Foxes earn a rest before 3-game test

Ranieri gives Leicester players a break before they face Liverpool, City & Arsenal; Vardy returns to scoring ways

LONDON • Claudio Ranieri will give his table-topping Leicester City squad a well-deserved rest as they prepare for a three-game acid test of their Premier League title credentials next month.

While the Foxes' manager heads back to his native Italy to see his family, he urged his players to enjoy a three-day rest before focusing on big games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Leicester climbed back to the top of the league with an emphatic 3-0 victory at home to Stoke City on Saturday, ahead of Arsenal's game against Chelsea this morning (Singapore time).

Just as significantly for the Foxes, however, is that they have opened up a 10-point gap on Manchester United in fifth place.

"It was important to be top of the league at the end of January, because February is a very difficult month for us," said Ranieri. "Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City - it is unbelievable, but is also good.

"We play so many matches in the last month and now it is important, not physically but mentally, to give them two to three days without coming in for training sessions.

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (above) attempting to beat Stoke City's Marc Wilson to the ball at the King Power Stadium. The Foxes won the match 3-0, with Vardy scoring the second goal.
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (above) attempting to beat Stoke City's Marc Wilson to the ball at the King Power Stadium. The Foxes won the match 3-0, with Vardy scoring the second goal. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"Now they stay with their families, it is much better. When they come back, we work very hard because this league is very exciting."

Leicester went into a potentially tough encounter with just one win in their previous seven matches during which Jamie Vardy had failed to find the back of the net.

So, it was more than just a coincidence that their return to the form which established them in the top four saw Vardy rediscover his goal-scoring touch.

The striker struck with a brilliant effort midway through the second half, latching on to Danny Drinkwater's pass and rounding goalkeeper Jack Butland to slot the ball into an empty net.

Drinkwater had put Leicester ahead earlier with a rare goal just before half-time, his deflected strike being the first Leicester have scored from outside the box all season.

Substitute Leonardo Ulloa finished the rout with an 88th-minute tap-in as Leicester maintained their unbeaten record at home in the league this season.

"It was very important to keep a clean sheet, but also to score three goals because Stoke City are a good team," said Ranieri. "Solid, strong, taller than us. The first half was very difficult but fortunately, we found the goals."

The manager stressed that he had reassured Vardy the striker would hit the goals trail again.

"Jamie will have more confidence now," said the Italian after the England international ended his goal drought at 10 hr 17min.

"When I speak with him, I say, 'It is important you continue to work hard because you are the main man, you are in front of everybody.

"'Sooner or later, you score a goal. If your mind is set to score, it will happen. You have to work how you did at the beginning and the goals will arrive.'"

Stoke boss Mark Hughes admitted that it was a day to forget for his side but backed his players to bounce back in their League Cup semi-final at Liverpool tomorrow, when they will be looking to overturn a 0-1 first-leg deficit.

"Credit to Leicester, they work exceptionally hard. They pressure you in all areas of the field and you have to be able to deal with that," he said.

"Today's been a disappointment but we've got a huge game against Liverpool on Tuesday and I would back my team to respond quickly."

He hopes to have skipper Ryan Shawcross available, even though he limped out of the game with what appeared to be a recurrence of his back problem.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'Foxes earn a rest before 3-game test'. Print Edition | Subscribe