Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho agrees with Leicester City counterpart Claudio Ranieri that a top-four Premier League finish remains possible and challenged the champions to kick-start their domestic resurgence against the division’s surprise package.
Monday’s match will see the two sides undergo somewhat of a role reversal from previous meetings, with Leicester the high-flying form side and Chelsea in need of points to move away from the lower reaches of the top flight.
Remarkably, Leicester are 17 points ahead of Mourinho’s men, although they could be toppled from the summit by traditional title challengers Arsenal, Manchester City or Manchester United before the clash at the King Power Stadium.
Chelsea ensured Champions League progression with victory over Mourinho’s former club Porto in midweek, but languish in the bottom half following a shock home defeat to AFC Bournemouth last weekend.
Ranieri backed his ex-employers to claim a top-four spot this week and Mourinho – who succeeded the Italian at Stamford Bridge when he started his first tenure at Chelsea in 2004 – takes a similar view, while holding his opposite number in the highest regard.
“One year ago they were bottom of the league and Ranieri was sacked by the Greece national team for losing to the Faroe Islands, now he is the top manager in the Premier League and their players are top of the league. That’s the beauty, it’s fantastic,” said the Portuguese.
“Nobody has any doubt that he hasn’t forgotten his time at Chelsea. Everyone who is at this club for a certain period of time likes the club very much and Ranieri is showing the nice feeling he has, but I also believe what he says [about a top-four finish].
“Before we lost three points against Bournemouth I was absolutely convinced about finishing fourth in the table and I was convinced about a great December for us. While it’s mathematically possible we have to try.”
Mourinho has a fully-fit squad to choose from, while Matty James and Ritchie De Laet (ankle) are Leicester’s only absentees, the former having made his return from a cruciate ligament injury in last week’s Under-21s defeat to Villarreal.
Ranieri has in-form strikers Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez fit and firing, with the Englishman having scored or assisted in 13 consecutive Premier League games.
Mahrez’s hat-trick ensured Leicester a 3-0 win over Swansea City last time out and captain Wes Morgan says his side have nothing to fear.
“[The pressure] is on Chelsea a little bit. They’re not in the best of form at the moment and they should be doing a lot better,” Morgan told the club’s official website.
“We can’t write them off because they’re a fantastic team with fantastic players. At some point we know they will come good and go on a run of winning games.
“Everyone expects them to win every game but we’re full of confidence and we should be looking to get a win.
“I think we just need to carry on playing how we have been. It’s worked so far this season, the boys know their jobs and their roles and we just want to continue our run.”
Key Opta stats:
– Leicester City have won seven and lost just one of their last 10 Premier League home games
– Chelsea have won the last six Premier League meetings with Leicester City.
– The champions have won just one of their last eight Premier League away games (W1 D2 L5).
– This is Chelsea’s worst start to a Premier League season (15 points from 15 games) since 1993-94 when they had 13 points after 15 matches.
– Chelsea have failed to score in their last two Premier League away games – they have not gone three on the road without scoring since April 2002