Leicester refreshed in time for title charge
26 February 2016, 08:07
Leicester - While their Premier League title rivals have been battling for cup glory at home and in Europe, shock leaders Leicester City have enjoyed a refreshing two-week break from action.
Now the Foxes are back after a seven day holiday and, according to manager Claudio Ranieri, refreshed for a spell of matches he believes will determine the course of their remarkable season.
In the agony of a stoppage-time defeat at Arsenal in their last game, it seemed that a little momentum had shifted away from Ranieri's men following an unbeaten league run that stretched back to Boxing Day.
Yet they remain two points clear at the top of the table with 12 games remaining, the first five of which pit them against clubs they will be clear favourites to beat.
They face Norwich on Saturday at the King Power Stadium, then meet West Bromwich Albion, Watford, Newcastle and Crystal Palace before the next international break at the end of March.
"We have a block of games now until March 19 that could be the key to our season," Ranieri said.
"We are at 'the turn'. The next five matches are the turn - then there is the run-in and the goal is there.
"This is the key moment for us. I'm very focussed on these five matches.
"After that we can say where we are. We will say 'We are here, OK, keep going', or 'No! What happened?'"
Such was Ranieri's pride at his team's performance in the defeat at the Emirates Stadium, he generously gave them the week's break they had been promised if they collected maximum points from their meetings with Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal - they ultimately managed six from a possible nine.
It is the longest mid-season break the veteran Italian has ever afforded a group of players under his guidance, but he revealed his players were not allowed to down tools completely despite many flying on family holidays.
They were sent away with GPS systems to be worn during solo training sessions, designed to ensure they returned to training last Monday ready for the final push.
"I gave the players some programmes and they respected it and worked well," Ranieri said.
"We had their GPS and when they came back the results were good.
"I trust them because they are very professional players. It was the right decision because they deserved to have a rest."
Having named an unchanged starting line-up for the last six league games, Ranieri will be forced into at least one alteration against Norwich as Danny Simpson serves a one-match suspension following his red card at Arsenal.
January signing Daniel Amartey is favourite to replace Simpson at right-back in what would be his Premier League debut, but Marcin Wasilewski will also come into contention, while Marc Albrighton could drop back from his normal wide midfield role.
The Canaries head for the King Power Stadium without a league victory since January 2 - a run that has plunged them firmly into relegation trouble and thrown the spotlight onto manager Alex Neil.
"My responsibility is to win games and at the moment we are not doing that," he said.
"Whatever way you want to cut it, people want to win.
"You can play the worst game ever but if you find a way to win they are quite happy.
"They might still moan about the performance but that is the nature of football. If you lose when you might play really, really well it makes no difference.
"The one thing about football is a manager will always get criticised at every club, it doesn't matter whether you are doing well or not.
"Someone is always not going to be happy and people are entitled to their opinion."
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