Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri has urged Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to rediscover last season’s form as the champions fight relegation from the Premier League.
The pair were pivotal to Leicester’s success last season as the east midlands club defied the odds to claim an astonishing title triumph. Mahrez was named the PFA Player of the Year while Vardy finished second in the scoring charts with 24 goals, just one behind Tottenham’s Harry Kane. Mahrez also netted 17 league goals from midfield and provided 11 assists.
It is is stark contrast to this campaign. Mahrez has been nowhere near as effective and has found the net just three times in the league while Vardy has scored only five league goals, with three of those coming in one match against Manchester City on December 10 – his last goals for the club.
Their form has been directly reflected in Leicester’s season as the fairytale of nine months ago threatens to turn into a nightmare, with Leicester is serious danger of becoming the first defending champions since Manchester City in 1938 to be relegated.
Ranieri’s team are just one point above the drop zone ahead of Sunday’s crucial clash at Swansea, who are level on points with the Foxes. The Italian needs Mahrez and Vardy to start firing again and he has met with his star duo to discuss what they need to do.
“I have spoken with Riyad and I have spoken with Jamie and we know,” said Ranieri.
“They link together well. If you see how many goals they scored and how many passes they made last season – but this time no. I say to Riyad, ‘come back to last season, come back’. He is trying and he is positive and I am very happy when he is positive.
“I look at him smiling and that is okay. He is very important and now he is very concentrated on the last part of the season. I am very hopeful.
“Jamie works hard for the team but this season we have scored very few goals and scoring three goals in one match (against Derby in midweek) was amazing and I hope this is good for the future.
“But I was waiting for this kind of season, of course not so hard. It is normal after the title, this is normal.”
Leicester travel to the Liberty Stadium looking to halt a four-match losing run in the Premier League and searching for a first win in six Premier League matches.
They will face a Swansea side rejuvenated since the arrival of Paul Clement, who has just been named the manager of the month for January.
“Swansea are a very good team. They move the ball quickly. For us it’s very important to play with the brain and our quality,” said Ranieri, who this week received a vote of confidence from the club with owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha pledging his “unwavering support”.
He added: “I am confident in my players. The win against Derby in the FA Cup will give us more confidence and we have to keep going. It is an important battle, a very tough match.”