'E.T.' quip is an alien viewpoint

An uplifting experience for Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez at the hands of striker Leonardo Ulloa during the 6-5 win on penalties against Celtic on July 23. Manager Claudio Ranieri has insisted Mahrez will be staying, joking that he would kill the Alg
An uplifting experience for Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez at the hands of striker Leonardo Ulloa during the 6-5 win on penalties against Celtic on July 23. Manager Claudio Ranieri has insisted Mahrez will be staying, joking that he would kill the Algerian before letting him leave.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ranieri exaggeration illustrates his view that retaining title is harder this season

LONDON • Claudio Ranieri has wasted no time in kick-starting the English Premier League mind games by claiming it is more likely that "ET comes to Piccadilly Circus" than his Leicester City side retain their title.

Speaking in the build-up to the season's opening match today - a trip to Hull City - he was in characteristically gnomic form, insisting he expects the big clubs to return to form and that his side's first ambition is to avoid relegation.

He also said Riyad Mahrez would be staying, joking that he would kill the Algerian before letting him leave.

"I work to be safe," the manager said, in a revival of the mantra he used last season.

"I say to my fans, 'We want to be safe, to build a team, anything more and that's fantastic.' It's not normal that we can win the league. It's more difficult than last season. It's easier that ET comes to Piccadilly Circus."

The 64-year-old also spoke about his rivals, saying: "The big teams will be back, I am sure. They can't make the same mistake for another year. There are five, six teams who can win it this year. It will be a good fight."

Mahrez has been the subject of constant transfer speculation this summer but Ranieri continued to talk tough over the winger.

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"Never has Riyad come to me and said, 'Coach, I want to go' because I'll kill him before he tells me this!" joked Ranieri, mimicking a strangling motion.

His opponents, Hull, could hardly be going into the new season in worse shape after a close season of uncertainty at the renamed KCOM Stadium.

Promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt, albeit via the play-offs, could have been used as a platform for progress.

But the resignation of popular manager Steve Bruce put a stop to that prospect. A permanent replacement has yet to be appointed.

Former assistant manager Mike Phelan will be in charge for the visit of the champions after a failed attempt to try and lure Chris Coleman from his job as Wales manager.

Phelan hopes the team he puts out are able to thrive in the face of adversity.

"You're going into a new season having earned the right to be in the Premier League and we shouldn't forget the work that was put in last year to get us up," he said.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline ''E.T.' quip is an alien viewpoint'. Print Edition | Subscribe