Claudio Ranieri believes this season could be the start of something big at Leicester.
After their great escape last season, the Foxes were once again tipped for a battle against relegation but under Ranieri, who replaced Nigel Pearson during the summer, they have defied the odds and currently sit proudly at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
Victory against Everton on Saturday will guarantee Leicester are the Christmas number one – and only one team in that position in the past five years – Liverpool in 2013-14 – have failed to go on and lift the title.
Ranieri’s side head to Goodison Park nine points ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham and in a strong position to qualify for next season’s Champions League but the Italian has always maintained that reaching 40 points, the widely-accepted total required for Premier League survival, remains the aim.
However, in a change of tack, Ranieri welcomed Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertion that Leicester could win the title and that he had always wanted to turn Leicester into a Premier League force.
“I have read about who is top at Christmas Day will win the league, blah, blah, blah… but this is a strange league. Everything is strange,” said Ranieri.
“Maybe it is right to listen to Sir Alex, because he is not involved in this race.
“Of course I would like to win. Who doesn’t like to win the Premier League? Sir Alex knows about horse racing and about how the horses arrive in the last 10 metres or 100 metres. I want my horses at the end of the race.
“This year for us is a good time to build. Now, nobody believes in Leicester. I hope in the next (few) years, everybody has to put Leicester in the top of the league. I want to build with this group, to be at the top for next season.
“My owner asked me to be safe (from relegation). The rest is for us. I am very ambitious. I hope the players are even more ambitious than me.”
Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have been instrumental in Leicester’s meteoric rise this season.
They scored the goals in the 2-1 win against Chelsea which ultimately cost Jose Mourinho his job. Mahrez set up Vardy for his 15th goal of the season, registering his seventh assist, before the little Algerian netted his 11th goal of the campaign.
And Ranieri was even more bullish when asked about Leicester’s hopes of hanging on to the star duo during the January transfer window, insisting that he had told them “you are going nowhere”.
“Already I spoke to the two guys. I didn’t wait for them to answer!” said Ranieri.
“I suggest to them it is much better they continue with us. We are in good flight now. We continue together, we can improve, to help grow up the team.
“I won’t consider (selling) in the summer either. In my mind they are the first I want to keep and continue with this group, it is a good group.
“It is important to maintain this mentality. This friendly group.”
Ranieri will have to make a couple of enforced changes against Everton on Saturday.
Danny Drinkwater (hamstring) came off injured against Chelsea and will miss the trip to Goodison Park while Robert Huth received his fifth yellow card of the season against the champions and is suspended.
Andy King will replace Drinkwater in central midfield while Ranieri will choose between Marcin Wasilewski and Yohan Benalouane to fill in at centre-back in Huth’s absence.