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Leicester City

West Brom vs Leicester: Premier League match preview, likely line-ups and score prediction

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Premier League champions Leicester City travel to the Hawthorns to face 8th placed West Bromwich Albion. Tony Pulis’ side have been performing above expectation all campaign, with many people predicting they would finish lower mid-table.

Leicester have had mixed fortunes this season. Throughout the first-half of the campaign, they were struggling down near the relegation zone. However, after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, the Foxes went on a superb run which has lifted them to 15th, six points clear of the drop. While they aren’t mathematically safe, they have pretty much secured another year of Premier League football.

Recent form

The Baggies, who, at one point in the season, had ambitions of sneaking into Europa League contention, have not tasted victory in their past four outings. Since their impressive victory against Arsenal, Pulis’ side have drawn with Manchester United, lost 2-0 against Watford, and 1-0, to both Southampton and Liverpool.

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Visitors Leicester City have recently closed the curtain on their impressive Champions League campaign after being defeated by Atletico Madrid, while their Premier League form has been unpredictable. The Foxes have not won in their last three league games. In these matches, Shakespeare’s side drew to Crystal Palace and lost to Arsenal and Everton.

Team news

West Brom have been dealt a double-whammy of hamstring injuries this week with Hal Robson-Kanu and Matt Phillips both suffering the same muscle strain. The two attackers are ruled out of this tie and Salomon Rondon is expected to lead the line against Leicester.

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Leicester also have a hamstring worry of their own. Wes Morgan, who missed the midweek clash with Arsenal, will be tested before this game and Craig Shakespeare is hopeful that his captain may be able to play against the Baggies. Striker Islam Slimani could also return to the fold this weekend.

Predicted line-ups

Match Prediction: West Brom 1-2 Leicester City

With West Brom’s creative spark, Matt Phillips, missing for this fixture, Leicester have more attacking quality and they should be able to see off Pulis’ side.

A partnership of Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy would provide West Brom’s back four with all sorts of problems, as Slimani would add an aerial threat, while none of the Baggies defenders would be able to deal with Vardy’s pace.

Chelsea

Chelsea 0-0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea remain winless in 2018 after Antonio Conte’s misfiring charges recorded their third successive goalless draw.

Despite having a numerical advantage for the final 20 minutes following Ben Chilwell’s red card, the Blues could not find a winning goal against a Leicester City side that enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance.

Chelsea have now played more than 270 minutes of football in all competitions without scoring and have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League table as a result of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City. Leicester remain eighth and continue their good form since Claude Puel’s appointment as manager.

Here are three talking points…

Chelsea’s goal scoring problems are mounting

Much has been written about Alvaro Morata’s goalscoring drought, which extended to five matches after he failed to register a single effort in this clash, but Chelsea’s goalscoring issues go much deeper.

Since the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on January 3, the Blues have failed to find the back of the net. None of the top six clubs have scored fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 41 Premier League goals for the season.

There is no doubt the burden has rested heavily on Morata and when he was in fine form during the first few months of the campaign, Chelsea were often rampant. But the Spaniard’s barren spell has coincided with a downturn in the Blues’ effectiveness.

The problem for Conte is he has little faith in back-up striker Michy Batshuayi. There is no other obvious candidate to act as the focal point, although the Italian has previously experimented with a false number nine.

Defensively, Chelsea are very solid, but that counts for little when they fail to score.

Leicester grab a point despite Chilwell’s red

It’s not often a player receives two yellow cards in a matter of minutes, but that’s exactly the fate that befell Leicester’s Ben Chilwell.

After being cautioned for a foul on Willian, the Leicester man then received a second booking only five minutes later for bringing down Victor Moses.

Both fouls were fairly innocuous and Chilwell’s dismissal disrupted the Foxes’ performance, which had threatened to claim all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester boss Puel was critical of Mike Jones’ decision to send off Chilwell, which may have come under more scrutiny had Chelsea gone on to win the game.

As it was, the visitors held out for a point, which was the least they deserved. Jamie Vardy twice went close to breaking the deadlock and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert throughout.

This was definitely not a rearguard display – Leicester created numerous chances and were keen to take the game to their high-flying opponents.

