LCFC’s Focus is Crystal Clear

Another great return from the international break with Vardy showing just why he is grabbing Hodgson’s attention.

Southampton are always a tough team to come up against and I admit I had a horrible feeling as we went into the break 0-2 down as I wasn’t certain we’d pull off another (our seventh) comeback. But once again Ranieri made some astute changes for the second half, bringing on Mahrez and Nathan Dyer, and Vardy cemented his position as the top Premier League goalscorer bringing us back into the game and securing us another precious point.

I’m really pleased for Vardy and his successes this season. He deserves the England selection on merit, his pace is electric and his passion is undeniable – the guy has been playing with a broken arm for the last month! And let’s be honest, it’s great for LCFC too. We’ve got some great international stars in the squad now and it just shows the professionalism and talent we have at the club. Of course there are always injury worries when players are out on international duty but we’ve got £30m worth of talent on the bench and Ranieri has made sure we’re in a strong position.

I was slightly surprised when I saw that Mahrez was starting on the bench – Ranieri is perhaps pacing him to ensure a full impact later in the season? But there’s no doubt that when he gets on the pitch he makes a real difference and with his touch and Vardy’s pace we’re hard to stop once we get up a head of steam.

In fact that’s the only problem I can see at the moment, and I take nothing away from what the team have achieved so far this season, but too often we’re leaving things until the second half and relying on our ability to make a comeback in the latter stages of the game. It’s a dangerous way to play and we can’t get away with that forever, but I imagine the whole squad are concentrating on that first half performance as we search for that elusive first clean sheet. Every game is tough in the Premier League but if we can get that balance right, I really believe we could be unstoppable.

This weekend we’ll welcome Crystal Palace to the King Power Stadium and this one will be a tough game for sure. Palace are performing well this season and they’ve caused a few shocks too, particularly away from home. We will need to work hard but it’s an excellent opportunity to grab three points and I think it will be a great game to watch as both teams are fighting hard for their spots in the upper reaches the table. Mathematically at least, a win against Palace could take us back into the top three again although fifth place is such an achievement at this time of year that I’m pretty happy already!

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Another Winning Streak Underway?

Last weekend was just what we wanted and what a great response from the team to our first defeat of the season. I thought the Norwich game would be a big test of character and last Saturday’s show was exactly the show of character we needed. I remember when we suffered losses under Martin O’Neill, he would be determined that we bounced straight back and it worked so well that we never lost that ‘fight’ or the confidence we needed to put up a good one.

I wasn’t able to get down to Carrow Road to see the action live, which was a shame, but Norwich have been doing well and it can be a difficult ground to visit. So to come away with the full three points was fantastic.

I admit I thought Ranieri might change the formation following Arsenal (I think I mentioned as much last week); that he might be a bit more negative with a back three but he loves his attacking! I was a bit surprised he went for it again but he obviously likes that system of play and who can blame him, for he’s getting some great results.

I do like how he’s juggling the players a little bit with each game; I imagine many people were a bit disappointed not to see Mahrez making another dramatic appearance but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. In fact, I think the opposite. To me it looks like Ranieri was probably allowing him a rest; he’s protecting his players and mitigating the risks of injury by rotating the squad and, let’s be honest, he’s now got a solid team all round so to be able to do that.

I was going to write a little pre-match piece as usual so on Thursday I turned up to the training ground to see the practice only to find it abandoned and completely forgetting we had a break for internationals this weekend! So, I won’t.

But, needless to say really it’s good to see Vardy making the England squad for the Estonia and Lithuania games and knowing we’ve got Leicester well-represented at Wembley this weekend. Again I just keep my fingers firmly crossed that he avoids any injuries, because we want him back ready to face the Saints at the New Dell on the 17th.

So this weekend you can swap the blue for red and white, but this weekend only!

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A Bird in the Hand Isn’t Always Better

We may not have got the result we hoped for but last week was a great game against Arsenal. I think it was definitely a terrific spectacle for the fans: lots of goals and pace and, in honesty, it could have been a very different result as we had a penalty appeal turned down which could have led to a 2-0 lead.

But every team gets beaten; in fact, every team in the Premier League already had been before we were, so it’s nothing to be disheartened by. I think it’s an opportunity to learn some lessons and I think Ranieri will be looking at his options in defence.

Against the Gunners we took some sucker punches and we were too open to the counter-attack. We are conceding every game and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ranieri tried playing the three centre-halves again soon to tighten things up.

