Ranieri: “Impossible” for Leicester to retain Premier League title

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LEICESTER, England (AP) Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri believes it will be “impossible” for his team to retain the English Premier League title, saying Thursday it’s more likely that “ET comes to Piccadilly Circus.”

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The team from central England produced one of the greatest-ever underdog stories in sports by winning the league, at pre-season odds of 5,000-1.

Speaking ahead of the first game of Leicester’s title defense, Ranieri said the British bookmakers’ odds on his team this season should be “6,000-1,”

“It’s more difficult than last season – it’s easier that ET comes to Piccadilly Circus,” the Italian coach said, referring to the alien from the 1982 Hollywood movie.

Ranieri said “all the world is curious what will happen with Leicester.”

“Of course, the big teams are ready to fight for the title, we are ready to defend our title, but we know it is a difficult gap. Last season we made something unbelievable,” Ranieri said. “But now the big teams will come back, I am sure.”

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Leicester begins the season away to Hull on Saturday, having retained all of its major players over the offseason except N'Golo Kante. The France midfielder joined Chelsea for a reported 30 million pounds ($40 million).

Jamie Vardy signed a new contract with Leicester after turning down a move to Arsenal, which reportedly is interested in winger Riyad Mahrez – another of Leicester’s stars from last season.

“Riyad will stay with us,” Ranieri said. “I say, ‘Hey, keep going, we have to improve, also you have to improve your experience in the Champions League, it’s totally different.'”