#360view: Crafty Foxes transfers approach paying dividends

James Piercy 16/12/2015
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All smiles: Claudio Ranieri.

It was a substitution that encapsulated how far Leicester have come, perhaps more so than the 2-1 advantage they held over Chelsea.

With 82 minutes gone, Claudio Ranieri introduced Gokhan Inler to firm up his midfield as the Blues pushed for an equaliser.

That’s Swiss international captain Inler, who, up to his move to the King Power Stadium, had been one of the best and most consistent defensive midfielders in Serie A for at least the last five years.

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Ultimately, the increased financial strength of the Premier League – giving Leicester, who had Esteban Cambiasso last season, the resources to afford individuals like Inler – is levelling the playing field.

But, that said, the Foxes ascent to the summit of the English top-flight, 12 months after being at its foot, goes beyond more than just the act of spending money.

It’s an easy comparison to make but of the two starting 11s on Monday night, Leicester’s cost £20.3 million (Dh111.2m) to Chelsea’s £192.8m (Dh1bn).

On the field, and making significant impacts, were Riyad Mahrez who was signed from French second division club Le Havre, Jamie Vardy, whose backstory in non-league football is well known and N’Golo Kante who had just one season of top-flight experience in France with Caen before moving to Leicester.

Aside from this trio: Christian Fuchs (who’s been outstanding) was discarded by Schalke, while Danny Drinkwater, Kasper Schmeichel and Marc Albrighton have all been deemed not good enough by various Premier League clubs.

Without wanting to take too much away from manager Claudio Ranieri, the club’s enterprising approach in the transfer market has been as impressive as their performances on the pitch.

In an interview with SkySports.com last September, head of technical scouting Rob McKenzie (now of Tottenham) revealed the methods Leicester went through in signing Mahrez. Knowing they have to fly under the radar with their targets, McKenzie concentrated on the French second tier, despite its comparative lack of quality.

Why? Apart, from the fact few top-flight clubs are doing so, but mainly because there have been several examples of outstanding individuals within the division being able to transfer their skills to higher leagues quickly – Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, Geoffrey Kondogbia being three notables. Mahrez can now join that list.

Signed for £750,000 (Dh4.2m), he’s worth comfortably more than £20m (Dh111m) if anyone comes calling in January. Ditto Vardy and perhaps Kante, should his spectacular rise continue. All acquired through a combination of data-driven analysis and smart scouting.

It’s telling Leicester also play with a free-flowing, offensive style, the rest of the Premier League looks at with envy. Particularly at Old Trafford, where Louis van Gaal sucks the enjoyment out of the stadium with each passing game.

As United throw tens of millions at targets they seem to make up on the spot and, so far with diminishing returns, Leicester are showing them and others who lavishly spend without due diligence, the way both on and off the field.

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Jose Mourinho "betrayed" by his Chelsea players

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Mourinho was not happy with his team's efforts.

Jose Mourinho felt “betrayed” by his players after defeat at Leicester left them just one point above the bottom three in the Barclays Premier League, but he refused to admit Chelsea found themselves in a relegation battle.

The Blues’ dismal defence of the title they lifted last season continued on Monday night with a 2-1 loss – a ninth league reverse of the season leaving Mourinho’s men a massive 20 points behind the table-topping Foxes.

The meeting was in stark contrast to the last clash between the sides at the King Power Stadium at the end of April when a 3-1 win put Chelsea on the brink of the title and left Leicester’s survival hopes in the balance.

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As has been the case so far this season, Leicester looked inspired and Chelsea jaded and lacking imagination. But Mourinho remained defiant.

He said: “A relegation battle? No I don’t believe this. We are in the relegation zone – an area in the table. But to be in a battle is to be there for three or four months and I don’t think this will be so.”

Chelsea’s fall from grace is remarkable but Mourinho did offer an explanation.

“One possibility is that I did an amazing job last season and brought the players to a level that is not their level and now they can’t maintain it,” said the Portuguese.