What has allowed us to get so many great results is that we have passion, energy and are playing some great football. Every game is end to end with lots of pace. We’ve got three of the quickest players in the league and the top two goalscorers in Vardy (6) and Mahrez (5) and there is definitely no reason why we can’t use this as an opportunity to build another winning streak. Vardy has again been announced as one of the England squad for next week’s Euro 2016 qualifiers and, with the form he’s showing for LCFC, he can’t fail to be in Roy Hodgson’s thoughts. Great for Vardy, an absolute dream come true, and also for LCFC as it provides the opportunity to bring even more international experience into the team.

This weekend we face another club that I’ve fond memories of, having ended my career with a stint at Norwich City. They are a great family club and have been performing well this season so it won’t be easy.

We can definitely win this one and we need a quick decisive response to last week’s loss but they are a dangerous team to play (even if the Canaries sound more tame than most!). I can’t foresee an abundance of goals like last week unless, of course, we play the same game plan again. I think we will refocus and it’ll be a much closer game and much tighter defence on our part.

I’m looking forward to this one and to a return to Carrow Road for the fans. The atmosphere will be great, both teams have a lot of ardent followers, and we’re all in it for them. We’ve dropped a little in the table as a result of other results together with the loss against Arsenal but one good week could see us back up there. Let’s make it this week.

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Three’s a Charm

Well, no one expected another comeback like last weekend’s at Stoke but the boys pulled it out of the bag and came back from 0-2 down to secure us another point and amaze the Sky commentators once again, extending our reign as the only unbeaten club in all competitions this season.

Another cracking performance by Mahrez started our comeback, converting a penalty after Drinkwater was bundled over in the box.  Vardy again added to the euphoria, latching onto a Mahrez flick-on to score the all-important equaliser.  With these two always looking for the ball and putting in fantastic work-rates game after game, we’ve got ourselves what seems to be the perfect goal-scoring duo.

But Ranieri is cautious in light of his recent successes with reports suggesting he tried to encourage the squad with the promise of pizza if they managed to achieve their first clean sheet of the season, adding “We need to start games better so we are not always fighting back.”  It is true; if we look at what we’ve achieved so far, imagine how hard fighting back against us would be if we took a 2-0 lead!

We had another potential challenge mid-week with a second meeting with the Hammers in the Capital One Cup.  And what’s even better is that this time we beat them with a team showing 10 changes, with the two goals coming from Joe Dodoo and Andy King. I think, as I mentioned earlier in the season, that this is key for Ranieri. You never know what’s going to happen through the season but we know we have back-up which can deliver, and deliver against in-form teams like West Ham.  Ranieri is said to be ‘delighted’ to have some selection headaches for the Arsenal match after a series of great performances across the board.  What a great situation for a manager to be in!

It was always going to be a good rematch and we’re level-pegging in the league, with West Ham just overtaking us last weekend on goal difference so I suspect many of us were expecting an extra time or penalty finish. I must say I’m looking forward to welcoming the Hammers back just after Easter.

This weekend we meet Arsenal for the first time in 2015/16 and these always prove to be thrillers. With the King Power Stadium sold out it is going to a match filled with passion from both players and fans alike as we defend our unbeaten record.  Our last couple of matches against the Gunners have been pretty close with the home match last season finishing all square.

Of course, we’ve got a history with Arsenal.  Well, I have, after scoring the equaliser in the seventh minute of added time when we met almost 20 years ago: one of my most memorable moments at LCFC as we achieved a 3-3 draw in the first few weeks of the 1997/98 season.

Back then they were our ‘bogey’ team and the only big team in the Premier League we just couldn’t defeat.  Bergkamp was absolutely superb; he was on fire and gave one of the best individual displays I’d ever seen, scoring all 3 of Arsenal’s goals that day.  I was up against Ian Wright, who could always be a bit of a handful.  Heskey managed to get us the first goal in the 84th minute to make it 1-2 and we thought that would be it, but there were a few more minutes and, as it turned out, 3 more goals to come!

The current squad (and fans) have so much spirit and that puts us in a great position.  We’re fighting for points from every match and we’re fighting until the end.  It almost seems that we perform best when we have the pressure of a comeback to contend with, and come back we have.  But this weekend it could be dangerous to let Arsenal run away in the first half and rely on the success of our ‘comeback kings’…although it can be done, I’ve been there!

