Sunday 26 February 2017 16:39, UK
Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum believes N'Golo Kante's departure to Chelsea has been a big reason behind Leicester's struggles this season.
Kante was a key figure in the Foxes' fairy tale title triumph last year but moved to Stamford Bridge in the summer, and has helped the Blues open up an eight-point lead at the top of the table.
Leicester meanwhile go into the weekend one point and one place above the relegation zone and sacked manager Claudio Ranieri on Thursday evening, just 298 days after the Italian led them to the title.
Leicester host Wijnaldum's Liverpool on Monday Night Football, and the Dutchman says Kante has been a big miss for the champions but warned his team-mates they cannot be complacent at the King Power Stadium.
"Of course they have a bad run this season, they are not doing that well compared to last season. But I think they are still a good team, almost all the players stayed," he said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, before Ranieri was dismissed.
"Kante is a big miss for them, because he was a really important player in the midfield, and he keeps everything together and he was one of the main reasons they were champions last season. And because he left, it makes it way more difficult for everyone in the team.
"But I think they still have a good team and it is still difficult to beat them. You could see that when they played Man City, they had a good game, so they can also win against big teams.
"In the Premier League, almost everyone is difficult to beat, it depends on how you begin a game and how you play in the game.
"Now they are at the bottom of the league, but everyone knows they can do better than what they show right now. They showed it last season, so it is difficult to say where they really stand.
"One thing is for sure, they are a good team and a difficult team to beat and that is something we must keep in mind. We cannot win this game on 90 per cent, we have to give 100 per cent to win this game.
"We are running out of games now and the teams at the bottom of the league want every chance to collect points to stay safe. So that can be different to if you had played them at an earlier stage. I think they will fight more now to collect points to be safe earlier."
Jurgen Klopp's team head into the match on the back of a morale-boosting 2-0 win against Tottenham at Anfield in their last game.
That victory was Liverpool's first in the league this year after a dreadful sequence of results in January, although Wijnaldum says they must now go on a run to back up the Spurs result.
"January was not a good month for us, we were not on a good run, it was quite a bad run for us," he said. "We did not win a game in January, but at the end in February in the last game, we won, which was a good thing.
"You must win a few games in a row to change things, it is just one game, it was the same thing against Man City. The only thing was that before Man City we had been on a good run, we won a few games, and after Man City we did not win a game anymore.
"The game against Chelsea was a good game, unfortunately we did not win it, that was how we wanted to play the game against Chelsea.
"But the game after against Hull City, it went wrong again, so I do not think one game says a lot. But of course it was a good game and it will give us confidence because it was against a good team.
"But we have to make sure the other games are going to be that good also.
"It gives you a lot of confidence if you play a good game and win the game, because against Chelsea we played a good game, especially in the first half, but we did not win it. Now we won a game, so it gives us a lot of confidence.
"But I think the most important thing is for us to win a few games in a row, because that is what you need to keep the confidence."
After beating Manchester City at Anfield on New Year's Eve, the Reds were second in the table, only six points behind leaders Chelsea, with many expecting the club to then go on and be Antonio Conte's side closest title challengers.
Wijnaldum insists, though, there was no talk of the title at Liverpool at that stage of the season, only from the media.
"That was something more from the outside to be fair, from the media, always when you do good and are high in the table, then everyone will speak about you being champions," he said.
Liverpool have since slipped to fifth in the table, 11 points behind the Blues, but the Netherlands international wants his side to take each league game as it comes between now and the end of the campaign in their bid to finish in the top four.
"We are in a competition where there are five, six, seven teams who can finish in the first four," Wijnaldum added. "You have to look at it game by game, and do it step by step, and the in the end you will see where you are standing.
"I think if you think that far ahead about the first four, or to be champions, that is something you cannot control. You can control the training and then the performance will come game by game, and do not think that far ahead.
"I think it was more something from people outside, than people inside."