Leicester can outfox rivals in Slimani's absence: Ranieri

LONDON • Claudio Ranieri believes Leicester City can cope without record signing Islam Slimani during this month's African Nations Cup, despite the striker's match-winning contribution against West Ham United.

The £30 million (S$53.58 million) signing scored his sixth Leicester goal in the 1-0 Premier League victory over the Hammers but will leave to represent Algeria after today's trip to Middlesbrough.

Countryman Riyad Mahrez will also be absent for up to a month, but Ranieri will welcome back the suspended Jamie Vardy.

And Ranieri believes his reigning champions can handle the loss of Slimani, although he admitted the former Sporting Lisbon forward is becoming better all the time.

"Now Vardy comes back, I have Leonardo Ulloa, I have Shinji Okazaki and I have some good players and I am very calm and very confident with all my players," said the Italian, after seeing his side end their historic year with a victory to ease their relegation fears.

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  • Number of Premier League goals Leicester's Islam Slimani has bagged so far. The Algerian is the Foxes' joint-leading scorer together with Englishman Jamie Vardy.

"Of course Slimani can only improve. When somebody comes from another country it is not easy and some players need six or seven months or one year to be involved in the atmosphere of English football."

Mahrez's improvement was equally notable given that his performances had fallen so far below the level that earned him the Premier League Player of the Year crown last season that he had been dropped for the last home match.

Although he did not quite reach the heights of last term, he responded in the way Ranieri had hoped.

Deployed just behind Slimani, Mahrez gave flickers of his brilliance, justifying Ranieri's decision to assign him a central role rather than a wide berth.

"It was important to change something because now all the world is waiting for Riyad on the left or right to come inside, we have to improve how we find him between the lines," Ranieri added.

West Ham ended the year with defeat, after three successive wins had given the Hammers and manager Slaven Bilic some much-needed breathing space. They next face Manchester United at home.

Bilic was pleased with his side's display. The Croat said: "I believe we deserved something. I'm very disappointed, angry and frustrated that we lost. They started better. We knew they were going to start aggressively and they deserved the goal for the first 20 minutes.

"After that, for 70 minutes we were the better team. I'm very disappointed but we played a good game and that makes me satisfied in one part.

"We looked good, fit and on the ball. It was just that final product that wasn't there."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'Leicester can outfox rivals in Slimani's absence: Ranieri'. Print Edition | Subscribe