Leicester City have the chance to move temporarily 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League table when they face relegation-threatened Sunderland on Sunday (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1).
This is a game that begins two and a half hours before fellow title contenders and second-placed Tottenham Hotspur take on Manchester United at White Hart Lane.
Another 1-0 victory against Southampton last weekend – Leicester have now won five out of their last six matches by that scoreline – moved the Foxes seven points clear of Spurs at the summit of the standings with just six matches left to play. The fairytale in the East Midlands shows no sign of ending any time soon, with Leicester currently playing with a maturity and assuredness that is usually associated with teams who are used to challenging for the biggest honours on a yearly basis.
Wes Morgan, the captain and defensive rock, was the goalscorer last weekend, but his role in ensuring the Foxes kept another clean sheet was just as important. Leicester have now recorded nine defensive shut-outs in their 13 league encounters in 2016, a tremendous record that could carry them to a remarkable championship crown. With two home games to come after this weekend’s trip to the northeast, another triumph on Sunday would edge Leicester ever closer to making that dream a reality.
Sunderland’s situation is rather less positive, with Sam Allardyce’s (pictured) side currently four points adrift of safety in 18th place. A goalless draw at home to West Bromwich Albion last time out was a massive missed opportunity. Although Sunderland dominated the game from start to finish and created an abundance of goalscoring chances, they just could not find a way past Ben Foster in the Baggies goal.
Such profligacy has been a theme of their season under the former Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United boss, with the Black Cats in desperate need of some goals as they seek to close the gap on Norwich City and Crystal Palace above them. There is still enough time for Allardyce’s charges to pull clear of danger, but they may need at least a point against the table-toppers to avoid slipping too far adrift.
Leicester’s good fortune with injuries has been one of the reasons for their success this season, with Jeffrey Schlupp the only absentee this weekend. Claudio Ranieri has named the same starting XI – Kasper Schmeichel; Danny Simpson, Morgan, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs; Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton; Shinji Okazaki, Jamie Vardy – for four successive matches and is likely to do the same at the Stadium Of Light.
Sunderland boss Allardyce also has one injury concern ahead of Sunday’s clash, with England Under-21 international Duncan Watmore sidelined until the end of the month with an ankle injury. Lee Cattermole is likely to retain his place in midfield ahead of Jack Rodwell, with Jan Kirchhoff and Yann M’Vila almost guaranteed to start alongside him in the engine room. Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini are the favourites to begin the game on the flanks, where they will be tasked with supporting lone striker Jermain Defoe at the top of the pitch.
A low-scoring affair could be on the cards at the Stadium Of Light, with Leicester rarely conceding of late and Sunderland often struggling to convert chances as successfully as they create them. The odds on another 1-0 victory for Ranieri’s men therefore look tempting, while another option could be to back the visitors to triumph to nil. The fact that Jamie Vardy’s goals have dried up of late means that Okazaki and Drinkwater represent better value choices for first scorer, with Morgan to strike for the second week running a potentially lucrative low-stake outsider option.