Football

Wake-up call for Mahrez

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has told winger Riyad Mahrez to pull his socks up as the Foxes try to pull away from the relegation fight.

Ranieri's struggling champions slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Everton on Boxing Day, a result which kept them just three points above the Premier League's bottom three.

And while Ranieri was without suspended striker Jamie Vardy, Mahrez didn't even make the starting line-up at the King Power Stadium.

It was a far cry from last season, when everything the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year touched turned to gold as Leicester coasted to a fairy-tale title win.

On dropping Mahrez, Ranieri said: "He's not in good form now and I wanted to stimulate him. I didn't see him do well during training and he must give more for the team. I want more."

TOUGH CAMPAIGN

Leicester face a rejuvenated West Ham on Saturday, with tensions rising around the King Power Stadium. Ranieri had predicted a tough campaign back in September, although the reality of a relegation dogfight is biting hard.

He said: "I think three months ago, I told everybody we are in the battle but I want to fight and I want to stay very concentrated on the little details... (such as scoring the) first goal, and to react early."

Ranieri will have been dismayed by the manner of Everton's goals, scored by Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku.

Mirallas' strike stung especially bad as it came from a huge punt up the field by goalkeeper Joel Robles, which put the Belgian striker clear of the two centre backs.

Three touches were all it took and the ball deflected into the net off Marcin Wasilewski.

In contrast, Everton boss Ronald Koeman hailed the defensive spirit of his team in their first away win since September.

He said: "The team organisation defensively was outstanding. Maybe they had one chance with a free header but it was not really a big chance.

"Idrissa Gueye (had) a fantastic opportunity to kill the game and finally Romelu did but it was important also to have a clean sheet for confidence.

"We showed the aggression in the performance that we want."

Lukaku had been a virtual bystander until his late clincher, with Koeman having to tell the Belgian to exert less energy in areas where he wasn't so effective.

Koeman said: "My message to him at half-time was to say to him 'Sometimes you run too much. Stay in front, stay between the two centre backs and for crosses you need to be in the box'." - AFP

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