“One of my best qualities is that I can read the game and identify the strengths of the opponent and tell my players what they are. So it is a big frustration to accept the goals because my work was betrayed, if that is the right word.

“I worked four days on this match. I prepared everything related to the opponent. I identified four movements where they scored almost all their goals.

 

“My players got all that information, you can ask them, they are honest guys who will tell you it is true. But in the situations I identify, we concede the first and second goal. The mistakes were there.”

Goals from Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez helped topple Chelsea as Leicester returned to the top of the Barclays Premier League with a 2-1 victory on Monday night.

The irrepressible duo of Vardy and Mahrez sent their side two points clear at the summit and inflicted a ninth league loss of the season on the champions, leaving Jose Mourinho’s men 20 points behind and only one point above the relegation zone.

The meeting was in stark contrast to the last clash between the sides at the King Power Stadium at the end of April when a 3-1 win put Mourinho’s side on the brink of the title and left the Foxes’ survival hopes in the balance.

As has been the case so far this season, Leicester looked inspired and Chelsea jaded and lacking imagination.

Loic Remy scored for the visitors with 13 minutes remaining but it was too little, too late.

 

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Leicester boss Ranieri prepares to return to Chelsea for first time

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Top of the league: Ranieri.

Claudio Ranieri has admitted he knew he would be fired by Chelsea as soon as Roman Abramovich bought the club. The Leicester boss faces his former side for the first time in the Premier League since being axed in 2004.

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Jose Mourinho replaced him at Stamford Bridge after Ranieri had guided Chelsea to second, a year after Abramovich took control in 2003.

Ranieri has taken Leicester top this season in a stunning comeback to English football after replacing Nigel Pearson in the summer – and they will return to the summit with victory against the Blues after Manchester City and Arsenal moved ahead of them over the weekend.

But the Italian knew his number was up at Chelsea once Abramovich moved in. He said: “Yes, immediately. The chief executive (Trevor Birch) told me there is a new owner and I said ‘me and you are the first who go home’. You imagine, the new owner arrives and he wants to put in his own men. It is normal.

“If the new owner wants to change something, it is normal. I wanted to show our best and we bought some good players. I wanted to win something.

“In July Abramovich wanted to bring Sven Goran Eriksson, who was the manager of the national team. It wasn’t possible for him and he said ‘OK start and we’ll see what we can buy’.”

A year after he left Chelsea won the title under Mourinho with the core of the squad signed by Ranieri. He brought Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Claude Makelele to the club and had already agreed to sign Petr Cech while also targeting Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben before he left.

He added: “Nobody needed to tell me ‘thank you’, why? I chose Petr Cech and had been to Eindhoven to take Robben and I suggested Drogba but that is it.”

Riyad Mahrez has moved to ease the pressure on Leicester ahead of their showdown with Chelsea. The 11-goal winger, who scored a hat-trick in the Foxes’ 3-0 win at Swansea last time out, reckons the Foxes can play with freedom against the stuttering champions on Monday night.

He said: “We don’t have any pressure. No-one said at the beginning of the season Leicester would be first in December. We’re training, laughing and joking and when the games come we work hard for each other. It doesn’t matter for us, it’s just a team. We focus on our team and Chelsea are a big club, but we’ll play like we always do.

“Last year was the first for a lot of players in the Premier League. We needed some games to get experience. I think the last year has helped a lot of players, like me, and now we are ready for every game.”

Chelsea will be out to stop Mahrez and fellow in-form striker, Jamie Vardy, with Mourinho proud of his side’s rediscovered steel in defence.

The previously robust Premier League holders have been remarkably meek in defence this season, contributing to their miserable campaign so far. But four clean sheets in five games has revived Mourinho’s confidence, with the 1-0 Bournemouth loss last weekend considered a blip.

Mourinho, who has no fresh injury concerns, said: “The tactical adjustments are minimal compared with the global attitude. I always say the same: you defend with 11 players, you have more chances to defend well.

“In this moment our team is working well and hard defensively, the attacking players are doing their job. Everyone has a job to do and when everybody does their job, it’s easier.” 

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