Claudio Ranieri’s Tinkerman days may be over after he again named an unchanged team but his cautious talk remained, refusing to contemplate the title after Leicester City beat Newcastle United on Monday.
After ruining Rafa Benitez’s debut as Newcastle manager by masterminding a 1-0 home win that took Leicester five points clear at the top of the Premier League, the Italian sidestepped the notion his side were heading for unexpected glory.
“No, the race is open. We are fighting (to qualify) for Europe and then maybe with four or five matches left, maybe we are fighting for the Champions League,” Ranieri told Sky Sports after Shinji Okazaki’s bicycle kick secured victory.
“We are so strong, we think only one game at a time,” added Ranieri who rarely deviates from his tried and trusted starting lineup.
He has been singing the same post-match tune all season, saying earlier in the campaign that Leicester, who made an unlikely escape from relegation last term, were just looking to get enough points to stay in the top flight.
Now they need a maximum of 20 points from the last eight games to clinch their first top-flight title and City are grinding out narrow wins with a consistency that has left their illustrious pursuers trailing in their wake.
“It wasn’t the best performance from us but we showed fantastic spirit,” said Ranieri who was known as the Tinkerman during his time at Chelsea between 2000-04 because of a fondness for rotating his players.
“We defended very well...and we fought. It wasn’t nervy in the second half, the team were so close and compact.
“I am just concentrating now on the next game against Crystal Palace (on Saturday). Step-by-step, that is our philosophy.”
It is an approach that has paid dividends all season with former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, who knows more than anyone what it takes to win the title, predicting this week that Leicester would be champions with games to spare.
Captain Wes Morgan was also not buying into that idea as he echoed his manager’s stance.
“We had to dig in, it wasn’t easy with Rafa Benitez taking over and giving them a lift,” said the defender.
“It wasn’t a pretty game but we got the points. The games are getting ticked off, it will go to the last game. We aren’t watching where we might finish.” (Writing by Ken Ferris; Editing by Tony Jimenez)