A year on from sitting bottom of the Premier League, Claudio Ranieri has urged Leicester City not to look down as the Premier League leaders prepare to take on Liverpool at Anfield on Boxing Day.
Ranieri’s men ensured the Christmas number one spot with a 3-2 win over Everton – Riyad Mahrez’s brace and a Shinji Okazaki strike maintaining Leicester’s incredible season before Arsenal moved within two points of top spot with victory over Manchester City on Monday.
Leicester are the first side in Premier League history to be bottom at Christmas one year and top the next and face a Liverpool side enduring their first tricky spell under Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool are winless in four matches in all competitions but Ranieri is more concerned with ensuring his squad maintain focus and continue to lead the way in an unpredictable season.
“Our team is a young team, it’s the first time we’re top of the league, we aren’t used to staying there, for this reason it’s important for me they don’t think about it,” the Italian said. “It’s like a climber. If you look below: ‘Ahhh … my God’.
“I think if we go through this fantastic moment – because now we have Liverpool, Manchester City and then Bournemouth, who are in great form, then Tottenham – maybe if we are still top after that not only Leicester fans are behind us, but a lot of English fans as well.
“Because Leicester, I think, are a likeable team. Maybe the people say: ‘If my team don’t win, I’m very happy if Leicester win.’ And this is a good thing.
“Leicester had pressure last season in this period – bad pressure – now they must enjoy, they must play free. It’s stupid if we have pressure.
“All the world are speaking about you, continue to play how you are doing. Sooner or later we will lose a match – I hope later – but we must continue to work hard.”
Danny Drinkwater (hamstring) and Matty James (match fitness) are set to miss out for Leicester while Klopp will be without Martin Skrtel (hamstring) for six weeks as the German seeks to end a difficult run of results.
Following a promising start to Klopp’s reign, Liverpool slipped to ninth following their 3-0 defeat at Watford but have not lost any of their last six games against Saturday’s opponents.
Liverpool have only lost once at home during Klopp’s reign and striker Christian Benteke is eager to maintain that run at Anfield.
“[Leicester] won’t just sit back and wait for a mistake. They will want to play and show that they have the quality to play. That’s why they’re first in the league,” the Belgian told Liverpool’s website.
“Of course we have to respect them but when we play them we have to do everything to try to get the three points.
“I’m feeling good and I want to play because it’s a big game. But it’s up to the manager and I respect his decision.”
Key Opta stats:
– Liverpool have never lost at home in the Premier League on Boxing Day (W5 D3), but Leicester City were one of the teams to earn a draw back in 1996.
– Jamie Vardy has won six penalties in the Premier League since the start of 2014-15; more than any other player.
– Leicester have won 18 of their last 26 Premier League games. In the same period, Liverpool have collected just eight wins.
– Only two players have been involved in more goals than Riyad Mahrez (20) in the top five European leagues so far in 2015-16. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (22) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (21).
– Leicester are only the second team in top-flight history to be bottom of the league at Christmas one season and top of that league on Christmas day the next, after Norwich City in 1987-88 (bottom) and 1988-89 (top).