Claudio Ranieri has history with the Champions League of course. The Italian knows what it takes to go deep into the tournament having led Chelsea to the semi-finals in 2004 before making mistakes in the defeat by Monaco. The Leicester manager has been around long enough to also know that the further a club goes, the more the money pours in.
The trick is balancing European football with the demands of the high-intensity Premier League. But it’s not a trick Ranieri – nor his team – is mastering right now with the club sitting in 13th position with just eight points. His players seem unable to switch between the two tournaments – they have won both Champions League group games and are top of the table. But is Ranieri sending out the right signals by leaving key players on the bench for league matches?
Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness, who knows a bit about juggling European and league football, thinks not. And there was no hiding where the priority was on Saturday at Stamford Bridge as Ranieri’s side were well beaten 3-0 by Chelsea with Copenhagen – who visit the King Power on Tuesday - the bigger prize in the background. Ranieri left Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani on the bench until the last half hour by which time his team were two down and pretty much beaten.
“Ranieri’s dilemma is that he knows part of the reason for last year’s fairytale was the stability and continuity of his first XI,” the former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin said on Saturday. “This is tough to carry on now with Champions League games and travel to contend with.”
Ranieri agreed his players were struggling to adapt to the two competitions but he made no apologies for resting players and was adamant it was necessary ahead of Tuesday’s match.
He was as keen to talk about Copenhagen as Chelsea after Saturday’s defeat. “The Premier League is so long,” he said after the loss in which his team were awful in the first half, slightly better in the second. “The Champions League is two months. You want to go in the knockout stages. To achieve this you need all your players fit. I prefer to preserve my players for Tuesday night.
“It’s normal that when a team goes to play for the first time in the Champions League the mentality is totally different. [Last season] we were used to having the same mentality each week. [Now] it is a transition. It’s not the energy of the power [that is difficult to get used to] but the energy of the mentality.”
Ranieri used some clever ploys to pull his team together last season: pizza nights and the like but there are no shortcuts to getting used to the bright lights of the Champions League. “It’s not pizza, it’s not beer,” said Ranieri. “You just have to be used to playing in the Champions League and then you make the transition more easily.
“We have a hangover from last season a little bit. Last season we were out of this world. And now we come back in the world and now we have to react. There is a lot of frustration. The body language is not good. I didn’t see this body language last season. Now we have to react in a positive manner. What happened last season was crazy. Now we are the normal Leicester who have to fight.”Reuse content