Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has attempted to turn the pressure on Claudio Ranieri, saying Leicester cannot fail to qualify for Europe this season after their fine start.
Ranieri, who preceded Mourinho as Chelsea boss in 2004, has presided over a remarkable start to the Premier League season for the Foxes, as his former club have gone from champions to flirting with the relegation zone.
The Italian, though, has tipped Chelsea to have a resurgence and to reach the top four, something which was welcomed by Mourinho, whose position is under scrutiny after the holders’ miserable start to the season.
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The Portuguese then said Leicester should not finish outside the top six now after a start to a campaign which could yet see them finish as champions.
“They are in such a position where only three things can happen to them,” Mourinho said.
“One, to be champions, which would be amazing.
“Another would be to finish top four, which would again be a super achievement, but very normal at this moment because of the difference of points is very big.
“The worst thing that can happen to them is to finish top six, which should be a phenomenal season too.
“At this moment I don’t think they are thinking about relegation any more. They are not thinking about finishing in the top half as that is certain.
“So at this moment they have conditions to enjoy playing free of any pressure but keeping that ambition that leaves them in this fantastic position.”
Mourinho says Ranieri should be praised for his achievements with Leicester, who fought relegation for the entirety of last season before ensuring survival under his predecessor Nigel Pearson.
Mourinho added: “It’s fair to say when things go wrong, you (the media) kill the managers. When things go well, give them credit.
“In the same way, ‘sack (Garry) Monk’, ‘sack Mourinho’, ‘sack everyone that is doing bad’, Claudio deserves all the credit.
“Or when things go wrong, it’s about managers, when things go well, it’s about players.
“So please make a compensation with what you do to managers in trouble and put Claudio where he deserves (to be).”
Mourinho railed against the firing culture in football, yet he has no issue with the moment he replaced Ranieri at Stamford Bridge, despite the Italian having a further three years remaining on his contract.
Ranieri was the first managerial casualty of Roman Abramovich’s ownership and Mourinho, in October, was the first to be given a vote of confidence in the Russian’s 12 years in control.
“When you finish a cycle, another cycle opens,” Mourinho said.
“I think this is very normal. I feel sympathy when people lose their job in the middle of the marathon and another one comes to replace to get the same team.
“In that case it was the end of a cycle. The club decided to change, to go in another direction.
“The manager is free to go, to choose a different club, a different life.
“We changed so many things in that period, so many players were leaving when Claudio left, so many players were coming: Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira, (Ricardo) Carvalho, (Didier) Drogba, (Arjen) Robben, Tiago, (Alexei) Smertin.
“It was a complete change. Change the manager, change the squad, change the direction. It’s football.”
Mourinho praised Ranieri’s decision to sign Frank Lampard, William Gallas and Claude Makelele, but declined the opportunity to comment further on the foundations laid for his hugely successful first spell.
Mourinho on Ranieri relationship
The pair went on to have a fractious relationship when in Serie A, when Mourinho was Inter Milan boss, as Ranieri was in charge of rivals Juventus and Roma.
It was only when the Portuguese left for Real Madrid and Ranieri later became Inter boss that the relationship improved.
“He was in the two rivals. We cannot be the best friends,” Mourinho said.
“When he went to Inter was when I felt what I always feel, which is I always want Inter to win, doesn’t matter who the manager is.
“When I called him to wish him the best, I think in that moment we started a different relationship, but I always had respect for the man.”