Champions League ‘not a distraction’, insists Ranieri

Date published: Monday 21st November 2016 3:25

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri has dismissed suggestions the Foxes have been distracted by the Champions League.

The struggling Premier League champions will reach the last 16 with a draw against Club Brugge on Tuesday and only have to better Porto’s result against Copenhagen to win Group G.

Ranieri’s men are unbeaten in Europe this season and are yet to concede a goal, but their league title defence is in tatters.

Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Watford left Leicester two points above the relegation zone and they have lost twice as many games, six, as they did during last season’s shock triumph.

Leicester are top of Group G, three points clear of Porto, but have only won three league games this season – failing to win before any European game – yet Ranieri insisted they remain focused on both fronts.

He said: “No, I don’t think it’s a distraction. It’s enjoyment. I don’t see the difference.

“If you see the match against Watford and the match against Copenhagen or Brugge or Porto, it’s the same. The difference is in the Champions League matches we score, in the other matches no.

“Our focus is this: try to win tomorrow and then go back into the Premier League and try to improve our table.

“Yes of course I have to work harder, everyone has to work harder.

“The team, the lads are very strong and we know we have to fight a lot and we have to change this way but now we have the opportunity to go in the Champions League knockouts.

“We achieved the third position (in the group) but of course now we want to achieve something more. Our fairytale is continuing, we did something special last season and we’re doing it again this season.”

Exactly a year ago Jamie Vardy equalled the Premier League goalscoring record by netting in his 10th straight game, a 3-0 win at Newcastle.

A week later he broke it against Manchester United but is now without a goal in his last 13 Leicester games. The 29-year-old scored in England’s 2-2 draw with Spain last week but has not had a shot on target for his club since September.

Riyad Mahrez is also struggling to find top form but does have three goals and one assist in Europe having scored twice in September’s 3-0 win in Belgium.

He has scored just one goal from open play in his last 20 club games and the Algerian admitted performing in the Champions League brings the best out of him.

“To be honest I enjoy the Champions League like the Premier League. When I was younger we wanted to play in the Champions League and now we are playing in this and we are doing well,” he said.

“There is no special game for me because all the games are important and I enjoy all the games.

“We are winning the games in the Champions League. Obviously when we win there are some players who come on to the team and score goals. Islam (Slimani) scores goals and we defend very well. Zero goals conceded, so when we start to win in the Premier League as well everyone will be better.”

Kasper Schmeichel remains sidelined with the hand he fractured in the 0-0 draw in Copenhagen this month and Slimani is out with a groin injury while Nampalys Mendy and Ben Chilwell (both ankle) are also sidelined.

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