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Premier League Sport

‘Betrayed’ Mourinho abandons hope of top-four finish

Jose Mourinho saw his champions slump to their ninth league defeat of the season on Monday night, leaving the London club a point above the relegation zone and 14 adrift of the Champions League places

By Simon Jennings and Justin Palmer

Leicester City’s 2-1 Premier League victory over Chelsea has killed manager Jose Mourinho’s hopes of finishing in the top four this season.

Goals from Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez consigned Chelsea to their ninth league defeat of the season on Monday night, leaving the London club a point above the relegation zone and 14 adrift of the Champions League places.

“The top four is gone – clearly,” Mourinho said.

“To turn things around, I know only one way – working at the top level.”

The Portuguese turned on his players after the defeat, saying he felt “betrayed” and frustrated, but insisted he would not seek to buy the team out of trouble by signing fresh faces in the January transfer window.

“Day by day in training I have no complaints with them. But is it frustrating to see what they are doing in training and what they do in matches? Clearly yes,” he said.

“I don’t think it is right I go to the board and say these players are not good and we need to spend 50 or 100 (million pounds) or whatever.

“We have these players and it is with these players we have to go, and the players that are not performing well must feel attacked in their pride, in their self-esteem and they have to do everything to get results in a humble way.”

Eden Hazard left the pitch in the first half after a challenge from Vardy and Mourinho said the midfielder had taken the decision not to continue.

“I don’t know what is wrong. He made the decision in a few seconds,” the manager said.

“His first reaction was ‘I can’t continue’, his second reaction was ‘I want to try’, but after his first step back on the pitch he said he couldn’t. He’s injured clearly.”

The win sent Leicester back to the top of the table, two points clear of second-placed Arsenal.

Lecister’s dynamic duo Vardy and Mahrez are not for sale at any price, manager Claudio Ranieri asserted after the match.

Genuine title challengers? Ranieri, with a wry smile, still takes such talk with a pinch of salt but after this latest win the Italian will find it hard to keep a lid on the clamour for much longer.

With Vardy and Mahrez in such outstanding form – at this rate who will be able to split them for Player of the Season? – surprise package Leicester have the belief and momentum to continue to ruffle feathers.

Vardy’s 15th goal of a season which he knows is more the stuff of schoolboy dreams and a sublime strike from Mahrez, who has scored 11 and created another seven, kept Leicester rolling.

Asked if he feared losing both or either to bigger and richer clubs in January, the Italian coach was unequivocal.

“No,” he replied. “Why? Nobody can buy them. They don’t have the money.” Asked to put a value on Vardy, Ranieri politely declined.

Having set a three-year target to bring European football to the Midlands side, the club’s Thai billionaire owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha is likely to fend off the vultures for now.

Ranieri is happy to lavish praise on his star men but again hailed the players in Leicester’s engine room that help to make the side tick.

“Vardy and Mahrez were fantastic but they are only the pinnacle of the iceberg,” Ranieri said. “Behind them is big spirit, a team that works hard for each other.”

He has consistently maintained that it would be a “miracle” if Leicester could finish in the top four and secure Champions League qualification come May.

No team with 35 plus points after the first 16 games of a Premier League season has finished outside the top four. Achieving the 40-point mark may change his mind.

“Yes, we are top of the league and our fans can dream. For my players, we need another five points.”

Faced with questioning looks from a packed press room, Ranieri again allowed himself a wry smile.

“It’s true,” he insisted. “I want another five points. I don’t know when we can achieve this. Everton and Liverpool away, Manchester City at home, then Bournemouth… four tough matches.

“Let me achieve 40 points and then I’ll think of our next goal. Until 40, I will think only of that.”

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