Ranieri braces Leicester for big team backlash

London (AFP) – Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri has told his players to expect the full force of the Premier League’s leading clubs when they attempt to defend their fairytale title next season.

Leicester concluded their astonishing campaign on Sunday with a 1-1 draw at deposed champions Chelsea, Ranieri’s former club, which left the 5,000-1 outsiders 10 points clear at the top of the standings.

It was an accurate reflection of both their relentless consistency and the failings of the traditional elite, but with doubly determined domestic opposition to contend with in 2016-17, as well as Champions League football, Ranieri knows that, come August, Leicester will be marked men.

“We know if there is a fairytale next season, it will be no nightmare, but it’s different next season,” the jovial Italian told his post-match press conference at a sun-soaked Stamford Bridge.

“We know very well we are fighting between 10, 11 (teams) to the high positions. I am sure all the big teams will go back. We continue to fight. That is our destiny. It was important to be ready when the other big teams together weren’t.”

He added: “The Champions League will be a very good experience for all my players. I think no-one played the Champions League (before).

“It will be a very good atmosphere, with the music. I hope we are ready. Not to listen too much to the music, but to do some music.”

Before the game, Ranieri spoke to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, the man who had sacked him 12 years previously, and he revealed afterwards that the Russian had offered him “very warm” congratulations.

Ranieri was also granted a guard of honour by Chelsea’s players and received a rousing reception from the home fans, some of whom sang: “There’s only one Ranieri!”

He lightheartedly admonished a reporter who asked him if he had had to fight back tears, saying: “No, no tears. Come on, man! Every time you are speaking about the tears.”

Leicester will parade the Premier League trophy in front of their adoring supporters during an open-top bus tour of the city on Monday, before departing for a post-season trip to Thailand, home country of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, on Tuesday.

– Hen and egg –

With a view to next season, Ranieri experimented with a 4-1-4-1 system against Chelsea that saw lone striker Jamie Vardy flanked by Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray.

But he reverted to his usual 4-4-2 formation at half-time and revealed afterwards that he intends to begin next season “with the same shape”.

Leicester looked to be heading to only their fourth defeat of the campaign after Cesc Fabregas put Chelsea ahead with a 66th-minute penalty, only for Danny Drinkwater to drive home a 25-yard equaliser with eight minutes remaining.

The result saw Chelsea finish the season in 10th place and outgoing interim manager Guus Hiddink predicted that his successor, Antonio Conte, will not find it easy to return the club to the upper reaches of the table.

“It’s not easy because this season we were all very aware what other clubs can do as well,” said Hiddink, who completed his second short-term stint at Chelsea.

“Now everyone knows Leicester. We have seen Tottenham, but we have also seen West Ham. They were playing very well, very attractive.

“Other clubs are knocking on the door and having more financial background next season and maybe smart recruiting. I don’t think it’s a done deal that the four established clubs from the past are the four established clubs for the future.”

Hiddink, who revealed that he will return to the club to work with youngsters from Chelsea’s academy, also urged patience over the future of captain John Terry, who is considering the offer of a one-year contract extension.

“John Terry and the club are in contact and that is good,” said the 69-year-old Dutchman.

“We must not rock the boat. In Holland we say, don’t disturb the hen that is sitting on the egg.”

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