We’ll be gunning for you Mr Wenger and some of Arsenal’s recent performances have been a tad lacklustre so let’s see what they do in the face of the Foxes’ pace, passion and performance.

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One fox and ten lions

Firstly, a huge congratulations to our very own Jamie Vardy on his selection for England’s qualifier against San Marino this afternoon. I’m sure all the LCFC fans will be showing their support across the pubs, clubs and living rooms of Leicester!

San Marino is usually a given and we should qualify comfortably for the Euro’s next year. Our only concern as a club will be given the influx of fantastic international players on the squad that none of our stars pick up any injuries whilst playing for their respective countries, but, all being well it will be great for the team as the squad pick up international experience and bring it back to our play.

For the rest of the boys, this weekend brings them a well-deserved rest until training resumes on Monday ahead of the Villa game on the 13th. I’m looking forward to that one, always a tasty game and Villa have been playing well this season, but we have the home advantage, so it should bring us the opportunity to have another great match for the fans and players.

Another ‘win’ for the Foxes was the announcement this week that we have secured Swansea’s Midfielder Nathan Dyer on a season-long loan, already scoring against Stoke during the week behind closed doors. Ranieri now has so many options available and I think we may see Dyer debuting against Villa, although it will be interesting to see if he’s put straight into the starting eleven or if Ranieri chooses to stick to the squad which remains unbeaten this season.

Last weekend, we knew it would be a tricky match and Vardy’s late penalty saved us from a potential first defeat. We were up against it in the first half but credit to our players again and another point on the table is nothing to be sniffed at. I’m looking forward to bringing Bournemouth to the den in the New Year for a rematch, should be a great game again.

Ranieri chose to substitute Mahrez at half-time, which was a bit of a shock to some fans after his performances so far, but Leicester’s stand out performer suffered a knock from Max Gradel almost immediately after kick-off and Ranieri believed Mahrez struggled to recover.

It gave Dodoo a chance to come off the bench after a great performance in the previous week’s Capital One match against Bury, and that just demonstrated that Ranieri is willing to give youngsters a chance to gain experience and make a contribution to Leicester’s success. I must admit, I expected him to play someone like Andrej Kramaric, but he knows what he’s doing; after all, we’re still third in the league so we’re doing something right, and long may it continue!

 

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Three’s a charm

We can’t fail to be impressed with the start to the season and we’re now looking at 10 wins out of our last 12 premiership games, which is outstanding.

As I said last week, I think we would have been happy coming away from Upton Park with a point so it was a terrific win at a historically difficult fixture.
I think many were surprised that Ranieri kept the same formation as we played against Sunderland, but it worked and I cannot see a reason we cannot continue the celebrations with Tottenham this weekend.

The club has seen such a turnaround since Christmas when it all looked a bit doom and gloom and the players and fans have had a real boost from achieving maximum points from these first two games. It’s important to get points on the board early on and very difficult in this league to come back from early losses, now it’s just a case of following up on our performance so far.

I think our biggest test will be when we do get beaten, which we will at some point, and how we react. We’ve got some tough games in Autumn, but at the moment it’s so good to see us up there between Man City and United, I don’t know if we ever had such a great start when I was playing.

The signing of Gokhan Inler, Swiss International, is exciting and I’m hoping he’ll be passed to make his debut against Tottenham. But, I think it’s also indicative of the club’s intentions, we now have plenty of international players and the owners have made it clear that this is not just a club aspiring to stay up this year. It could cause a bit of unrest in the squad wondering if there are plans to offload any existing players, but we’re now in a good position where we can rotate the squad and, if we suffer any injuries or suspensions later in the season, we have back-up in most positions so it shouldn’t impact on our performance.

Again, last weekend Okazaki stood out for me, he’s hit the ground running and his reaction to the goalkeeper’s save was quick and decisive and, of course, Vardy is doing exactly what he needs to up front, I reckon he’ll be aiming for 20+ goals as a personal target for this season, and he could do it!

Defensively, I think Robert Huth will be key for this season, Wes Morgan sometimes gets criticised for his pace but his experience means that he can read the game perfectly and that’s extremely important in a defensive position. Jeffrey Schlup has definitely stepped up to the plate and his pace is perhaps his best attribute, he just seems to get better and better with experience. I’m confident we have a solid back four which will be pivotal in the big games this autumn.

