Ranieri calls for focus
Glance at the Champions League standings and it would seem all is just fine at Leicester City this season. Three matches. Three wins. No goals conceded.
If only the defence of its English Premier League title was going so well.
Few expected Leicester to replicate the feats of last season, when the unheralded team from central England went from relegation favourites to title winners in one of the most amazing stories in all of sport.
Few, though, would have expected such a drop-off in the league the following season.
"When I think of the Premier League, I'm very, very angry," said Leicester's usually amiable coach, Claudio Ranieri.
Leicester heads into today's home match against Crystal Palace in 13th place in the 20-team league, having lost four of its opening eight games. The team only lost three league matches in the whole of last season.
The most obvious explanation for the drastic dip in form is a change of focus. This season, it increasingly seems, is all about the Champions League, which Leicester is competing in for the first time.
"It's just psychological," Ranieri explained. "Because when we play in the Champions League, all the specials are switched on. You're very, very smart, focused in every situation."
The same can't be said in the Premier League. Leicester has lost to Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea by three-goal margins and also has been defeated by promoted Hull. Its only wins have come against Burnley and Swansea, both of whom like Hull are among the contenders for relegation.
United manager Jose Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge tomorrow for the first time since getting fired by Chelsea in December, which ended his second spell at the London club.
It will be the latest game in a tough period for United, which played away to Liverpool on Monday and hosts Manchester City in the League Cup on Wednesday.
Mourinho adopted a defensive, containing approach at Liverpool, which eked out a 0-0 draw for United. He may do the same against a Chelsea team that has won both of its games since manager Antonio Conte switched to a three-man defense.
Sergio Aguero has found himself in an unusual position in City's last two games: on the substitutes' bench.
Rested against Everton in the Premier League after exertions on international duty, the Argentina striker was controversially left out for tactical reasons in the 4-0 loss at Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Aguero should return tomorrow for the league leaders against Southampton, which hasn't lost any of its last four games in the league.