Ranieri '100% has not been given the credit'

ROMELU LUKAKU
ROMELU LUKAKU
JAMIE VARDY
JAMIE VARDY

Everton boss Martinez lauds counterpart for instilling confidence in high-flying Leicester

LONDON • Roberto Martinez believes Claudio Ranieri has not been given the credit he deserves for building the winning mentality behind Leicester City's rise to the Premier League summit.

Everton host the surprise leaders today, with Martinez adamant that Leicester are title contenders because of the "powerful momentum" that has been generated through 10 victories in 16 league games.

Although Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have dominated the headlines, the Everton manager believes Ranieri's influence since replacing Nigel Pearson in the summer has been overlooked.

Martinez described Leicester as "the best counter-attacking team in the Premier League" but identified the composure and confidence the veteran Italian has instilled as the key factor in their elevation.

"Remember Leicester were effectively relegated a year ago," Martinez said. "The mentality in the dressing room in the Premier League is the hardest thing to work on.

"You get through a relegation battle and then you start afresh. Then you get a defeat and it is very hard to keep that feeling of positivity.

"What Leicester have achieved from being 'relegated' before Christmas to avoiding relegation in May to being top of the league in December is incredible.

"Ranieri is someone who gives a very calm message all the time and has faith in what he believes in.

"The team are playing like that.

"Forget how they play tactically - it is just the mentality of that group. Ranieri deserves incredible credit for that and, 100 per cent, has not been given the credit he deserves."

While many pundits doubt Leicester's ability to last the pace in the title race, history suggests they are genuine contenders.

Victory at Goodison Park today would guarantee top spot at Christmas and the Italian is aware that five of the last six festive table-toppers have gone on to lift the trophy.

Yet, he gave a typically cryptic response when asked if Leicester could challenge for the title . "I read that whoever arrives at the top on Christmas Day, blah, blah, blah," joked Ranieri. "But this is a strange league. Everything is strange."

He must make at least two changes today, with Robert Huth suspended and Danny Drinkwater out with a hamstring injury.

Crucially, he will have Algeria winger Mahrez and England striker Vardy available, with the pair having scored 26 goals between them.

And the Italian has met with the duo to cool all talk of transfers away from the club next month.

"We continue together," Ranieri said. "In my mind, they are the first players I want to keep and continue with this group.

"It's a good group. It is important to maintain this mentality."

Martinez's designs on Champions League qualification have been undermined by consecutive draws with Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Norwich City.

But he believes the flourishing partnership between Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu will test the Premier League leaders.

Deulofeu has created eight of Lukaku's 15 goals this season, with the Belgium international having found the net in his previous six league outings.

Martinez said: "Rom knows that if he makes a run, the ball is going to come from Gerard. Also, Gerard is going to look for Rom because he knows he's going to make that run.

"It's levels of intelligence and talent that allow you to develop a partnership. I think we have that with Ross (Barkley)as well.

"But, if you look at the amount of chances we've created, it's not just those two. Obviously, opponents will start trying to stop those two but that leaves spaces open for others, so we are quite aware of what the opposition is trying to do because other players will benefit."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Ranieri '100% has not been given the credit''. Print Edition | Subscribe