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SPORTS

Ranieri praises Slimani

FOOTBALL By The Standard | January 2nd 2017
West Ham United's Cheikhou Kouyate, left, and Leicester City's Islam Slimani battle for the ball during their English Premier League soccer match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. (Mike Egerton/PA via AP)

Claudio Ranieri believes Leicester City can cope without record signing Islam Slimani during the Africa Cup of Nations despite the striker’s match-winning contribution against West Ham.

The £30m signing scored his sixth Leicester goal in the 1-0 victory over the Hammers but will leave to represent Algeria after today’s trip to Middlesbrough.

Countryman Riyad Mahrez will also be absent for up to a month but Ranieri will welcome back the suspended Jamie Vardy after Monday’s game on Teesside.

And Ranieri believes his reigning champions can handle the loss of Slimani, although he admitted the former Sporting Lisbon man is becoming better all the time.

“Now Vardy comes back, I have Leonardo Ulloa, I have Shinji Okazaki and I have some good players and I am very calm and very confident with all my players,” said the Italian, after seeing his side end their historic 2016 with a victory to ease their relegation fears.

“Of course Slimani can only improve. When somebody comes from another country it is not easy and some players need six or seven months or one year to be involved in the atmosphere of English football.

“He scored six goals and it is good for us but we have to find him much better because he has very good quality and also he presses a lot and sometimes he can make mistakes because he is very tired.”

Ranieri called Slimani’s winner, a classic header, “a masterpiece”.

“When the ball comes from the cross Slimani is fantastic, we have to make more crosses for him,” he added, before reflecting on the calendar year that saw his side crowned Premier League champions in one of football’s great shocks.

“Of course 2016 will remain in our heart and in our mind, not only me but all my players, the chairman, staff and everybody in Leicester.

“It was something special but it was special to win today against a team with a lot of confidence.”

West Ham ended the year with defeat after three successive wins had given the Hammers and boss Slaven Bilic some much-needed breathing space.

Bilic will check on the fitness of midfielder Mark Noble for today’s clash with Manchester United after a high challenge by Daniel Amartey, but the Croatian was pleased with his side’s display.

“I believe we deserved something. I’m very disappointed, angry and frustrated that we lost,” he said.

“They started better. We knew they were going to start aggressively and they deserved the goal for the first 20 minutes.

“After that, for 70 minutes we were the better team.”

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