Top flight survival is Leicester’s first priority says Ranieri
With a first Premier League title under their belts and a place secured among Europe's footballing elite, Leicester City could be forgiven for expecting the silverware to just keep coming.
Despite a first Premier League title and a place in the next edition of the Champions League, Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri insists the Foxes must first get their priorities in order - and that means reaching the magical 40-point benchmark as soon as possible after the new league season kicks off next month.
Ranieri is keeping his players' feet firmly on the ground, insisting the goal for 2016-17 remains exactly the same as it was 12 months ago – the primary objective is to gain enough points to ensure the team isn’t relegated. “It's the same this season at the start - to achieve 40 points, at the beginning, to be solid and to believe in yourself”, the 64-year-old Italian said.
Leicester, 5,000/1 outsiders in pre-season, were crowned champions for the first time in their 132-year history in May, handing Ranieri his first domestic title as a manager. They are due to lock horns in the pre-season International Champions Cup in Los Angeles Saturday with French title winners, Paris Saint-Germain.
Ranieri, who will surely have the tougher task, has been busy in the transfer market, beating the club record outlay twice in a week to secure French midfielder Nampalys Mendy for £13 million ($17.2 million, 15.4 million euros), and Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa for £16.6 million.
One of Ranieri's biggest headaches ahead of the season opener at Hull will be keeping his team of newly-minted all-stars together, with big-spending Premier League rivals dangling lucrative contracts. Welsh international midfielder Andy King, the only player in the Premier League era to have won titles in the top three tiers, gave the manager a boost by signing a four year deal on Friday.
The 27-year-old, who made his Leicester debut in 2007, joins 19-year-old Ben Chilwell in committing to the club along with Jamie Vardy, who has rejected an offer from Arsenal. Ranieri told reporters that King is “a good example for everybody”, and described Chilwell as “one of the best young players in the UK”.
But the team's all-action defensive midfielder N'Golo Kanté went earlier this month on a five-year deal to Chelsea for a reported £32 million. Kanté, signed for Leicester last summer from French club Caen for a bargain £5.6 million, was a revelation in breaking down attacks and was shortlisted for PFA Players' Player of the Year.
Ranieri said he expected Leicester to cope fine without the star, as they had when Argentine midfielder Esteban Cambiasso moved to Greek giants Olympiacos in the last close season. Kanté's team-mate, Algerian international Riyad Mahrez, has also been at the center of summer transfer speculation alongside Kasper Schmeichel and Danny Drinkwater. Ranieri said however he expects all three to still be at the club when the transfer window closes.
“I think they want to stay with us to try to improve our last season. We know it is very difficult but we are ambitious”, Ranieri explained. “It is important they sign, stay with us and (get) experience in the Champions League”.
Ranieri said the chairman, Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, was ready to fork out if the manager decided he needed more players. Polish international winger Bartosz Kapustka, 19, confirmed on Friday he is is on the verge of a £7.5 million switch from Polish club Cracovia. “We are waiting, and when this player is with us I will tell you something more”, the coach said.
One problem for Ranieri going into the new season is that his team has lost the element of surprise, and will not benefit again from being underestimated by opponents. “We have to change something because the other teams know us very well. We have to make a plan B”, Ranieri continued.
Captain Wes Morgan, who signed a new contract with the club to June 2019, is relishing his participation in the exhibition ICC, which involves 17 clubs playing on four continents. The 32-year-old played every minute of Leicester's title-winning campaign and was a key part of their success, forming a rock-solid central defensive partnership with Robert Huth.
“It's fantastic to be here. It's a lot different to 12 months ago. It's a pleasure to be in a prestigious competition like this, to come to these types of places and play against the world's best teams”, he said, adding that his team mates were “still buzzing” over their title win before warning: “We can't dwell on that. There's another season ahead and we have to focus on that. We're here to work and we're here to get a job done”.
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