Riyad Mahrez will be part of Leicester City’s Premier League title defence, according to boss Claudio Ranieri.
Mahrez scooped the PFA Player of the Year award last season after a succession of dazzling performances inspired Leicester to an improbable triumph.
Heavyweight clubs from home and abroad have been linked to Ranieri’s heroes during the close season but N’Golo Kante stands as the only major departure from the King Power Stadium after Chelsea met the France midfielder’s buyout clause.
Jamie Vardy spurned Arsenal’s advances by signing a contract extension and, after Ranieri penned his own four-year renewal on Wednesday, he expects Mahrez to be at his disposal for the foreseeable future despite numerous reported suitors for the Algeria winger.
“He stays with us,” Ranieri told Sky Sports. “We wanted to keep all our players. Of course, Kante had the clause and Chelsea paid the clause.
“But Riyad does not have the clause and he will stay with us.”
Ranieri conceded Kante’s loss was a blow but praised Vardy’s decision to stay.
“With N’Golo I always said we played with 12 men,” he joked. “When the referee counts it is 11 but N’Golo was two midfielders and plus [Danny] Drinkwater it meant I always played three midfielders.
“Jamie is our strength, our point of reference and with him on the field you can score at any time.”
Vardy could be joined in attack by new signing Ahmed Musa in Saturday’s Premier League opener against newly promoted Hull City and the Nigeria international, signed from CSKA Moscow, made a favourable early impression with Leicester fans by scoring an impressive double in the 4-2 friendly defeat to Barcelona.
“I expect first of all he must understand the Premier League speed because in Russia It is different football and now it is important he understands our football in the Premier League,” Ranieri explained.
“Also he can permit me to change positions because he is not only a first striker. He can play behind the strikers, he can play in the wide position and he can permit me to change something.”
Midfielder Nampalys Mendy is another new signing saddled with considerable expectations but Ranieri played down any comparisons between the ex-Nice midfielder and former crowd favourite Kante.
“No, he is a different type of player and we bought Mendy before Kante went away,” the 64-year-old Italian added.
“They are not similar, they are different. We bought him to have another midfielder and it is important now to look at what we need and see.”