Leicester City were promotion favourites before a ball was even kicked this season, yet Enzo Maresca insists his mentality monsters are thriving on the pressure.
League leaders since Sep 23, Leicester have spent 21 of their 27 games at the top of the Championship and Monday’s encounter with Ipswich represents a chance to take another step towards the Premier League.
After a chaotic summer following relegation, Leicester sold James Maddison and Harvey Barnes, bringing in nine signings and recruiting Maresca as their new head coach to introduce a possession-based, dominant style of play.
A victory over third-placed Ipswich will take them 10 points clear, with Southampton also breathing down their necks after a club record 21-match unbeaten run.
The stakes are high for both clubs, and Leicester will head into the game after a rare week of frustration. Maresca is banned from the technical area after his third booking of the season in the 3-1 defeat at Coventry last weekend.
There was also widespread surprise when Chelsea exercised the recall of Cesare Casadei from his loan on Friday, after the midfielder missed an agreed number of appearances.
Yet Maresca is backing his players to continue their title charge and believes his experience of winning the Treble with Pep Guardiola last season could prove invaluable.
“It can help us, for sure, and understand how difficult it is to be there, and to continue to be there,” he said. “All the teams in the Championship come here – and when we go away – they are trying to beat Leicester.
“That requires effort, but we still have 19 games to go and it’s not always easy. You also understand how difficult it is to be there from the start until the end.
“It’s not easy because when the opponent plays and they win, you feel that you need to win. If they drop points you feel that you need to win because you hope to continue. Hopefully we can be there for the rest of the season.”
While Maresca has previous experience of lifting a title, Jamie Vardy is one of only two remaining players from their famous 2015/16 triumph under Claudio Ranieri. Vardy turned 37 earlier this month but remains an integral part of Maresca’s plans, with six league goals so far this season.
The former England international is set to return on Monday night after a knee injury which has kept him out since late November.
Maresca said: “It’s more than one month since he’s been out but, as for the age, it doesn’t matter at all for me.
“For sure, he’s going to play minutes. I think Jamie, at the moment, is the striker who’s scored the most goals for us.
“He’s probably played more minutes than the rest – but he’s scored the most goals.
“It’s very important that the senior players are behind the idea and not only them – the whole 25-man squad. If some of them are not behind the idea they won’t be here, they’re going to leave.”
Maresca is hopeful of making at least one signing before the transfer window closes, but Leicester are restricted on spending by the Profitability & Sustainability rules.
Leicester must offload players before making any additions, with the futures of internationals Harry Souttar and Dennis Praet uncertain ahead of the deadline.
Maresca is targeting Inter Milan’s midfielder Stefano Sensi and talks are understood to be ongoing.