Tiredness to blame – Conte

Chelsea boss Conte blamed tiredness for his side’s failure to win for the fourth game in a row. This fixture came just three days after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, amid a run of seven games in 21 days.

The Blues return to action again against Norwich City for an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night. In total, Chelsea will play eight games in January after playing nine in December.

There’s no doubt it is a punishing schedule, but Chelsea are not alone in that regard. A club with their squad depth should be able to cope. Conte has rotated his squad, particularly for the cup games, and is sure to field a much-changed side for the Norwich replay.

Of course, if the Blues were winning matches there would be no need to raise the fatigue element as an excuse.

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Leicester City

Would this be the ideal transfer window for Leicester City?

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Photo: Reuters

Since taking the helm from Craig Shakespeare, Claude Puel has masterminded something of a quiet revolution at Leicester City.

Having taken over a side that had won just five games in all competitions in 2017/18, a mere two of those coming in the league (D3, L4), the Frenchman has successfully steadied the ship at the King Power Stadium, winning six and drawing four of his fifteen matches in charge across all competitions.

Notable results include a 4-1 drubbing of Puel’s former club Southampton at St. Mary’s, a 2-2 home draw with Manchester United, and a valiant EFL Cup exit via penalty kicks after holding Manchester City to a 1-1 draw.

Such form has lifted the Foxes from the bottom three to the heady heights of the top ten, but Puel will be under no illusions that he must get this transfer window right to continue his revival in the East Midlands.

His predecessor, Craig Shakespeare, will know this only too well, the summer transfer window proving particularly costly to his short tenure.

Having lost Danny Drinkwater to Chelsea at the eleventh hour of Deadline Day, Leicester had his ready-made replacement Adrien Silva ready and waiting to arrive from Sporting Lisbon, only for FIFA to declare the Portugal international ineligible until January since his transfer paperwork arrived fourteen seconds beyond the deadline.

Such a scenario is unlikely to repeat itself, but even with Adrien Silva now joining his teammates in Premier League action and lessening the need for any reinforcements in centre-midfield, the Foxes have their work cut-out this month, particularly with question marks hanging over Riyad Mahrez’s future at the club in the midst of interest from Arsenal and Liverpool.

Yet Claude Puel is unlikely to make wholesale changes to a squad that all things considered, is performing well under his tutelage.

Interestingly, Puel is understood to wish to hold onto Algerian winger Mahrez and his compatriot, £29.7 million man Islam Slimani, despite the latter’s lack of action this season, according to Sky Sports journalist Michael Kelleher.

The report does hint that the Foxes boss may be prepared to part company with Ahmed Musa, though, but a replacement may not be an urgent requirement given the form of Mahrez and Demarai Gray on the opposite flank.

Slimani’s cool finish in Leicester’s recent Premier League win over Huddersfield showcased what the former Sporting Lisbon man still has to offer, and retaining him would sustain much of Leicester’s strength in depth going forward.

Strengthening out wide may depend entirely on where Mahrez finds himself come the closure of the window, but in any case what the Foxes do lack is a creative player capable of filling out the ‘number 10’ role.

One such player who fits the bill for this, and can equally be deployed on either flank is a familiar name to the Premier League and a former colleague of Claude Puel at OGC Nice, PSG misfit Hatem Ben Arfa.

Ben Arfa has proven himself capable of playing in the Premier League, but established a reputation as being a gifted yet inconsistent player during his time with Newcastle and Hull in the top-flight.

Puel was able to coax the best out of Ben Arfa during his season-long spell on the French Riviera. However, his goals helping fire Les Aiglons to a fourth place finish in Ligue 1 in 2015/16 and a place in the Europa League.

Such form earned Ben Arfa his big money move to PSG, where he has since failed to make the grade, and a move to the East Midlands to re-unite with his former boss may be just the transfer required to re-ignite his career.

Puel’s personal relationship with the player may be the deciding factor in swaying the tide in favour of any such move for the player, but there is no doubt that Ben Arfa would not only offer Leicester another exciting attacking and creative option, given the Frenchman’s penchant for running at defenders.

