Leicester City host Manchester City on Tuesday at the King Power Stadium, knowing that a win against their more fancied opponents could see them finish the first half of the season at the Premier League summit against incredible odds
Much has been written and said about Leicester City’s heroics this season, and how manager Claudio Ranieri has managed to build on the individual brilliance of the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to put together an incredible run in the first half of the 2015-2016 season.
By marrying technical ability with dogged determination, Ranieri has assembled a team that hasn’t just put a remarkable run together, but entertained while doing so. However, there is a growing sense that the Foxes are not underdogs in pretty much any of their matches any more and their extraordinary season has increased the expectations of supporters and neutrals in equal measure.
So when Leicester take on Manchester City on Tuesday evening on the back of a defeat to Liverpool FC at Anfield, a lot may be learned about whether Ranieri’s men have accepted the responsibility of being in the position they are in, and whether or not they have the the mental toughness to secure Champions League football for next season, if not the Premier League title itself.
Here are five things we can expect from what promises to be an entertaining clash at the King Power Stadium:
1. Leicester will get chances on the break
One of the Foxes’ hallmarks this season has been their ability to execute lightning quick counter-attacks, and more importantly, produce at the end of them on a consistent basis through the likes of Mahrez and Vardy.
Coming up against a side in Manchester City that like to keep the ball, but can be sloppy at times when playing out from the back, Ranieri’s men should get opportunities to hit the Citizens on the break.
Manuel Pellegrini’s football philosophy has a somewhat dogmatic focus on keeping possession, but as has been the case at times this season — like against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium — that could prove to be their downfall on Tuesday. Manchester United are also a possession-based side, and despite specifically focusing on mitigating Leicester’s threat in attacking transitions, Louis van Gaal’s side ended up conceding a goal on the break.
2. Jamie Vardy’s pace and movement could trouble City centre-backs
Despite a convincing 4-1 win over Sunderland in their last game, City suffered a major setback with captain Vincent Kompany lasting only nine minutes on his return from a calf injury. Without their skipper, Pellegrini’s side have failed to keep a single clean sheet in the league this season, and Jamie Vardy will be chomping at the bit to try and run at the centre-back pairing of Eliaquim Mangala and NicolA?s Otamendi.
The second-choice partnership has looked anything but solid, and the likes of Stoke have already shown how the gaps between the pairing can be exploited. Given Vardy’s key strength is timing his runs — often from left to right as was the case for his goals against Manchester United and Chelsea FC — and springing the offside trap to move in behind the centre-backs, the Foxes could benefit hugely from the England international’s pace and movement, particularly given they have someone with the ability of Mahrez to supply him.
3. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne a big problem for the Leicester midfield
The midfield pairing of N’golo Kant and Danny Drinkwater have been crucial to the Foxes’ success this season, and even though the latter is on the sidelines with a hamstring issue, Andy King has filled in admirably thus far.
Ranieri has opted for a 4-4-2 for most of the season, but could find himself needing an extra body in midfield to deal with the attacking threat of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. Kant has been exceptional this season, and even though he has the ability to close down quickly due to his pace and dynamism, Pellegrini’s men are arguably the best side in the league at passing the ball quickly when on song and giving either De Bruyne or Silva time and space in the final third could prove to be disastrous for the home side.
As such, there is an argument to be made for dropping one striker to the bench in favour of a midfield body, and pushing Riyad Mahrez further up to play behind Vardy in a form of 4-4-1-1 — as Ranieri has done before during the season.
4. More disciplined performance from the Manchester City fullbacks
Manchester City often rely on their full-backs for width given the preference of their attacking midfielders to move towards the centre and Aleksandar Kolarov in particular has been a major attacking asset down the left hand side.
However, Pellegrini will have done his homework on the hosts before the game and a more disciplined performance from his full-backs can be expected given the threat of the Foxes on the counter-attack, especially in the wide areas.
Mahrez is a major threat because of his ability to run with the ball, but Marc Albrighton on the opposite flank is having an impressive season himself and has the pace to cause serious problems on the break — particularly against a City midfield that lacks real pace. Nathan Dyer, if he plays, is another big threat due to his speed, and any space that the City full-backs leave behind them will be ruthlessly exploited — more so when you consider that it will drag the centre-backs wide, leaving gaps in the middle to take advantage of.
Leicester City and Manchester City are currently the joint top-scorers in the league, despite having played one game fewer than most of the other sides in the league bar Sunderland and Liverpool FC. This, combined with the fact that neither team has a stellar defence, means that there will most probably be goals galore at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday.
The Citizens have failed to keep a clean sheet since the one at Villa Park at the beginning of November, while Leicester have conceded more goals than any other side in the top 10 at the moment.
It might not be an absolute goal fest, but it would take a brave man to put money on a scoreless draw.