Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Another great result from what could have been a tricky game against Crystal Palace. Thankfully I was working so I got to watch a fair bit of the match and I think Palace were always going to provide a stern test but I didn’t think they created too much in the way of chances and offensively we were on the ball (literally).

It was important for us to get a win after our previous home defeat to Arsenal so to come away with not only the win but also that elusive clean sheet we’ve been holding out for was a superb result.

Whatever the Tinkerman is tinkering with is certainly working both tactically and with the team’s morale. Of course, it’s cost him the price of a few pizzas now but it’s more than worth the ‘dough’!

Once again we showed great character and a real passion for the game, which we have all season, and I think that’s setting us apart from many teams at the moment.

I was slightly disappointed with the mid-week result and our exit from the Capital One Cup. I’ve always been particularly fond of cup matches and after getting this far I would have liked to have seen us collect a bit of silverware (not that the subsequent quarter-final draw would have done us any favours!).

Having said that, Hull played really well and they deserved a good result. Ranieri took the opportunity to rest some of the first team squad and let some others show what they’re capable of, but in hindsight I wonder if the full first team could have secured us the win? However, I think Ranieri is acting wisely to keep his focus on the Premier League this season: maybe even Europe in due course or am I getting carried away now?

This weekend we’re going to The Hawthorns. Some pundits might even see us as the favourites since West Brom have had a mixed season so far and it gives us a great opportunity to put some more points on the board. Tony Pulis is never an easy opponent though, so we need to keep our wits about us and be ready to unleash that Foxes fighting spirit.

I always say that a point away from home is a good result and a win at home, so I’d be happy with that; although another win would be outstanding, especially if it involved our second clean sheet!

If we can keep the momentum going up to Christmas then we would be in a great position and I think it is a real possibility that come 2016 we could be looking at the best Premier League finish we’ve ever had – 8th was the highest when I was playing – so I’m keen to see if we can push ourselves up those few extra places and put ourselves in contention for Europe.

Here’s hoping that West Brom don’t put a thorn in our side and everything continues to plan.

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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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Rule Britannia!

Last weekend, what a game! It was truly astonishing. I’ve been involved in some comebacks over the years, but this was amazing. Never do I think I’ve ever seen us make a comeback quite so spectacular but, as the commentators said, the Leicester team have a spirit this season of “never say die” and they certainly lived up to that last Sunday.

I think many spectators felt the dread of our first loss this season as we were 2-0 down in the second-half, but I did think if we just got one goal we could potentially pull it back. Little did we expect the outstanding last 15-20 minutes we witnessed!

In the first-half I didn’t feel we pressed Villa enough and we just couldn’t close them down but the second-half was a different story and Villa barely managed to make it over the halfway line. I thought the turnaround was inspired by some brave substitutions by Ranieri, bringing Inler off and bringing on Kante and Dyer, and what a difference they made.

I felt we had a solid back four, although we played a little deep at times, and Wes Morgan had a good game for our defence. Throughout the game there were some questionable decisions including booking Albrighton when he’d blatantly been fouled 3 times earlier and nothing was given for any of them. There were definitely a few penalty decisions that we might have benefited from but, in the end, we didn’t need them.

And what a debut from Nathan Dyer; he was sharp and fresh and his goal was a brave one. A lot of players would have backed out of that and I admit I thought he’d suffered a serious injury immediately afterwards but he shook it off and enjoyed the fans exultation. Good on him!

Talking of the fans, it was an electric atmosphere, and the noise from the Leicester supporters after that third goal must have hit a new decibel rating. It just goes to show, our die-hard fans are what make every match so much fun to be part of and the immense pride they have when we score really spurs the squad on, so they deserve huge congratulations for the success the club is experiencing at the moment as well.

I think we’re confident, fast and playing well as a team and we could potentially upset a few of the bigger clubs coming up.

We’ll be confident going to Stoke this weekend. We lost to them in our most recent meeting in January but the last time we visited the Britannia Stadium we recorded a 1-0 win. It’s another of those tricky stadiums and we could be in for a bit of a battle. I don’t think we can go there thinking it will be an easy game. Stoke’s performances this season may not yet be on a par with the Foxes, but they’ve got some good players and they’ll be definitely looking for a win at home.

As for us, I think Ranieri can’t fail to look at last week’s second-half performance when he’s picking the squad for this weekend and, providing there are no injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if the starting eleven was very close to that which finally worked it’s magic on Villa but we’ll have to wait and see.

I saw an interesting piece in the Leicester Mercury this week which showed that Foxes’ players have registered four of the top five speeds recorded during the Premier League so far with Vardy logging a speed of 35.44km/h, Schlupp 35.26km/h and Albrighton 35.00km/h. So I think Stoke will have to catch us first before they start looking at scoring!

As for myself and Muzzy, we’re back at the academy with the new term underway. We’ve now got approximately 70 students (60 BTEC years 1 & 2 and 10 apprentices) in brand new classrooms down in Whetstone so it’s all systems go.