Meanwhile, he has also proven himself a capable source of goals, something which Leicester lack in their frontline, bar the diminutive talent of Jamie Vardy.

The lack of goals elsewhere in attack is something that Puel has already set about remedying, though. The Foxes have a knack for identifying talent in the French Ligue 2, with Riyad Mahrez and Anthony Knockaert (now of Brighton) just two signings plundered from the division over the years that have become big hits at the King Power.

Leicester’s French manager has recently been shopping in the French second tier in search of a striker, with Mali U-23 international Fousseni Diabate having completed a move from Corsican side Gazélec Ajaccio.

Diabate is a natural forward, but much like Ben Arfa can be deployed either in the ‘number 10’ role or on either flank, and he has featured out wide for the majority of the campaign for Gazélec, where he has started all but two of their matches in all competitions this season after making the drop from Ligue 1 outfit Guingamp.

He has netted three goals and assisted once in that time, featuring alongside Grégoire Puel, son of Leicester boss, Claude.

As a wide-man, the signing of Diabate will directly plug the hole vacated by Ahmed Musa should the Nigerian leave, but if Puel opts to use the Malian as a forward, that could spell the end of peripheral figure Leonardo Ulloa’s time at the club.

With Puel wanting to keep Slimani at the club, as well as handing regular game-time to Shinjo Okazaki, getting the Argentinian off the club’s books whether permanently or on loan, would be a sensible option, with Aston Villa reportedly interested in acquiring his services, as well as those of midfielder Daniel Amartey.

Puel has already declared his intent to keep summer signing Kelechi Iheanacho at the club despite his lack of minutes, thus with Diabate’s arrival the Frenchman has more than enough options in the forward position  should Ulloa leave.

The departure of Amartey may be less likely, but Matt James’ return to fitness would cushion the blow in the event of any move.

One other area which Puel may look to add cover in during the transfer window is central defence. The Frenchman has options in Aleksandar Dragovic and Yohan Benalouane as back-up to Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire, but with Robert Huth still no closer to a return following surgery on an ankle problem, Puel could look to add another option to the ranks.

His need for reinforcements would certainly increase should there be any substance to reports from The Sun linking Maguire to a £50 million approach from Manchester City.

Although Sky Sports report that Puel is unfazed by such speculation, suggesting it is unlikely that capped England international Maguire, who only joined the Foxes in the summer, will be heading anywhere, there are still realistic options for Puel to turn to for cover to his back-four and to bolster the back-line should Maguire leave.

Two of these options are players the Foxes were linked to during the summer, West Brom’s Jonny Evans and Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson.

Gibson may be the likelier of the two options given Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s known admiration of Jonny Evans, but either defender would be a reliable option to partner Wes Morgan should Maguire depart, or even challenge the regular centre-half pairing for a starting spot.

Evans would be the more experienced option to turn to, but the signing of Gibson would constitute a positive investment in the future of the Leicester defence, with Morgan and the injured Robert Huth both nearing the twilight of their careers at the age of 33.

Yohan Benalouane himself is 30, thus age is most certainly a factor for the Foxes to consider, and Puel may look to youth if he wishes to revitalise his defence.

He certainly seems to be doing so elsewhere in the team with his desire to develop Kelechi Iheanacho further as well as signing the youthful Diabate, and it wouldn’t be surprising if building for the future proves the way of things on the whole this January at the King Power. It certainly appears to be shaping up that way.

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Fleetwood Town

Fleetwood Town 0–0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Highbury Stadium

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Photo: Reuters

Jamie Vardy watched from the stands as his former side Fleetwood Town held Premier League Leicester City to a valiant draw at Highbury Stadium to earn a replay in their FA Cup third-round tie.

The Leicester striker was left out of the visiting squad after failing to recover from a groin injury in time to face his former club and in his absence there was a distinct lack of cutting edge around goal.

Andy King came closest for the Premier League side in a scrappy opening half, heading over from a corner, whilst Aleksander Dragovic’s back-pass very nearly ended up in his own net at the other end.

There wasn’t too much in the way of clear chances after the break either, although it was the hosts who looked more likely to snatch a winner when Ashley Hunter flashed some crosses across the box.

