Leicester’s indifferent form has nothing to do with star man Riyad Mahrez’s failed move to Manchester City, insists manager Claude Puel.
Puel’s team have failed to win any of the five Premier League matches since Mahrez was unable to complete a January escape.
The 27-year-old winger did not train for 10 days and missed two matches after the club turned down his requests to join Pep Guardiola’s league leaders.
However, Leicester’s iffy run precedes that transfer saga, with the Foxes having won just two league games from the last 12 stretching back to mid-December.
“The first game against Everton, it was a strange atmosphere around the team. It was a difficult moment. We lost a good feeling about this game and there were mistakes,” said Puel, whose side travel to relegation-haunted West Brom on Saturday.
“Probably his absence hurt us a bit, with results and confidence, but we are pleased to have him back because he is a top player.
“Riyad reintegrated quickly and shows a great attitude, that I expected. The player we need. He went through what was a tough time for him. Everyone has welcomed him back.
“I had to try to understand the player, avoid confrontation. Riyad is very honest and wouldn’t get up to mischief.
“It was the first time he’d received such a high-profile approach, which was new for him. It was up to me to keep him here for the club, and for me to try to sort it out, protect Riyad and the club.
“Everyone conducted themselves well and he has emerged stronger, and whilst it was a setback for us in the short term, it will make us stronger for the future.”
Mahrez has since returned to life at Leicester and last weekend rescued a point for the Foxes with a late equalising free-kick against Bournemouth.
In an interview with Sky Sports on Thursday, Mahrez said that he regrets his self-imposed absence following his failed move to Manchester City but refused to rule out leaving the club this summer.
Puel said: “It is always a difficult situation to manage for the player and staff and club.
“It is important to start and finish the season with the club, this is the most important thing.
“His contract with Leicester is good and we will see in the summer. It is not a good thing to think about.
“But it is not like this just for Riyad, it’s the same for any player in the Premier League as they can also be approached.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Amartey has been ruled out for a month with the hamstring injury that forced him off during the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth but Shinji Okazaki is expected to be fit for the trip to West Brom after recovering from a knee problem.