Ranieri gives leaders Leicester a break


Leicester (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Claudio Ranieri will give his table-topping Leicester City squad a well-deserved rest as they prepare for a three-game acid test of their title credentials next month.

While Ranieri heads back to his native Italy to see his family, he urged his players to enjoy a three-day rest before focusing on big games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Leicester climbed back to the top of the Premier League with an emphatic 3-0 victory at home to Stoke City and just as significantly opened up a ten-point gap on fifth place.

"It was important to be top of the League at the end of January, because February is a very difficult month for us," said the Foxes boss after seeing his side sweep aside Stoke.

"Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City; it is unbelievable, but is also good."

He added: "We play so many matches in the last month, and now it is important, not physically, but mentally to give them two-three days without coming in for training sessions.

"Now they stay with their families, it is much better. When they come back, we work very hard because this League is very exciting."

Leicester went into a potentially tough encounter with just one win in their previous seven matches during which Jamie Vardy had failed to find the back of the net.

So, it was more than just a coincidence that their return to the form which established them in the top four saw Vardy rediscover his goalscoring touch.

"It was very important to keep a clean sheet, but also to score three goals because Stoke City is a good team," said Ranieri. "Solid, strong, taller than us.

"The first half was very difficult, but fortunately we found the goals. The first goal three minutes before half time made a big difference.

"The second half was a more open match, because Stoke wanted to draw level, and there was more space for us."

Ranieri stressed that he had reassured Vardy he would hit the goals trail again.

"Jamie will have more confidence now," said the Italian. "When I speak with him, I say it is important you continue to work hard because you are the main man, you are in front of everybody.

"Sooner or later you score a goal. If your mind to score, to score to score, it will happen. You have to work how you did at the beginning and the goals will arrive."

Stoke boss Mark Hughes admitted that it was a day to forget for his side, but backed his players to bounce back in their League Cup semi-final at Liverpool.

"It wasn't a great day for us," he groaned. "We're an honest group, but today was one of those days to forget," said Hughes.

"Credit to Leicester, they work exceptionally hard. They pressure you in all areas of the field and you have to be able to deal with that.

"From our point of view we're disappointed with our response to that pressure."

He added: "Our creative work and our ability to retain possession in key areas of the field was poor.

"Today's been a big disappointment but we've got a huge game on Tuesday and I would back my team to respond quickly."

Hughes hopes to have skipper Ryan Shawcross available, even though he limped out of the game with what appeared to be a recurrence of his back problem. "His back locked on him," revealed the Welshman.

"But we're hoping that it's not a recurrence of the problem and that it's no too serious. Hopefully, it's just a muscular issue."