Ranieri challenges fringe players to ease Drinkwater absence

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Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri is optimistic his fringe players will rise to the challenge of replacing Danny Drinkwater while the midfielder serves his three-match suspension.

It was confirmed on Thursday that Drinkwater had accepted a Football Association charge for elbowing Watford's Valon Behrami in Saturday's meeting at Vicarage Road, thus sidelining the England international.

Drinkwater has only missed three league games since the start of last season and will leave a significant hole in the midfield as Leicester prepare to host Middlesbrough, but Ranieri is hopeful his absence will not have a major impact.

"Andy King and Daniel Amartey have played so well so far," Ranieri told reporters. "I think they play [against Middlesbrough] but let me think. Matty James isn't ready yet.

"I hope we don't miss him [Drinkwater]. It's difficult to say what we'll miss.

"I hope the players who are involved play well, play together and support his absence. Drinky is an important player for us. I'm sure the team will react very well."

Leicester go into the Boro clash on the back of a 2-1 win over Club Brugge that sealed their place in the knockout phase of the Champions League, but Ranieri has urged his players to put European football to the back of their minds.

And the Italian also has no worries about the mindset of Jamie Vardy, who has not scored for Leicester since September 10.

"Always Jamie Vardy works hard," said Ranieri. "Jamie is always normal; you don't see him nervous or frustrated. Always smiling.

"In the league when we create chances we don't score. In the Champions League we do. If we keep working hard, it will come.

"I told the players to forget the Champions League and 100 percent concentrate on the league and Middlesbrough."