Leicester City aim to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table when they take on Southampton at the King Power Stadium this weekend (1.30pm Sunday, Sky Sports 1).
The Foxes’ incredible title challenge continued before the international break with a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace – their fourth by that scoreline in their last five games – that maintained the five-point margin separating them from second-placed Tottenham Hotspur at the summit. While their matches before Christmas tended to be high-scoring affairs in which the game plan was based simply on outscoring opponents, Leicester have tightened up considerably in 2016, recording eight clean sheets in their 12 Premier League fixtures to date.
The manner in which they have ground out victories in recent weeks is highly reminiscent of many title-winning sides of the past, with many of their displays in the last few weeks full of maturity and intelligence. It is an extremely positive sign as we enter the business end of the campaign, and Tottenham’s tricky trip to Liverpool on Saturday could give Leicester the chance to open up an eight-point lead at the top a day later.
Southampton’s come-from-behind 3-2 triumph over Liverpool two weeks ago kept them in seventh place, just four points behind the Champions League places. They have played one more game than fellow challengers Manchester City, Manchester United and West Ham United. Saints have had an up-and-down season but look to be finishing it strongly, with a top-six spot and Europa League qualification still a very strong possibility. Three points against table-topping Leicester would represent a huge boost to those ambitions, particularly as Southampton have three winnable games against Newcastle United, Everton and Aston Villa coming up in the next few weeks.
Claudio Ranieri’s first-choice starting XI is now well established, and with no injuries collected over the international break there is unlikely to be any change on Sunday afternoon. Back-up midfielders Andy King and Matty James are the only absentees for the hosts, whose settled line-up is one of the reasons behind their extraordinary exploits this term. Jamie Vardy will be looking to add to the 19 goals he has scored so far this season, while Riyad Mahrez – the leading contender for the Player of the Year crown – is the man Southampton will be desperate to keep quiet.
Ronald Koeman (pictured) will probably be unable to call upon the services of Ryan Bertrand, Charlie Austin, Jay Rodriguez and Florin Gardos for his team’s trip to the East Midlands, although the former trio each have a small chance of being passed fit in time to feature. Southampton have regularly played with three at the back this season but returned to a four-man defence against Liverpool last time out, a formation Koeman is likely to stick with. If he does, Sadio Mane will likely replace Dusan Tadic in the Dutchman’s front three after his second-half brace in the win over Jurgen Klopp’s outfit.
Our Leicester v Saints Preview’s Betting Tips
This is likely to be a tough test for Leicester, with Southampton having lost only two of their last 11 matches. Although they have not kept a clean sheet in five games, Saints have generally been tight at the back in 2016, so could be worth backing to keep a Leicester attack who have slowed down this calendar year at bay.
Ranieri’s men have also been solid defensively, though, which makes the odds on a 0-0 draw look rather tempting. It remains to be seen whether such a result would be a positive one for Leicester – that largely depends on how Tottenham get on at Liverpool on Saturday – but a low-scoring game certainly looks to be on the cards at the King Power.