The table-topping Leicester City manager tried to heap some pressure on second-placed Tottenham yesterday by insisting they are the club who should be favourites ahead of his team because they are ‘strong in every situation’.
Ranieri also believes that Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino would agree — even though his side have been able to go about their business relatively discreetly.
He feels Leicester have been the focus of attention in this year’s title chase because of their surprise factor but more notice should be taken of Spurs, who have won their last six Barclays Premier League games.
‘Tottenham are strong in every situation, when they defend and when they attack, they know very well what they want,’ said Ranieri. ‘They have been the best team we have played.
‘Everyone is speaking about Leicester but no-one is speaking about Tottenham. Slowly, slowly, quiet, quiet they go.
‘Tottenham is in my opinion the favourites, then Arsenal then Manchester City. I understand we are the surprise, fantastic with good energy. But if we are realistic the real competitors are the others.’
The Italian denied he was being slightly mischievous in his assessment and insisted Pochettino would concur. ‘I think he will agree with me, of course,’ said the 64-year-old. ‘I tell the truth. You ask me, and I say what I think.’
Ranieri’s impish smile was never far from his lips, however, particularly when he was asked how he spent Sunday, when Arsenal lost to Manchester United to remain five points back but Tottenham overcame Swansea to keep pace.
‘I was at the training session in the morning then at the restaurant with my family. I didn’t watch,’ he said. While Arsene Wenger’s side were ceding any initiative at Old Trafford, Ranieri was said to be enjoying a pear and Gorgonzola tart followed by chicken Chiantigiana at a pizzeria called Boboli in Kibworth Harcourt, just outside Leicester.
It typifies the man who will do things his own way. On Sunday evening he studied Leicester’s late win over Norwich again for ways to improve, as well as West Brom’s 3-2 victory against Crystal Palace.
Ranieri says the Baggies, who visit the King Power Stadium tonight, are ‘very, very dangerous’ and he has huge respect for their manager Tony Pulis.
The absence of N’Golo Kante for this fixture and Saturday’s game at Watford through a hamstring problem is major. The French midfielder has been tremendous all season but Ranieri said he has faith in replacement Andy King.
‘N’Golo has been extraordinary but I am very confident with Kingy,’ he added. Kante will be given a week to recover.
Aside from changes to personnel or fatigue, Leicester’s players must deal with the mental pressure of leading the race. Ranieri had rather blunt words for anyone who shows signs of buckling.
‘I am building a team for the future. If I see there is someone who doesn’t keep this pressure then he is not with me in the future,’ he said. ‘I have told how Leicester want to grow up in three years and compete every year at this level. To be at the top, I don’t know, but between the battle for Europa League and Champions League.
‘Now we are gaining experience from the pressure, from everything, the media, speculation, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and this and that.
‘The players must understand at the top there is every day one new story. You have to play with the same concentration and leave out all the speculation.’
One final attempt was put to him that becoming a champion would be a wonderful achievement. ‘Who, Tottenham?’ he replied, grinning. – Daily Mail
Original source: Ranieri starts mind games with Spurs