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Leicester City just won a shocking EPL tile, but coach says it's a longshot the club can defy the odds again

Leicester City just won a shocking EPL tile, but coach says it's a longshot the club can defy the odds again
Leicester City Coach Claudio Ranieri puts his squad through their paces at StubHub Center on Friday in preparation for an International Champions Cup game. (Ringo Chiu / AFP / Getty Images)

On the day Chelsea played Tottenham to a draw last May, clinching an improbable English Premier League title for longshot Leicester City, the Leicester City coach was 1,300 miles away in Rome, having lunch with his 96-year-old mother.

It wasn't that Claudio Ranieri, who had never won a first-division title in a 28-year coaching career, wasn't aware of the history. It was just . . . well, his mother loved him even when he was losing. So how could he miss her birthday for a soccer game?

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If success has changed Ranieri over the last year, he's apparently hiding it well.  Which is good for Leicester City since his humble, homespun manner — from the AYSO-style pizza parties he organized for his millionaire players to the way he insisted on shaking hands with every journalist before news conferences — may have had more to do with the team's title run then anything that happened on the field.

But now, after overcoming 5,000-to-1 odds to bring Leicester (pronounced LESS-ter) its first title in the club's 132-year history, Ranieri must come up a suitable encore. He'll try to take another step on that path Saturday when his newly minted EPL champion meets Paris Saint-Germain, winner of four consecutive French crowns, in an exhibition before a sellout crowd at the StubHub Center.

Keeping the team together has proven a challenge for Leicester City, which last season had a payroll of less than $64 million, fourth-lowest in the league. Manchester United agreed Friday to spend more than twice that to acquire one player, French midfielder Paul Pogba from Italian club Juventus.

Gone is defensive mainstay N'Golo Kante, who jumped to Chelsea for a big-money deal two weeks ago. Leicester was able to re-sign leading scorer Jamie Vardy, the Premier League's player of the year. Less certain is the fate of midfielder Riyad Mahrez, who is still negotiating with the team.

PSG, meanwhile, is prepping for life after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who left for Manchester United after scoring 38 times in 31 league games last season. Also gone is Coach Laurent Blanc, who was eased out last month despite winning three straight Ligue 1 titles.

And while that raises the pressure on Blanc's replacement, Unai Emery, during his introductory news conference Emery told supporters not to lower their expectations.

"I thrive on challenges . . . we want to win everything," he said. "What is the limit of this team? There is none."

The soft-spoken Ranieri, on the other hand, called last season's title run "a fairy tale" and said his goal this season is the same one he took into last season: to avoid relegation.

"The fundamental concept is to start from scratch," he told an Italian journalist. "We've won the title and it was beautiful and fantastic . . . maybe an unrepeatable achievement. But now we turn the page.

"If at the start of last season the bookmakers had us down as 5,000-1 shots, then this time we start at 6,000-1."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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