Claudio Ranieri admitted his Leicester City side were suffering from nerves after they began their Premier League title defence with a surprise 2-1 defeat at managerless Hull City.
Ranieri’s team suffered only three league defeats all season on the way to winning the title for the first time in their history last May as they finished 10 points clear of runners-up Arsenal.
But they looked disjointed and anxious as they were beaten at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday by Hull, a team with only 13 fit senior players and in turmoil off the pitch.
The Tigers’ supporters protested before and during the match against owners Assem and Ehad Allem, who they accuse of failing to invest properly in the club.
But they cheered their team to victory on the pitch, with Adama Diomande and Robert Snodgrass scoring the hosts’ goals either side of Riyad Mahrez’s penalty for Leicester.
“It was a difficult match for us,” Leicester manager Ranieri said in his post-match press conference.
“We started well. We created chances to score, but at the end of the first half, we conceded a goal from a corner. They were smarter than us. We made little mistakes when we lost the ball.
“We got nervous. We want to draw, and Hull played very, very close. We made a big effort, but individual effort, not like a team. Our strength is when everybody is connected.”
Ranieri is refusing to panic, though, despite the fact Leicester’s losing start follows a run of pre-season defeats.
Having won their first friendly at Oxford United and then beaten Celtic on penalties in the International Champions Cup, Leicester were beaten by Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona in their final two pre-season games.
– ‘Euphoria’ –
They then lost 2-1 to Manchester United in the Community Shield at Wembley last Sunday.
“It’s the first match, it’s OK,” Ranieri said. “Against Manchester United, we played well as a team.
“Today, there was a big effort, but not together. In the second half, they played better.”
Ranieri will hope for better next weekend when his side welcome Arsenal to the King Power Stadium in their first home game.
The victory was hugely satisfying for Mike Phelan, who was placed in temporary charge of Hull after Steve Bruce resigned as manager on July 22.
Phelan struggled to raise a team to face Leicester and had to do so against a background of off-field uncertainty, with the Allems considering selling the club to a Chinese consortium.
“The takeover has been in the offing for eight to 12 months,” Phelan said. “It’s been on-off. I want to leave that to the powers that be.
“My job is to enjoy my weekend — you don’t get many chances to do that in the Premier League — and start again Monday. It’s great to be sitting here having won a football match.
“I was asked to take the team pre-season when Steve departed. I’ve had the backing of the players. It’s been difficult because we had to change things to keep 11 fit players.
“There’s a lot of euphoria around that dressing room. We know it’s a long, hard season. The players need the opportunity to rest and recover.” – Agence France-Presse