Leicester City-Newcastle United Preview
If the man of the moment is missing Saturday, the difficulty of the defence against which he'll try for Premier League history will increase dramatically.
Jamie Vardy is battling to be match-fit in hopes he can extend his historic goal-scoring streak in league play to 10 matches at St James' Park as upstart Leicester City face Newcastle United.
The Premier League's leader with 12 goals in as many matches, Vardy was unavailable for England's two friendlies during the international break due to a hip injury suffered in the Foxes' 2-1 victory over Watford on Nov. 7. He extended his goal-scoring streak in that win by converting from the spot in the second half as Leicester City (7-4-1) moved within one point of joint-leaders Manchester City and Arsenal with their third victory on the bounce.
"I don't know," manager Claudio Ranieri said at his pre-match news conference Thursday when asked if Vardy would play. "On Saturday morning, I'll choose. If he's fit, he'll play because every match he wants to play. If they tell me he's OK, 100 percent, he plays. If not, I don't want to risk the player.
"Not only Jamie, in all my career, I don't want to risk a player for one match and then lose them for one month. That is my philosophy. I hope he's OK."
Vardy - who has 11 goals during his breathtaking run - has the longest single-season streak for consecutive games with a goal in the Premier League, and a tally against the Magpies would put him alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy for the longest all-time in the Premier League era. The Dutchman bagged a goal in 10 straight matches for Manchester United spanning the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, with the final opponent in that streak being Newcastle.
"He'd better do it. No pressure," joked teammate and ex-Magpie Daniel Simpson to Foxes Player HD. "We all know about his pace but I think his finishing has improved. I think he's at that point now where if he gets a chance he thinks he's going to score."
A deeper look into the British football history books reveals Vardy is also chasing Jimmy Dunne, an Ireland international who had a spree of 18 goals while scoring in 12 successive league matches for Sheffield United in the First Division during the 1931-32 season. Much like what Vardy is doing with the Foxes, who finished 14th last season, Dunne dragged the Blades by the scruffs of their necks to the loftiest of heights in the table - they led the First Division briefly in February of 1932 - before an eventual seventh-place finish in which he scored 33 goals.
Should Vardy be available, the odds are in his favour to extend the streak and potentially get a result that keeps Leicester City in the running for European play next season.
Consider Newcastle (2-4-6): They only recently moved from the drop zone but are just two points clear of the relegation spots, and their porous defence - they've shipped 22 goals - has had all sorts of troubles containing some of the top flight's better strikers. In comparison, next week's visitors to King Power Stadium - Manchester United - have conceded a league-low eight and haven't been scored on in a month.
Dimitri Payet was the first of three forwards to bag a brace versus Newcastle, spurring West Ham United to a 2-0 victory Sept. 14, and five days later, Odion Ighalo scored his two goals in an 18-minute span as Watford condemned the Magpies to a 2-1 defeat. Those were mere lead-ins to the signature single-game performance by a player in the Premier League this season - Sergio Aguero's five-goal rampage in a 20-minute span of Manchester City's 6-1 demolition job of Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium on Oct. 3.
Even with Vardy uncertain, Newcastle cannot afford to overlook running mate Riyad Mahrez. The winger for Algeria has seven goals - tied for second in the Premier League - and five assists after totaling just four and three in 30 matches last season. He had a brace in the Foxes' last road match - a 3-2 victory at West Bromwich Albion on Oct. 31 - and contributed a goal to the Desert Foxes' 9-2 two-legged aggregate victory over Tanzania during the international break to progress to the third round of 2018 World Cup qualifying in Africa.
Yet the recess came at an inopportune time on the Tyneside, for Newcastle not only collected four points from their last two matches, but they also recorded clean sheets in both. Ayoze Perez made Newcastle's lone shot on target count as his 27th-minute goal stood as the winner in the Magpies' 1-0 victory at Bournemouth on Nov. 7.
"It was a really good win for everyone," Cheick Tiote told the team's official website. "We are out of the relegation zone now and that is very important. We have the opportunity to climb up the league now and that is what we will try to do."
Injuries are still a concern for Steve McClaren's side. Third-choice goalkeeper and current starter Rob Elliot did not play in Ireland's two-legged playoff versus Bosnia-Herzegovina that resulted in qualifying for next year's European Championships due to a niggling thigh injury he played through in the victory over Bournemouth, though second-string Karl Darlow may be available.
Starting keeper Tim Krul is out for the season with a torn ACL, and midfielder Jack Colback is sidelined until next month with a knee injury.
The home team won both matches last season, with Newcastle emerging 1-0 victors in the corresponding fixture on Gabriel Obertan's 71st-minute goal. Leicester City salvaged a split with a 3-0 romp in the most recent contest May 2 as Leonardo Ulloa had a brace and Marc Albrighton provided two assists. In between, the Foxes ousted Newcastle from the FA Cup with a 1-0 victory.