Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka has warned his players to ignore Leicester’s lowly position in the Premier League as they look to return to winning ways at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes go into the game sitting one place and one point above Boro after a poor run of form which contrasts sharply with their stunning qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Karanka described Leicester’s title win last season as a “once in a hundred years” moment, but says the ability of Ranieri’s side is still plain to see despite their struggle to re-assert themselves in the domestic campaign.
Karanka said: “Leicester are not in a good moment in the league but they are qualified in the Champions League, and to play in the places they have played in, in the Champions League, is not easy.
“They won the league last year and they are example of togetherness and why it is important to play as a team if you want to achieve important things.
“For example, Tottenham have not qualified (for the knockout stages) and Leicester have qualified, so they are having a good season. They are not in the position they expected to be in the league but they have a very good, experienced manager and it will be a tough game for us.”
Boro’s recent mini-revival came to a frustrating end when they were beaten 1-0 by Chelsea at the Riverside Stadium last Sunday, and Karanka believes more of his side’s never-say-die spirit will serve them well.
Marten de Roon snatched a last-minute equaliser at Manchester City earlier this month and Karanka’s men were still in with a shout of grabbing a point against Chelsea heading into injury-time.
He added: “The important thing for me when you are playing against the top teams in the league is that you go right to the last moment of the game still with a chance to win the game.
“We had the experience where we lost in the first 50 minutes against Everton but now we are more consistent on the pitch.
“Against City we scored in the 91st minute and we had a chance last Sunday to score at the end of the game, so it feels like with this squad we have a chance.”
Defender George Friend is expected to be out for up to four weeks with the knee injury he sustained in training prior to the Chelsea match, so Brazilian Fabio will continue to deputise at full-back.
With Grant Leadbitter set for a place on the bench, local boy Ben Gibson is expected to once again take the captain’s armband and he earned the praise of Karanka for his recent performances.
Karanka added: “He knows his role and he has respect because he is from the academy and he is more mature than his age.
“For that reason he is the captain on the pitch but once again the main thing is the group.”