Claudio Ranieri questioned the desire of his Leicester players after their FA Cup fifth-round defeat to 10-man Millwall, saying he needs “soldiers” and “gladiators”.
League One Millwall had centre-back Jake Cooper sent off after 52 minutes but held out against last season’s Premier League champions and grabbed a 90th-minute winner through Shaun Cummings.
Ranieri – who was critical of his team’s commitment following last weekend’s defeat at Swansea – had made 10 changes to his starting line-up but says the Foxes, despite some good first-half football, again failed to match their opponent’s fight.
“It’s strange because last season we won for this, being more determined than the opponent, playing with more heart than the opponent,” he said. “We could also lose, but we’d fight every match.
“I want to see this. To fight until the end. I think this defeat could be good for us because when you lose against a team who is there and fight, you have to say well done to them but why have we lost? We lost for this, this and this – and then we can take what Millwall show and take for us.
“I want to speak again with [his players] and say ‘we need to fight every match. Who wants to fight, tell me?’ Because I need the soldiers, I need the gladiators. Because Millwall [when they were reduced to 10 men], showed fantastic gladiators.
Leicester were unable to capitalise on Jake Cooper’s sending off
“They showed more character, more desire, more heart than us. At the end they deserved to win.”
Ranieri defended his decision to make so many changes for the cup fixture, with a Champions League tie at Sevilla on Wednesday and Premier League clash with Liverpool next Monday.
He argued that, but for the quality of Millwall’s pitch at The Den and some last-ditch blocks, his side would have won the match.
“The first half was a good performance,” he said. “We knew they wanted to go and counter-attack and try to do something on set-plays. We created some good chances but maybe we lost the last chance because maybe the pitch wasn’t so good, or they block our shot at goal.
“But I was very, very satisfied about the first half. We start the second half, not at the same level of the first half but good, positive. But when they play 10 v 11, they play better than us. They had one chance and they scored a goal. Well done to them.
“I’m not disappointed because we made 10 changes against Derby and we won the match. In this period, when you play three matches in nine days, you need to give the opportunity.
“If you play well, win, don’t change too much. But when you don’t play well, lose, you have to give the opportunity to the other players.
“I talked to my players at half-time and said: ‘We must win, but look, the pitch is no good, when we play at home, the grass is much better and we can play our football. But Millwall deserved to win. They found a goal and nobody marked the man.”