Manchester City-Leicester City Preview
It seemed Leicester City's reign at the top of the Premier League would come to an end following their Boxing Day defeat, but a mid-table club provided them some cover a few hours later.
What now stands between the Foxes and the once-unthinkable feat of entering the new year atop the table a season after wallowing into April at the foot? Just a victory Tuesday over a visiting Manchester City side that's breathing down their necks and hungry for their first set of consecutive league wins since mid-October when Manuel Pellegrini's team were the top flight's more anticipated front-runners.
Leicester (11-5-2) had their 10-match unbeaten streak in the league come to an end with Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Liverpool, but Arsenal's 4-0 loss at Southampton kept the Foxes two points clear of the Gunners entering the final matchday of the first round of fixtures.
But that doesn't mean things didn't get tighter at the top since Arsenal are the provisional leaders after defeating Bournemouth 2-0 on Monday. Man City's 4-1 home win over Sunderland got them within three points of Claudio Ranieri's club, though it's not causing the Leicester boss to look over his shoulder.
"In the end, I think Liverpool deserved to win," Ranieri told the club's official website. "It was unlucky, but sooner or later our first defeat away could happen. Now we have to clean our minds and focus on another fantastic match."
The loss for Leicester was their first clean sheet conceded - every other club has handed out at least three - and substituting Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez with their team seeking an equaliser and already without injured winger Danny Drinkwater might only be seen as a good move if their performances are particularly noteworthy against the Citizens.
Vardy was said to be dealing with a fever and came off in the 69th minute - just six after Christian Benteke's goal - and Mahrez was subbed in the 80th. In addition to the clean sheet, it was the first match in which neither Vardy nor Mahrez scored, and the Algeria international had six goals in his previous three games.
It was Leicester's third one-goal match since running out 3-0 victors at Swansea City back on Dec. 5.
"It was tough but it's been a tough few weeks," defender Danny Simpson said. "We know we'll pick ourselves up. We're an honest bunch, we'll look at it and we'll react in the right way against Manchester City."
But regardless of most recent results, the fact the Foxes can enter the second round of fixtures in first is nothing short of remarkable after losing 12 of 19 matches before New Year's Day last season and sitting in last on 13 points. It seemed reasonable for the lead to vanish in a tough December stretch that included successive matches against Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Man City, but even a draw will ensure Leicester City at least a share of the lead as the calendar turns. Five of the last six clubs to top the division through the first round have gone on to with the title.
Pellegrini, though, was quick to point out after the win over Sunderland that no trophies have been awarded, regardless of how strong the Foxes have been.
"I think that if they are the top of the table it's because that they deserve it," Pellegrini said. "They have important players in a very good moment with high performance.
"... Now we have an important game to finish the first round of the fixtures. We have to play 63 points more. That's why I said that in December you never win the title. It's important to try to repeat the performance that we did today in the most amount of games of the second round."
Man City (11-2-5), however, figure to be without a key piece to slow the dynamic duo of Vardy and Mahrez. Vincent Kompany was subbed out just nine minutes after entering in the 62nd against the Black Cats as he aggravated a recurrent calf problem, and the centre back is a doubt on the three-day turnaround.
The attack, though, returned to form even with top scoring threat Sergio Aguero left on the bench as part of Pellegrini's managing of the holiday crunch. The typically imposing Citizens had been held to three goals in their previous three matches, but Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony all struck before the interval, and Kevin De Bruyne gave them a four-goal lead in the 54th minute.
"We returned to our normal performance of playing attractive football, trying to scoring goals," Pellegrini told the club's official website.
Man City took all six points last season with a pair of clean sheets, including a 1-0 win Dec. 12, 2014 in the corresponding fixture. Including the FA Cup and League Cup, they've won four straight as part of a six-match unbeaten streak against the Foxes since last losing in 2003-04.