Manchester City are one of the favoured teams to qualify for next year’s Champions League by finishing in the top four. With three games left of the season, City will be aiming for a third place finish by collecting nine points out of nine therefore avoiding the qualifying fixture for the competition that follows a fourth place finish.
The first hurdle for the Citizens are last year’s champions, Leicester. The foxes had been looking likely for relegation until a controversial change in management earlier this season that ensured they remain in the Premier League next season.
Thanks for speaking to us Jamie. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a season for the Leicester faithful this year and after flirting with relegation a few months ago the Foxes currently sit comfortably in mid-table. What were your expectations at the start of the year after the miracle of last season and has this year conformed to those expectations?
This season was always likely to be tricky what with the added weight of expectation and our first foray into Europe, but I don’t think many people would’ve honestly predicted us to be down in a relegation scrap. In pre-season I said that finishing 8th in the league and qualifying for the knockouts in the Champions League would have to be considered a hugely successful season and we could finish anywhere from 8th- 16th, so as it stands so it’s a tough to judge but I wouldn’t have expected us to make it look quite as difficult as we have at times.
A huge credit to Leicester for making it further than any other English club in the Champions League. Do you think the aim for the club has to be to qualify for the competition again in a few years’ time on the back of a title-winning reputation?
I think so yes; the title win has given us a unique platform to firstly solidify ourselves as a Premier League side but then to push on and start competing for European places. We certainly showed that on our day we are capable of mixing with the big boys and if we can invest wisely this surely has to be the clubs long term aim.
The sacking of Claudio Ranieri was met with a lot of criticism from several pundits and there were reports that some of the players may have had a hand in his dismissal. Since Craig Shakespeare has taken over temporarily, results have improved dramatically. Did the club make the right decision to part ways with Ranieri?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but most certainly yes. Ranieri is and will always be considered a Leicester City legend in his own right, and his genial character made the decision all the more difficult but the truth is that we were looking like relegation certainties. Watching them every week it was fairly obvious that the tactics and team selections were way off the mark, and there have been reports that his training methods were alienating and confusing. I simply do not buy into the narrative that the players were simply “not trying” as some have said, and whilst I am very saddened to see Ranieri dismissed (especially in such a harsh manner) it was the correct decision for the club.
On from this, would you be happy with Craig Shakespeare being offered the job on a permanent basis?
I think they would be mad not to at this point. The results speak for themselves and the manner of our performances is extremely encouraging; the team look completely unrecognisable from the side that were so abject for so long. Shakespeare has proven himself tactically as well by making match changing substitutions, such as in the first leg at Atletico, but it is his clear influence on the squad that is so important to keep hold of. Also I can’t see Shakespeare being happy going back to number 2 after his experience at the helm so if it’s the choice between keeping him long term or bringing in a big name manager then the former is the clear choice for me.
What have you made of Guardiola’s debut season in England?
The challenge Guardiola faces at Man City is probably his biggest to date. He has had tremendous success in the past and is clearly a wonderfully talented manager but this job is a completely different proposition. He has himself said that he views this season as a failure, and while he has fallen short of expectations he is probably being a bit harsh on himself. Recruitment has been poor and his tactics have been bewildering at times (especially in our reverse fixture) but he is forging an identity with a fluid style of play that can be electrifying going forward. If he can recruit well at the back in the summer and provide a solidity for what is probably the best attacking roster in the league then I expect Guardiola will prove his detractors very wrong next season.
Who are going to be the key players for Leicester when they visit the Etihad this weekend?
The big two in Mahrez and Vardy rightly take a lot of the lime light, and both are crucial to how we play. However, with us likely to be defending for a vast majority of the match I would say Marc Albrighton and Wilfred Ndidi. Albrighton is criminally underrated and his work rate is absolutely crucial to our system and Ndidi plays in a way that belies his young age and he will be needed to screen an inexperienced backline.
Finally, please could we have your predicted starting line-up and what you think the final score will be?
We are missing three big players with Drinkwater, Huth and Morgan all out through injury and so I think Shakespeare should consider the 5 at the back system that looked so effective against Atletico, but he is likely to stick with 4-4-2.
Schmeichel; Simpson, Benalouane, Amartey, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, King, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy.
Man City are obviously favourites, but we are so ridiculously hard to predict I’ll say 2-2.