For those of you who don’t know, we teamed up with PTC Education last year to create the Advanced Football Academy (AFDA) which offers a unique program for 16-18 year olds to work toward a BTEC level 3 in Sports Studies, whilst giving Muzzy and I the chance to pass on some of our training and hopefully, we’ll be writing about our alumni playing for LCFC in the coming years!

If you’ve just left school, or have children who have, and want a career in sports, then it’s not yet too late to join this year’s intake, although it will close in a few weeks. So, if you’re looking to ‘kick’ start your sporting career, have a look or get in touch. Our website is www.afdaleicester.co.uk or email [email protected] and help us find some future Premier League stars.

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Caps, Trophies and a Midland Derby: Things Look Interesting for LCFC

It’s been a good week for Leicester’s players as they’ve contributed on the international scene.  Great to see Vardy make a start against San Marino and shows Hodgson is taking an interest and the opportunity to have another look at him.  The game was a bit boring, as you’d expect against a team which has two bar owners and an accountant as goalkeeper, but Vardy made some tremendous runs and perhaps didn’t quite get the service he does at Leicester.  All in all, though, it’s another cap for him and shows that he’s in Hodgson’s plans so I hope to see him making an appearance again soon.

The England v Switzerland game was the first real chance I’ve had to look at Gokhan Inler since his arrival and he looked good; could be a really useful player and I imagine Ranieri will be playing him in the imminent future after the performance he gave as Swiss Captain this week.

More good news for the club in the form of nominations for both Ranieri and Mahrez as the Premier League’s ‘Manager of the Month’ and ‘Player of the Month’ respectively.  And so they should be; Ranieri has helped us get a cracking start to the season under our belts and Mahrez has been outstanding, I really like him and think we’ll continue to see great things from him.

This weekend I must say I do fancy us against Villa, but as ever, I remain cautiously optimistic.  I think we will start as favourites but I’ve got a lot of respect for Sherwood and he’s got plenty of experience.  I think it will be a tight game and I cannot see an abundance of goals; we’ll have to work hard but we have the home advantage and Sherwood’s made a lot of changes to the squad so there is still some ‘bedding in’ to do.

For us, it’s a chance to cement our position in the league and continue our unbeaten streak and for Sherwood he’ll be keen to get points on the board to secure Villa’s Premier League place comfortably for next season and beyond, so I don’t expect it to be an easy match, but it should be a good one!

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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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Oh, We Do Love to be Beside the Seaside

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Another solid performance and another point on the table after last week’s match against Tottenham. They’re a big team and we played very well, we deserved a win. I felt there were a couple of questionable decisions which didn’t go our way and we continued to create great chances, particularly in the second half. And, Mahrez, well, what can I say? He’s in terrific form and really stands out this season as a quality player and getting the equaliser in the last 10 minutes lastweek was just another outstanding piece of play from him.

Mid-week we had another success with the win over Bury for the Capital One Cup; Ranieri took a good opportunity to rest some players and give others a chance to show what they’re made of and we had another good performance, which gives us more confidence going forward that we have a back-up in place which will see us through the season.

The players seem to be responding well to Ranieri, I think there was some concern that the change may cause upset in the team dynamics, but that’s simply not been the case, I’ve yet to meet him personally but I’ve heard good things from everyone I’ve spoken to and whatever it is he brings to the team, it’s certainly working so far!

I think he will still be working on the defence, as we are leaking a few goals but at the moment we’re scoring enough for it not to be a huge concern. When we get in front of some of the big teams it could leave us more vulnerable though so he’ll certainly want to get things as tight at the back as possible. We’ve yet to be fully tested but the team looks much better than this time last year, work rate, teamwork, energy – it’s proving a winning combination and one to be reckoned with.

We’re on track for that Top 10 finish I predicted pre-season and I think that will be the focus for the owners and Ranieri as the league progresses, and, of course, this year it’s big money which cannot fail to benefit the club further for next season.

This week, we’re at Bournemouth which is one for the fans and it should be a great bank holiday weekend and a big day for LCFC. I think we need to be wary of Bournemouth though, they’ve had a good win at West Ham and scored 8 goals in their last 2 games so they’ll be fired up and wanting some more points on the table to make up for their first 2 games.

I remember at Leicester when we first got promoted to the Premiership it gives you a renewed energy and a real impetus to show the ‘big boys’ what you can do, and they’ve done great to work their way through the leagues to get where they are today, and they won’t want to give that up without a fight! As long as we are prepared and stay relaxed, we can definitely win this one, but we need to stay focussed as we could trip up if not and they’ll be quick to take an advantage if they can.

I think it’ll be an interesting team selection for Ranieri so I’m keen to see what he does, although I imagine he will keep the formation which has brought us success so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if he mixes the squad up a bit.

The Cherries look ripe for the picking, here’s to another great match!
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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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