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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Hull v Leicester
Ch102 & Ch227, 7.30pm
Everton v Tottenham
Ch102 & Ch227, 9.55pm
Burnley v Swansea
Ch104 & Ch229, 9.55pm
Crystal Palace v West Brom
Ch105 & Ch230, 9.55pm
Middlesbrough v Stoke
Ch106 & Ch231, 9.55pm
Manchester City v Sunderland
Ch103 & Ch228, tomorrow, 12.30am
Bournemouth v Man United
Ch103 & Ch228, 8.30pm
Arsenal v Liverpool
Ch102 & Ch227, 11pm
Chelsea v West Ham
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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