Premier League 17/18: Leicester City vs Stoke City – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
The Premier League bounces back into action with a lunchtime battle of the City’s as the Potters try to outwit the Foxes
12:30 GMT, Saturday 24th February, King Power Stadium (Leicester, England) Sky Sports
Claude Puel’s transformation of Leicester has stumbled in recent weeks, however, an FA Cup win to put them into the quarter-finals will provide some relief from a run of ten league matches which have produced only two wins.
Their last league match saw them lose heavily to Manchester City but this weekend’s visitors should present a different challenge entirely.
With Riyad Mahrez back in the fold, there are high hopes that the Foxes can shake their three-game winless run in the league and get back to winning ways.
Stoke City find themselves in even more need of a victory this weekend. While they’ve avoided defeat in three of the last four games Paul Lambert has been in charge, they remain rooted in the relegation zone having only won once in their last nine matches.
With home form a problem and their relegation rivals slowly pulling away, Lambert will need his side to come back from their two-week break with renewed fight if they’re to maintain their Premier League status.
Last Time Out
Leicester City 1-0 Sheffield United (FA Cup)
A strong Leicester side made their way past a weakened Blades team who showed six changes from their previous league match against Leeds United.
While the Foxes dominated possession (61%), they failed to dominate the game in quite the same way with a performance which was more professional than inspiring.
Riyad Mahrez made his first start in the side since his well-publicised fall-out following yet another failed move away from the club last month.
The extra effort he put into his game was appreciated by the home fans who gave him a loud cheer at both the start and end of his game.
It was also the Algerian’s ball which set up Jamie Vardy to score the only goal of a contest in which Leicester proved that patience carries its own reward.
Stoke City 1-1 Brighton (Premier League)
Stoke’s home form continued to desert them as their toil only returned a point from a match which they continually failed to find the target.
Charlie Adam squandered a golden opportunity to win the match for the Potters when he missed an injury-time penalty, a chance which would have rewarded their improved showing during the second half.
Having gone into the interval a deserved goal down, Xherdan Shaqiri’s 68th-minute goal drew them back into the match from which point they were the superior side.
The penalty was only the second of fourteen shots to find its way on target. However, Mame Diouf had a header cleared from the line even deeper into added time as fortune ran against the beleaguered side who remain second-from-bottom in the table.
Leicester City Lineup
Puel has an almost full squad to choose from with only Shinji Okazaki (knee) missing out this weekend.
Having tweaked his starting line-up in recent games, notably with the use of three centre-backs against Manchester City, he could return to his trusted 4-2-3-1 with the impressive January signing, Fousseni Diabaté, used in the number 10 position behind Vardy.
Stoke City Lineup
Both Peter Crouch (ankle) and Stephen Ireland (calf) are unavailable for this match which could lead to an unchanged side by Lambert.
Jesé Rodriguez and Bruno Martins Indi are the two players most likely to break into this lineup, however, Lambert is expected to maintain faith in what is regarded as his preferred eleven.
Key Battle: Jamie Vardy (Leicester) vs Kurt Zouma (Stoke)
The England striker is the Premier league’s current in-form forward and goes into this game having scored in each of his last five matches.
With 13 league goals already to his name, he may not have a realistic chance of being the season’s top-scorer but he is currently ranked fifth and will look to maintain his hot streak with the World Cup now just a matter of months away.
Aiming to spoil the Vardy-party this weekend will be one of the Potters best performers of this season.
Zouma may be a central figure in a defence which has leaked more goals than any other Premier League team. However, his individual displays have served to enhance his reputation regardless.
If he can add the ability to lead and organise the teammates surrounding him, he could find himself with a bright future ahead of him when his loan move ends and he returns to Stamford Bridge.
More than goals
Several of the Leicester players have been capturing the headlines for their exploits on the field during what’s been a rollercoaster season so far: from Harry Maguire’s eye-catching defensive displays to Mahrez’s belated return to form and Vardy’s recent hot-streak of goals.
However, arguably the most impressive player for the Foxes has largely gone unnoticed. 21-year-old Wilfred Ndidi has shone in his midfield-anchor role and achieved the almost unthinkable in proving himself a direct replacement for N’Golo Kanté.
While he has the unwanted statistic of taking more shots (34) than any other Premier League player yet to score, his efforts deserve him being in the headlines for far more praiseworthy reasons.
A working holiday
As one of several Premier League teams who had two weeks pass since their last match, Stoke City bucked the trend by staying at home rather than head to a hot-weather training camp.
While this missed the chance to let the players bond and improve moral ahead of the final stretch, it also meant that there were no distractions from the task they now have at hand.
As the second-favourite club to be relegated by most bookmakers, they will almost certainly be involved in the relegation race for some time yet.
Whether Paul Lambert’s decision to focus his team on the realities of their job rather than insulate them further from the plight of their fans proves successful remains to be seen.
Prediction: Leicester City 2-2 Stoke City
This isn’t yet a make-or-break situation for Stoke but the general feeling that this scenario is fast approaching gives added importance to this match for the Potters.
At Leicester, Puel will be looking to get his Foxes back on track after a bright start to his reign but is likely to find a determined Stoke side paying than a visit this weekend. As such, it could well be a fast and open game which produces goals but no winner.