Sunderland-Leicester City Preview
Leicester City enter the new Premier League campaign hoping to pick up where they left off, at least as far as on-the-field events are concerned.
The Foxes finished last season on fire, winning seven of their last nine league matches, losing once and drawing once having won just four of their first 29 games.
That draw, a scoreless affair at the Stadium of Light against Saturday's opening day opponents Sunderland, secured top flight status for Leicester when they had seemed doomed to demotion entering the campaign's home stretch.
After various altercations were compounded by unsavoury events on a post-season 'goodwill tour' of Thailand, the Foxes elected to part ways with manager Nigel Pearson in the off-season.
Three players were released following events on the tour, including Pearson's son James, and Pearson senior was gone two weeks later with the club citing 'fundamental differences in perspective'.
Into his shoes stepped the vastly experienced Italian, Claudio Ranieri, who is confident he can build on the positives he witnessed over Leicester's final games.
"I think Leicester were the best team in the league in the last seven matches or around there," Ranieri explained in his pre-match press conference. "But they won. Why? Because they have a big heart on the pitch.
"I saw a team but I saw one together, play quickly and fight. It was fantastic to watch this Leicester and I want to restart at the same level. I know it's difficult. Slowly, I want to show this team. First of all the heart, the fight, and then the quality."
Boasting almost 65 years of top level managerial experience between them, Ranieri and his Sunderland counterpart Dick Advocaat will each have to call upon every ounce of it to keep their sides in the Premier League.
With Ranieri a new arrival and Advocaat only in charge since March, both men have been active in the summer transfer window as they seek to stamp their identity on their squads.
For Leicester Christian Fuchs arrived from Schalke, Stoke City's Robert Huth was added to the defence, and striker Shinji Okazaki was acquired from Bundesliga side Mainz. Ranieri also recently brought in Caen's N'Golo Kante and Yohan Benalouane from Italian side Atalanta.
Sunderland, have been no slouches in the market either, adding five new players so far in a bid to boost their survival chances after they finished last season just three points from safety in 16th place. The Black Cats captured sought after Dutch forward Jeremain Lens from Dynamo Kiev and French international midfielder Yann M'Vila on a season long loan from Russian side Rubin Kazan.
M'Vila, the latest signing, trained with the squad on Thursday for the first time and is in contention for a starting place at the King Power Stadium.
"I'm very happy to be a Sunderland player and I can't wait to play for my new teammates. I'm excited for the start of the season," he told the official club website. "I had a very good feeling training with the team. Every player welcomed me to Sunderland and the feeling was very good with them."
Advocaat bolstered the defence with the acquisitions of Younes Kaboul and Adam Matthews from Tottenham Hotspur and Celtic respectively and the permanent signing of Sebastian Coates from Liverpool after a loan spell.
Five of the ten Premier League meetings between the sides have been draws, with both encounters last season ending scoreless. Leicester hold a slight edge with three wins to Sunderland's two.
The Black Cats failed to score in five of their last six Premier League meetings against the Foxes, with a 2-1 home win in April 2002 the lone exception.
Sunderland will be without Danny Graham (knock) and Jordi Gomez (knee), while Matty James (knee) is the only Leicester player ruled out.