Leicester City upset the odds to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League this week. They were the only English side to do so this season. Despite that achievement, boss Craig Shakespeare insists the Premier League must come first.
On Friday, Leicester were drawn against Atletico Madrid in the European competition. The Spanish side have reached the final in two of the last three seasons and will be red-hot favourites, but Leicester have relished their underdog role in the past and will be up for the challenge.
However, before they take on Griezmann and co. they need to ensure their Premier League survival.
‘The Foxes’ have gone from English champions last season to a relegation battle this term. They sit just three points clear of the bottom three and have had a poor 2017 so far. Just one point from six saw Claudio Ranieri dismissed.
Since Shakespeare took over, they have picked up back-to-back victories, though, and look a completely different team. A trip to West Ham United comes next and the new manager knows how important staying in the Premier League is.
Shakespeare says his players will be ready for the challenge of Atletico but he also insists their “sole focus” until the first leg of that tie has to be the Premier League.
Speaking to the club website, he said:
“Facing a team who have reached the final in two of the last three seasons is a massive challenge but it’s just the kind of tie you expect in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Atletico Madrid are a very good team with some fantastic individuals with experience in the competition, but we’ll be ready to give everything to progress.
“It will be a brilliant occasion for our supporters and for everyone at the Club but, before the players can begin to think about these games, we have Premier League matches to come that are of huge significance to our season. They will be our sole focus.”
The first leg against Atletico will be in Madrid on Wednesday April 12th. Before that, they have the West Ham game to think about followed by games against Stoke City, Sunderland and Everton.
Those four games, and a potential relegation six-pointer against Crystal Palace in between the two Atletico matches, are crucial. If they pick up a few wins, they will climb further away from the drop zone. Lose a few and they may find themselves edging closer to a place in the Championship for next season.
Yes, it’s a huge achievement to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League. However, a great run in Europe won’t keep them in the Premier League. From his comments, it seems like Shakespeare is determined to make sure his players realise that.
Peter Reynolds, Pundit Arena