Of course, we said farewell to David Nugent as he goes to Middlesborough; great player and we wish him the best of luck with his new team.
What’s great about LCFC is our supporters, I’ve heard people referring to our away fans as the best in the league, and it really does make a difference on the pitch. At home, the
clackers are back and we’re reaching a 32,000 capacity every week which is not only great for the club but the city as a whole.

It’s a great start for sure and I’m cautiously optimistic, let’s see if this weekend we can get another 3 points on the table and ‘spur’ Leicester on!

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Can The Foxes deliver another ‘hammering’?

Can The Foxes deliver another ‘hammering’?

What a start to the season! The lads put in a fantastic performance overall and the fans were great, I don’t think Sunderland we’re quite ready for a taste of Leicester passion!

It wasn’t the formation I think most of us suspected, but you do need a different strategy at home and Ranieri went straight in for the attack. A great debut by Okazaki; great energy and work rate and with the chances we created, we could easily have scored 7 or 8 goals.

Sunderland were pretty poor and it is a concern that we conceded 2 goals to them, so I’m erring on the side of caution when it comes to predictions for the rest of the season at this stage. If we stick with the same system of play throughout we could come unstuck, but it doesn’t detract from the win on Saturday.

A5_eskimo beats.2I remember those first games of a new season and it is a dream come true to start with a win, especially a thrashing! It should fill the lads with confidence and I would imagine they’re feeling pretty positive and motivated to keep it up.

This weekend we’re away to West Ham which is always a tough game, never in my career did we get many points at Upton Park or The Emirates, those 2 stadiums just never seemed to come through for us. But, last season we did manage a win against West Ham at home so we just need to carry on the energy and grit we had last weekend and I hope we come away with a point, if not a win.

I’ll be interested to see how Ranieri plays the squad for his first away game, whether he’ll stick with the formation he used against Sunderland or change to a more defensive strategy such as a 3-5-2. When we’d played a great game like that, Martin O’Neill probably wouldn’t have changed too much but we’ll see what Ranieri’s experience brings to the fold at the weekend.

Sadly, attention has been slightly deflected from
our victory by the news on Jamie Vardy’s conduct, which we could do without after Pearson’s exit in the summer. I’ve not really looked into the full story, but poor conduct, on or off the pitch, and bad press is never good for football.
Don’t get me wrong, I made my mistakes and was outspoken at times but the press are getting too intrusive into player’s personal lives and you have to be so careful when you speak to them as you never know what they’re probing for.

I think players should maybe be given some media training, particularly the younger players, as it’s a minefield which they’re not prepared for and it takes time to adjust. More importantly though it’s realising that your actions reflect on the club and making sure you always conduct yourself as well as possible…then there’s nothing to write about!

Let’s hope it’s resolved and Vardy can concentrate on getting us another goal this weekend…come on lads, show the Hammers what we’re made of!
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The Black Cats enter the Foxes den

Since the squad returned from their training in Austria, we’ve had a cracking pre-season which has no doubt fuelled the team and fan’s spirits for the new season.

With three wins under our belt already we are looking forward to a very positive start to the 2015/16 season.

Judging by our performance across the last three matches, it looks as though Ranieri has, as expected, tried out different squads and formations in order to pick the best combination to take on the Premiership, and it looks as though he will stick with the 3-5-2 formation which brought us success at the end of last season and against Championship side Birmingham City last week.

With Wes Morgan returning to the back three from Jamaica, further strengthening our defence, and Schmiechel in goal, the combination should give us a force to be reckoned with for any team’s attack. I believe that we had one of the best defences in the Premiership by the end of last season, and continuing that will be fundamental to our success.

Ranieri’s new signings mean we have an abundance of quality midfielders for the squad, a bit of a selection headache for Ranieri, but an advantage for us as a team. Aside from the replacements and new squad members, I hope that there aren’t too many changes from Pearson’s end of season squad, as we managed some great performances and the team spirit was electric.

The first match of the season against Sunderland is a great opportunity to pick up three points and start the season as we mean to go on, it’s a ‘must win’ in my opinion.

Sunderland’s pre-season has been mixed and they had a tough 2014/15 season, with the arrival of Dick Advocaat saving them from relegation in the final stages of the league. Looking at the two sides, I believe we do have a better squad, although, with ex-Tottenham player Jermaine Defoe up front, he could pose a threat.

Above all, I cannot wait to get back to the stadium and meet more fans and players, and I’m hoping we will recreate the fantastic atmosphere we had last year to spur the lads on.

See you all at the stadium.

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