it. Ranieri is proving the doubters wrong, dispelling myths of those with longer memories that christened him ‘Tinkerman’ in the British tabloids around 15 years ago. His Leicester vintage is not one blended by rotation, but an old-school, fearless 4-4-2 that takes on all-comers.
So clean sheets may be something of a novelty, though the Foxes have kept two in their last three Premier League outings, yet they held a lead against Arsenal and took a point off Manchester United at the King Power Stadium.
Ranieri’s Leicester almost don’t know how to lose with a solitary defeat from 18 games in charge, 11 victories and six very entertaining draws. How this contrasts with Mourinho’s Chelsea, who started the weekend just two points above the bottom three.
What is behind this Foxes flight of fancy? And more to the point, how has Ranieri made it a reality with a very similar squad to the one that propped up the Premier League under predecessor Nigel Pearson as recently as April?
Foxes playing above themselves
Everyone expected the loss of deep-lying midfielder Esteban Cambiasso – last term’s player of the season – to be keenly felt by Leicester. Ranieri’s raid on Caen to pluck N’Golo Kante from Ligue 1 mid-table obscurity has not only plugged this gap, but enhanced the engine room.
In attack, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy account for 75 per cent of the Foxes’ 32 Premier League goals from the first 15 games. The system allows this key duo to express themselves with an open approach freeing both from defensive responsibilities.
With forward threats enjoying the feeling of complete confidence coursing through their veins, Ranieri is more than capable of taking on spectre Mourinho, who has looked a shadow of his former self in the Stamford Bridge struggles of the third season of his second spell .
Relations between these rivals may have thawed, however. “Claudio deserves all the credit,” Mourinho said of Ranieri. “Leicester are now in a position where only three things can happen to them. One, they can be champions, which would be amazing.
“We cannot be best friends”
“Another would be to finish top four, which again would be a super achievement. And the worst thing that can happen to them is to finish top six, which would be a phenomenal season, too.
“When I was at Inter, Claudio was at the two rivals. We cannot be the best [of] friends. I was in contact when he got the Leicester job, just a normal word of good luck. I always had respect for the man.”
Just how much respect he has for Ranieri will be measured by the way Mourinho’s men set up at the King Power Stadium.
A 21/10 price on Leicester beating the Blues is very tempting because it’s more than plausible, and such a result would allow Ranieri to finally lay this ghost to rest.