The Premier League title race could swing in one of Manchester City or Leicester City’s favour when the division’s top two teams go head-to-head this weekend (12.45pm Saturday on BT Sport 1).
Leicester’s 2-0 defeat of Liverpool on Tuesday means they are the league leaders, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side can climb above them to the summit of the standings with victory at the Etihad Stadium.
Predictions that Leicester would fade away over the Christmas and New Year period proved inaccurate, with the Foxes now unbeaten in six Premier League matches since Boxing Day. They have still only suffered defeat twice in the top flight this term – to Arsenal and Liverpool – and have taken 20 points from the last 27 on offer away from home. Given their relative lack of pedigree, it is only natural for people to expect Claudio Ranieri’s men to fall out of contention as the season goes on, but there are few signs that that will happen at present. Indeed, if Leicester are able to pick up another three points this Saturday, they may even become many people’s favourites to lift the trophy.
Jamie Vardy (pictured) took most of the headlines for his match-winning brace against Liverpool – which included a stunning strike from distance to open the scoring – with the former Fleetwood Town man’s goal tally for the campaign now standing at 18. Riyad Mahrez was also excellent against the Reds, with the likes of N’Golo Kante, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs, Danny Drinkwater and Kasper Schmeichel also enjoying excellent campaigns. Above all, Ranieri deserves a huge amount of credit for moulding a collective that amounts to more than the sum of its individual parts, with the Italian continuing to restore his own reputation after a disastrous spell in charge of the Greek national team.
Whereas Leicester have clearly overachieved in 2015/16, there is a case to be made that Manchester City have underachieved. It is interesting to note, for example, that Pellegrini’s charges had two more points at this stage last season despite spending almost £150 million on Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Nicolas Otamendi, Fabian Delph and Patrick Roberts in the summer. City have begun to pick up in recent weeks, however. Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over Sunderland extended the two-time Premier League champions’ unbeaten run to seven matches, with their last defeat coming to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in December.
Pellegrini would have been delighted by the clean sheet his side kept at the Stadium Of Light in midweek, with defensive frailties causing City numerous problems earlier in the season. They have now recorded four shut-outs in their last six league matches – including in the 0-0 draw with Leicester at the King Power Stadium just after Christmas – with Otamendi now beginning to recapture the excellent form he regularly showed in the heart of Valencia’s back four in La Liga last term.
Leicester will be without Jeff Schlupp and long-term absentee Matty James for their trip to the Etihad, but Ranieri has no fresh injury concerns. Manchester City, meanwhile, are unable to call upon the services of De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri and Wilfried Bony, although Fabian Delph and Eliaquim Mangala are hoping to be fit in time. Sterling is likely to return to Pellegrini’s starting XI in place of Jesus Navas, who is a doubt for this weekend’s crunch clash after injuring his hamstring in the triumph over Sunderland.
The template for the game is already set, with Man City certain to dominate possession as Leicester sit deep and look to spring forward with speed on the counter-attack. It is an extremely tough match for this preview to call, but the hosts’ extra firepower could see them edge this intriguing top-of-the-table encounter.