Five months after collecting the English Premier League trophy, Claudio Ranieri was ecstatic just to see Leicester collect a point at Tottenham on Saturday.
Celebrating a 1-1 draw – after Leicester forward Ahmed Musa canceled out Vincent Janssen’s penalty – was not demeaning for the Leicester manager. Far from it.
Defending the title won so unexpectedly by the club for the first time last season was always an unlikely proposition as rivals have strengthened. Ranieri’s early target is the same as last season’s: Stay in the Premier League.
While the Italian was underplaying the strength of Leicester’s position a year ago to alleviate the pressure on his players, slipping into a relegation dogfight has looked possible this season. Especially with Jamie Vardy, last season’s top scorer on 24 goals, extending his drought to 10 games at White Hart Lane.
But after four successive losses on the road in the league, Leicester has its first point away from King Power Stadium and is up to 11th.
“We won something unbelievable (last season) – we don’t have pressure,” Ranieri sad. “The pressure is on the other teams. We won the title. The pressure is to be safe, our pressure.”
Leicester is five points clear of danger after hovering above the relegation zone in the opening two months, but Ranieri is encouraged the team is rediscovering the resolve that inspired one of the biggest-ever sporting shocks.
“I saw the same spirit as last season because until now we did not have the spirit (as a team),” Ranieri said. “Today, we played as a team again and I enjoyed it a lot.”
It doesn’t grate Ranieri that since slugging it out with Tottenham for the title last season, the teams’ paths have diverged. Tottenham is fourth, chasing its first title since 1961, eight points in front of Leicester and three points behind pacesetters Manchester City and Arsenal.
On the face of it, being held by Leicester is a setback for a Tottenham side on a five-match winless run.
Tottenham has stalled since opening the month with an eye-catching victory over City, as last season’s top scorer, Harry Kane, remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Janssen, signed from AZ Alkmaar preseason as backup to Kane, is being relied on more than expected early in his Tottenham career but Mauricio Pochettino’s team is not being clinical enough in front of goal.
“We need to kill the game and score goals – today and in the last few games we have some problems in that situation,” Pochettino said. “We need to be more determined to score, to be more aggressive. Not to punch! To be more direct, have more belief.”
Although Janssen scored his third goal of the season against Leicester, the Dutch forward is yet to score from open play. All of his strikes came from the penalty spot.
Janssen converted from the spot against Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel after being brought down by Robert Huth in the 44th minute, but it was canceled out three minutes into the second half.
Leicester was gifted an equalizer, the type of good fortune experienced so often last season. Tottenham midfielder Victor Wanyama headed the ball back into the path of Vardy, who back-heeled it across to Musa to bundle into the net.
It left Tottenham with a third successive league draw, on top of being knocked out of the League Cup by Liverpool, and being held 0-0 by Bayer Leverkusen.
Tottenham plays Leverkusen again on Wednesday in the Champions League, the competition that Leicester appears to be focusing on this season.
While Tottenham has collected only four points from its opening three European fixtures, Leicester has a perfect nine. Leicester’s surprise this season is coming on the continent, rather than at home.
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