Premier League football finally returns on Saturday after almost two weeks of international fixtures with the reigning English Champions Leicester City hosting Stoke City at the King Power Stadium.
The Foxes have been rejuvenated by the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare has won all of his first four games in charge to ease the club’s relegation worries and earn a place in the Champions League semi-finals. Leicester look much more like the team that shocked the sporting world by winning the title last season with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez both back in goal scoring form. A win on Saturday would help Shakespeare close in on a top ten finish.
Stoke City continue to maintain their positioning in mid-table, never in any real danger of relegation but lacking the consistency to push for a Europa League spot. Mark Hughes has overseen another steady season in The Potteries and a fourth consecutive top-ten finish would be seen as a considerable achievement for a club that was consigned to the lower leagues for much of the previous quarter of a century.
Leicester City have eased their relegation fears in recent weeks with their victory over West Ham United at the Olympic Stadium moving The Foxes six points clear of the drop zone. Craig Shakespeare has won all of his initial four games across all competitions since being appointed as Claudio Ranieri’s successor and he could become the first British manager to win his first four Premier League contests should his side beat Stoke City on Saturday. More importantly, victory this weekend could push Leicester into contention for a top-half finish, something that looked a world away just two months ago.
Stoke City are looking to bounce back from the defeat suffered against Chelsea in their previous league contest before the international break. The Potters held their own for much of the match against the champions-elect but were undone by a late Gary Cahill strike after some sloppy defending from a set piece. Mark Hughes’ side have been ticking along nicely since the turn of the year and have lost just three of their last ten Premier League fixtures (against Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion) but have picked up just four points on the road since early December.
Leicester City have thrived under the stewardship of Craig Shakespeare who has reverted back to a rigid 4-4-1-1 formation that has brought the best out of Jamie Vardy (3 goals in last four games) and Riyad Mahrez (2 goals in last two appearances). However, captain Wes Morgan remains an injury doubt with the back strain that kept the central defender from playing in the victory against West Ham meaning that Yohan Benalouane is set to partner Robert Huth at centre half. Nampalys Mendy is the only other injury doubt for the Foxes. The 24-year-old is still recovering from a knee issue and is unlikely to feature on Saturday.
Stoke City have been boosted by the return of first-choice goalkeeper Jack Butland to full training this week. The 24-year-old has been absent for one year after suffering a broken ankle whilst playing for England in an international friendly against Germany in March 2017, however, it is unlikely that he will feature in the match day squad to face Leicester City on Saturday. Glen Johnson remains a doubt with an on-going shoulder injury whilst his replacement at right back, Phil Bardsley, is suspended after being sent off against Chelsea. Spanish defender Marc Muniesa is set to be recalled to the starting line-up to fill the defensive conundrum. Geoff Cameron, Glenn Whelan and Jonathan Walters all picked up slight knocks whilst on international duty but are still expected to feature whilst Xherdan Shaqiri is expected to return after missing The Potters’ previous seven games with a calf strain.
Predicted Starting Line-Ups
Leicester City Stoke City
Verdict: Leicester City 2-1 Stoke City
Leicester City have looked rejuvenated since the sacking of Claudio Ranieri with Craig Shakespeare reverting back to the formula that brought The Foxes so much success last season. They are in top form going into the weekend and Mark Hughes’ side will have to be at their very best to take anything away from the contest. The Potters have been ticking along nicely since the turn of the year but have picked up just four points on their travels since early December and have not scored in any of their previous three Premier League away fixtures. A narrow victory for the hosts.