In a statement issued on Tuesday morning, Leicester City refuted speculation that the East Midlands club was to part with the Italian manager seven months after he answered the dreams of many Leicester City fans.
Supporters outside the ground were optimistic with the decision and for the future, voicing their pleasure inside the ground by sounding their approval on numerous occasions throughout the FA Cup fourth-round replay against Derby County, which was warmly acknowledged by the former Chelsea and Greece manager.
John Richardson added: “We know something is wrong between last season and now, but we aren’t relegated yet. They [the board] backed Nigel Pearson when times were hard and they have to give him their support.”
Phil Simms of LCFCWorld.co.uk and follower of Leicester for 33 years, believes the season can still be rescued: “There are 15 games left and that’s 45 points, over a season that is quite a lot. January, by tradition for Leicester City fans, is generally quite poor but I think we’ll win against Swansea and just avoid relegation by 2 points.”
It has been well documented that the transfer of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea has played a major factor in the downturn of form from the Foxes. Leicester have won 114 fewer tackles and made 188 fewer interceptions in 2016/17 than they had at the same point last season. It’s a similar story up front, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez had 31 goals between at this point last season compared to a measly 8 this year.
First choice goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, recently spoke to Sky Sports about the ‘embarrassment’ they would suffer if they were to become the first side to be relegated after winning the title the previous season, “It is time for each one of us – from the top to the bottom of this club – to be counted. If we don’t we will be relegated.”
However, there were signs of improvement in the East Midlands derby midweek which will be a much-needed confidence boost. Despite a drab first half that finished 0-0, Andy King opened the scoring within five minutes of the restart with a scrappy goal. A teasing ball from Demarai Gray was nodded back into the danger area by Marc Albrighton, leaving King with the easiest of headers. Derby levelled the game up with an Abdul Camara free kick which ricocheted off Ben Chilwell and left Ron-Robert Zieler rooted to the spot.
Riyad Mahrez and new signing, Wilfred Ndidi, entered the action either side of the full-time whistle giving the Foxes a more potent threat. Both linked up when Mahrez supplied the pass to Ndidi and after a several touches smashed a shot into the net via the inside of the right post. To cap a wonderful – and potentially season-defining – night, Demarai Gray sealed the win with six minutes left of extra time with a mazy run culminating inside foot finish into the roof of the net.
Ranieri’s substitutes sparked Leicester into life, in particular, Wilfred Ndidi. The Nigerian U20 fired home 238 seconds after his introduction and gave the sort of composure on the ball attributed to the departed Kante. He too possesses a great engine and work rate, averaging 8 defensive actions per game for Genk in the Europa League and evidenced in his cameo against Derby, as well as an aerial threat to cause trouble from set pieces. Ranieri will be hoping that the £17m 20-year-old can steady the ship at the King Power and have a similar effect as N’Golo Kante.
Despite sitting only two points of the foot of the table and one point off the drop zone, the King Power faithful remains positive that their Italian stallion will be able to turn Leicester City’s fortunes around. A win at the Liberty Stadium against fellow strugglers Swansea City would go a long way to banishing the nightmares of the first half of the season.
So what do people think about the board backing Claudio Ranieri?
Neil Harris believes that Ranieri hasn’t deserved all the criticism that he has currently been getting: “He should have the support after what he achieved last season. It’s the players that have underperformed not him so it’s up to the players to buck their ideas up. He’s got to have the time to turn it around.”
John Richardson was delighted with the decision: “I’m pleased they have given him their full backing because there’s clearly some unsettlement in the camp but what is to be gained by falling out? He’s got to keep putting out his message that they are all together and between them, they have got to sort it out. We know something is wrong between last season and now, they backed Nigel Pearson when times were hard, we’re not relegated yet, still out of the bottom three and they got to give him their support. We have to do the same as what we expect the players to do.”
Wes Johnson believes people have short memories: “Ranieri has been great so far but it seems that no one is paying attention to what he has done before. It’s not just down to Ranieri, it’s the players that are the same as last year that need to show a bit more spirit and people need to get behind the team.”
Leicester fan and DMU student, Dylan Durbin, believes that last season should play a factor: “I think he deserves it after what he did last year. At least give him until the end of the season, maybe if we go down let him go then. After last season you can’t sack him so I say stick with him for now.”