Cute Claudio Ranieri outfoxing title foes

Manchester City 1 Leicester City 3: Claudio Ranieri has gone from the curse of the Faroes to the top of the pyramid, and the genial Leicester City manager is threatening to smile all the way to the Premier League title.

Cute Claudio Ranieri outfoxing title foes

This time last year, his players were staring down the barrel of relegation, beaten at home by Crystal Palace and marooned at the bottom of the table. Now, after outplaying nearest rivals City on their own pitch the league leaders peer down at all the big spenders from giddy heights.

“It’s the first time in their lives they are doing something special,” said Ranieri. “Like a climber, you need to look up. If you look down, you go ‘Oof, my god, look where we are!’”

He is convinced that their great escape under Nigel Pearson, his predecessor, has equipped this happy band of brothers to soak up the pressure slowly building on their unlikely challenge, and to keep the joy in their football.

“Yes, because last season was a big, big pressure for them,” Ranieri said. “Now they can remember the pressure they faced, they can smell how it was and stay calm this season.”

Might that pressure have been greater than it is chasing the title? “I don’t know exactly, but I would think yes, because if you don’t survive and go down, it’s difficult to come back. That is helping the spirit now.

“For Leicester, the pressure was at the beginning of the season because our goal was to maintain our position in the Premier League, but now the pressure is on the other teams who have spent a lot of money to win the Premier League, the Champions League.

“Of course they’re nervous. But it doesn’t matter to me, it’s not my problem. We are enjoying it.”

Kasper Schmeichel, triumphant at his old stomping ground yet annoyed at being beaten - by Sergio Aguero, almost inevitably, minutes from the end, is toeing the party line when it comes to title talk. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” he said. “There’s a long way to go and we will keep our feet on the ground. The title is a possibility in the long run, but we are not thinking further than the next game.”

Whatever the outcome, Ranieri must be favourite for Manager of the Year. The 64-year-old Italian, once fired despite a good record at Chelsea to make way for Jose Mourinho, knows only too well the truth of the old adage “it’s a funny old game”, having been sacked from his last job, as Greece manager, following a humiliating home defeat by the Faroe Islands.

“I made a mistake [to go there], you only train for three or four days before a match,” he said. “What can you do? I’m not a magician. You see your team again a month later and you restart. Everyone said, ‘Oh, Ranieri made mistakes’. After me they won the World Cup? No.”

His cut-price team is playing with supreme confidence, and no longer relies on phenomenon Jamie Vardy to score. Robert Huth, a colossus in defence, contributed the early opener, from a poorly-defended free kick, and the closer, a superb header that left Joe Hart, England’s goalkeeper, flat-footed. In between, Riyad Mahrez unleashed a missile that Hart barely saw.

It was hardly the best start to Manuel Pellegrini’s long goodbye, and the outgoing manager, making way for Pep Guardiola as Ranieri once did for Mourinho, will be up against it as he pursues four trophies with a squad blighted by injury, David Silva the latest casualty.

“Leicester deserved the points,” said Pablo Zabaleta, the City right back. “They defend really well, they don’t give too much space, and they are very fast on the counter-attack. We have a week now to rest. In the last 10 days we’ve played two more games than Leicester, but we need to accept that we are Manchester City, we aspire to win as many trophies as we can.”

Poker-faced Pellegrini declared next Sunday’s visit by Tottenham, who leapfrogged City into second place, a “must win” as Leicester attempt a repeat performance at Arsenal. Noting that Leicester have only league games ahead, he added: “It is an advantage. I think it is important for Leicester they are always able to play with the same team and haven’t too many injuries. But it is impossible to know what will happen. Every game is a final.”

MAN CITY:

Hart (7); Zabaleta (6), Demichelis (4), Otamendi (5), Kolarov (4); Fernandinho (6), Delph (6) (Iheanacho 5, 52); Silva (6) (Celina 77), Toure (5) (Reges 6,52), Sterling (5); Aguero (6).

Subs not used:

Caballero, Sagna, Clichy, Garcia.

LEICESTER:

Schmeichel (7); Simpson (6), Morgan (8), Huth (9), Fuchs (7); Mahrez (8) (Gray 5, 77), Drinkwater (8), Kante (7), Albrighton (7) (Dyer 85); Okazaki (7) (Ulloa 81); Vardy (7).

Subs not used:

King, Wasilewski, Chilwell, Schwarzer.

Referee:

Anthony Taylor 6

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