(Reuters) - Manager Claudio Ranieri has given midfielder Riyad Mahrez and striker Jamie Vardy a pep talk to try to rekindle the partnership that shot his struggling Leicester City team to the Premier League title last season.
An abysmal defence of their title so far has raised the spectre of Leicester becoming the first English team to be relegated after winning the championship since Manchester City dropped out of the old First Division in the 1937-38 season.
Both players have struggled this season, with Mahrez, who scored 17 goals in Leicester’s title-winning campaign, scoring just three times in league games, and Vardy, who scored 24 last term, stuck on five in the league since Dec. 10.
“I spoke with Riyad and Jamie and we know why (they have scored fewer goals),” Ranieri told a news conference on Friday.
”To Riyad, I said come back to last season. Two words: come back. He’s trying. He’s positive and I‘m very, very happy when he’s positive. I look at him and he’s smiling and that’s okay.
“Yes, (the meeting was) only with them because they link together. If you see how many goals they scored and how many assists they made last year, and this season no. That’s it.”
Leicester are 16th in the table, a point above the relegation zone, and visit Swansea City in the league on Sunday. Swansea are a place below Leicester on goal difference.
Ranieri has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks, with bookmakers slashing the odds on him becoming the next Premier League manager to be given the sack, but the Italian said he still had the support of the club’s hierarchy.
“I speak with the owner,” Ranieri said. “I have a very good relationship with him. The chairman is always positive, full of energy. He’s fantastic.”
Striker Leonardo Ulloa, who has vowed never to play for Leicester again after not being allowed to leave the club in January, is injured for the Swansea game, Ranieri said, with striker Islam Slimani also not a certainty to play.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Louise Ireland