19:45 BST, Thursday 19th April, King Power Stadium (Leicester, England)
Back-to-back defeats for the Foxes has left their hopes of European football next season in tatters. nine points adrift of Burnley with five games remaining, Leicester have paid the price for only one clean sheet in their last nine league fixtures.
Having prevented Southampton scoring in each of the Saints last three visits to the Midland’s, Claude Puel will quite possibly need this trend to continue if he’s to break the Foxes current losing streak.
Southampton’s bad run now stretches to four consecutive defeats to leave Mark Hughes without a league point from his first three Premier League games with the South coast side.
With the teams directly above them picking up crucial draws, the gap to safety currently appears like a five-point abyss for Southampton fans. A win over Leicester could prove a catalyst for change and Swansea still to play, it will bring them more control over their own destiny.
Last Time Out
Burnley 2-1 Leicester City (Premier League)
The Foxes were made to pay for a poor start as they were unable to claw back a two-goal deficit despite laying siege to the Clarets goal. To concede an early goal is a blow in any game but Leicester lost two goals in the opening nine minutes to set themselves an uphill task in this match.
The players responded admirably and Leicester finished the game with 61% possession and 15 shots taken at Burnley’s goal. While only six of these found their way on target, Nick Pope made some impressive saves in the Leicester nets to keep the Foxes behind.
Jamie Vardy scored in the 72nd minute to set up a grandstand finish, however, Leicester ultimately paid the price for spurning too many earlier opportunities. While a win over Leicester would have left them trailing the foxes by only three points, defeat means they’re now nine away from snatching their position in the table to leave Europe a distant dream on the horizon.
Southampton 2-3 Chelsea (Premier League)
The Saints again watched victory disappear as Chelsea rallied late to snatch what had seemed a certain three points from their grasp. While the Blues spent much of the game playing below their usual standard, this alone doesn’t do justice to the way Southampton played. Knowing they needed a victory to keep their survival hopes alive, the Saints added a cutting edge to their determined efforts during the opening hour.
Dusan Tadic had opened the scoring in the 21st minute when a rejuvenated Ryan Bertrand had worked the ball up the left side of the pitch. As Southampton continued to dominate the game, they were sent into the interval feeling aggrieved after Marcos Alonso’s malicious foul on Shane Long went unpunished just before the break.
Jan Bednarek then scored on the hour mark to calm the home fans nerves, however, Alonso returned as the villain of the piece ten minutes later to assist a goal which began his side’s fight. With two more goals arriving in the next eight minutes, Southampton were guilty of wasting a glorious opportunity to win the game through an inability to close down the match.
Leicester City Lineup
Kasper Schmeichel and Shinji Okazaki are both doubts after limping out of last weekend’s clash with Burnley and will face late fitness tests to assess their fitness.
It’s expected they will miss out along with Daniel Amartey (hamstring) Matty James (Achilles) and Vicente Iborra (hamstring), however, Wilfred Ndidi returns to the midfield from his two-match suspension.
Jack Stephens is the only player to definitely miss out in this match as he continues to serve his suspension. However, both Mario Lemina and Sofiane Boufal are suffering illness and will require a late decision regarding their availability.
Steven Davis has recovered from his Achilles problem and could come into the team in place of
Key Battle: Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City) vs Oriol Romeu (Southampton)
It may be a coincidence, but Leicester’s recent successive losses have come at a time when Ndidi has also been out of the first team.
The combative midfielder has slowly come to collect praise for his consistently strong performances this season, helping to add a balance to the team between defence and attack.
While the last of his four league assists came in January and he still is without a goal this season, his role in the team to recycle the ball which he has an average of 4.2 tackles and 1.4 interceptions from his league appearances this season.
Southampton’s problems have been in attack for so long now that it’s easy to overlook their weakening defence. Having conceded three goals in each of their last 4 league matches, the Saints have let slip what was a mean back-line earlier in the current campaign.
If they’re to hold out for a much-needed win in this match, Romeu will have to rediscover the imperious form he showed as the midfield anchor for the 18 months before the turn of this year.
The valuable cornerstone
The first stage of any building plan requires a strong foundation to be put in place. In Harry Maguire, Claude Puel believes he already has this and has again moved to quell speculation linking the defender with a summer move. At only 25-years-old, the £17 million which Leicester spent on bringing him to the club last summer already seems like a bargain.
The recent financial reports released by Leicester show they made a profit of £92.5 million, an increase of £70 million mainly due to their Champions League involvement. With no financial pressures facing the club, they should easily be able to resist potential moves by other clubs.
The fact that several bookmakers are making Maguire the favourite to leave the club this summer perhaps hints that a huge offer to rival Virgil van Dijk’s record-breaking deal could well be on the cards.
FA Cup conundrum
The lure of FA Cup football this weekend will have to be cleared entirely from mind by the Southampton players as they take the field on Thursday. There has long been a great debate regarding whether an extended run in the cup is a dangerous distraction to a team’s league form or a welcome break from a grim reality for a club in Southampton’s position.
The truth for Southampton will be hard to determine until the final game of the season. However, most fans would happily take relegation if they could also claim some silverware.
Ideally, Southampton want both but if they do manage to go on a run to get themselves out of relegation trouble, it will be a huge boost of confidence ahead of a potential FA Cup final.
For the perfect example of how much belief can be gained by a great escape, they won’t have to look much further than their opponents in this game who survived relegation with 7 wins from their last 9 game in 2014-15.
Prediction: Leicester City 3-1 Southampton
Both teams will be desperate for a win but the pressure in this match will all be on the visitors. Leicester have generally been strong at home this season, with their recent defeat to Newcastle only their 2nd loss at the King Power Stadium since mid-November.
With Southampton likely to leave themselves open the counter-attack, Vardy could find himself with plenty of shooting practice in this game to help see his side to victory.