And it was Hunter who nearly earnt a dramatic injury-time win when his deflected effort from on the edge of the area hit the post and rebounded into the grateful arms of Leicester goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic, and now the two sides will meet again at the King Power with the fourth-round at stake.

Vardy watches on as Leicester fail to inspire

Considering that the heightened build-up to Saturday’s third-round tie revolved around Jamie Vardy’s return to where it all began, it was a bit of an anti-climax when his absence from the Foxes’ matchday squad was confirmed an hour before kick-off.

Fleetwood Town was the place where the England striker’s fairy-tale story began back in 2011, scoring 34 goals in 42 games to help secure promotion to the Football League and taking the then non-league side to the FA Cup third-round for the first time in his only season at Highbury Stadium.

In truth it was always a race against time to be deemed fit to face his former side and, on balance, Leicester boss Claude Puel was wise not to risk his star forward – even if it was disappointing news for the footballing neutral and the home supporters.

As such Vardy watched on from the stands as a second-string Leicester side struggled to gain a foothold against their lower-ranked opposition, failing to have any sort of pace or tempo all game.

The fact that the Premier League side didn’t muster a single shot on target in the 90 minutes tells its own tale and Fleetwood goalkeeper Chris Neal wouldn’t have had many afternoons as quiet as this one over the past few months of the season.

It could have been far worse considering how much Fleetwood pushed late on, and manager Claude Puel will surely ring the necessary changes for the replay to ensure his team avoid any FA Cup upset.

Silva struggles on Leicester bow

Despite naming an under-strength starting eleven for the trip to Highbury, there was reason for Leicester fans to get excited as it offered the chance to see Adrien Silva start for the very first time.

The Portuguese international’s transfer from Sporting Lisbon has been well-documented over the past few months – with the move being denied over the summer due to necessary paperwork submitted 14 seconds late – but as the January window opened the move was able to be completed.

After making his Leicester bow as a second-half substitute in the 3-0 win at Huddersfield last time out he was given his full debut by boss Puel at the heart of the midfield, but he found it tough going.

It’s unlikely that Silva would have experienced anything like the Highbury pitch during his Sporting days but he was largely anonymous, not making any meaningful contribution either offensively or defensively and on the whole he was outshone by the performance of Fleetwood midfielder Markus Schwabl.

The fact that he was withdrawn on the hour mark after picking up a knock summed up his whole afternoon, and he’ll hope to set the record straight when Fleetwood come to town for the replay.

He wasn’t alone though, and aside from a few bursts down the left-hand side from the lively Demarai Gray over the course of the game there was little for the Foxes to get excited about.

Islam Slimani carried Leicester’s attacking hopes yet only managed 24 touches all game whilst even Shinji Okazaki and Marc Albrighton couldn’t impose themselves when coming on as late substitutes.

Fleetwood more than hold their own in historic tie

There may well have been 49 places and two divisions between the two sides prior to kick-off but you would not have been able to tell after Fleetwood Town put on a determined and gritty display.

The League One side’s route to the third-round hadn’t been without its troubles, needing to come from behind to see off non-league outfit Chorley in injury-time in their first-round tie, and the prospect of facing Premier League opposition for the first ever time was a potentially daunting one.

But Uwe Rosler’s side showed no sign of being over-awed by their opponents, drawing them into a scrappy affair on a pitch that certainly served as a leveller between themselves and the 2015/16 Premier League champions.

It wouldn’t be untrue to say that the hosts were the better team on the day too, weathering an extended period of Leicester possession during the first-half before upping the tempo on the hour mark and taking the game to the visitors.

One man at the forefront of their efforts was Ashley Hunter, labelled the ‘new Vardy’, and the 22-year-old showed where his nickname has come from with a number of blistering runs on the wings.

His acceleration and drive provided a glimpse of quality in a fairly drab affair and he was merely inches away from being the hero of the day when his effort in the dying moments hit the upright.

Leicester will undoubtedly prove to be a different proposition on their home turf when the replay occurs over the next few weeks but, on Saturday’s showing, Fleetwood will travel there with hope.

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