Football: Mahrez and Vardy on rivals' radar but Foxes calm

Lecister City's dynamic pair Jamie Vardy (right) and Riyad Mahrez.
Lecister City's dynamic pair Jamie Vardy (right) and Riyad Mahrez. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Lecister City's dynamic pair Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez are not for sale at any price, manager Claudio Ranieri asserted after the pair combined again to fire their team back to the top of the Premier League.

Genuine title challengers? Ranieri, with a wry smile, still takes such talk with a pinch of salt but after a 2-1 victory on Monday over floundering champions Chelsea, the Italian will find it hard to keep a lid on the clamour for much longer.

With Vardy and Mahrez in such outstanding form, surprise packages Leicester - nicknamed Foxes - have the belief and momentum to continue their reign at the top.

Vardy's 15th goal of the season and a sublime strike from Mahrez, who has scored 11, kept Leicester on a roll.

No player has been more involved in a team's goals than the duo. With seven assists, Mahrez has contributed to 18 goals.

Vardy is just behind him (17).

Asked if he feared losing both or either to bigger and richer clubs in January, Ranieri was unequivocal.

"No," the Italian replied.

"Why? Nobody can buy them.

"They don't have the money."

Having set a three-year target to bring European football to the Midlands side, the club's Thai billionaire owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is likely to fend off the vultures for now.

Ranieri is happy to lavish praise on his star men but again hailed the players in Leicester's engine room who helped to make the side tick.

"Vardy and Mahrez were fantastic but they are only the pinnacle of the iceberg," he said.

"Behind them is big spirit, a team that work hard for each other."

He has consistently maintained that it would be a "miracle" if Leicester could finish in the top four and secure Champions League qualification come May.

No team with 35-plus points after the first 16 games of a Premier League season have finished outside the top four.

Achieving the 40-point mark may change his mind.

"Yes, we are top of the league and our fans can dream. For my players, we need another five points," he said.

Faced with questioning looks from a packed press room, Ranieri again allowed himself a wry smile.

"Let me achieve 40 points and then I'll think of our next goal. Until 40, I will think only of that."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Mahrez, Vardy on radar but Foxes calm'. Print Edition | Subscribe