January 15, 2015

Stoke City are gaining in confidence after holding the league leaders and hope to have Xherdan Shaqiri back in the lineup for Saturday's trip to face suddenly goal-shy Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez of second-placed Leicester City.

The Foxes and Arsenal are level on 44 points for the league lead, with the Gunners owning the superior goal difference. But the Potters won't make the short trip down the A50 meekly after holding Arsenal to a scoreless draw Sunday at the Britannia Stadium.

Despite playing without the injured Shaqiri, a spirited Stoke side deserved a point and could have taken all three - if not for a superb double save by Petr Cech midway through the second half. The hosts outshot the big-spending visitors 14-8 and enter seventh in the table on 33 points.

"We have real belief within the dressing room now and maybe the difference at the moment is that we expect to go out, compete with and possibly beat these sort of sides rather than hoping to," manager Mark Hughes told the Potters' official website.

Shaqiri's status remains in doubt due to a hamstring injury that has kept him out of two straight matches. He did practice Thursday and is hoping to be available for selection.

"I feel ready for the period of games coming up and of course, looking forward to helping the team to win these games," Shaqiri told Stoke City Player. "Hopefully, I can show I am ready over the next couple of days and be available on Saturday."

This contest opens a four-match road swing for Stoke City, who will try to overturn a 1-0 deficit to Liverpool at Anfield in the second leg of their League Cup semifinal on Tuesday and trek to Selhurst Park next weekend for a fourth-round FA Cup match versus Crystal Palace. The gauntlet concludes at Old Trafford against Manchester United on Feb. 2.

Leicester City will likely be happy to be playing anybody other than Tottenham Hotspur after that side dumped the Foxes out of the FA Cup in a third-round replay at the King Power Stadium with a 2-0 defeat Wednesday.

The teams drew the first leg and Leicester also claimed a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane in the league Jan. 13.

''I am not disappointed with the performance,'' manager Claudio Ranieri said. ''We play Tottenham four times - won one, lost one and two draws.''

Now the focus will shift to the Premier League, where the Foxes were held 1-1 at bottom side Aston Villa last Saturday. Shinji Okazaki put home the rebound of a spectacular effort by Vardy before Mahrez had a penalty saved and Leicester conceded an equaliser 15 minutes from time.

"Of course our priority was and is the league," Ranieri told Leicester's official website. "Now we have to play against another good team in Stoke City."

Vardy has now failed to score in his last six league matches to remain stuck on 15 to match Everton's Romelu Lukaku for the EPL lead.

"Sooner or later he will score and that's it," Ranieri said.

Mahrez has gone five straight without scoring to remain on 13 goals. Even worse is that he has missed penalties in two of the last three matches, with both ending in draws.

He has been taken off penalty duties for the time being and did not start Wednesday, though he will be back in the Foxes' lineup Saturday.

Leicester defender Robert Huth had some shaky moments versus the Villans and was also rested in the Cup replay. The German will face his former side for the second time since he played for the Potters between 2009-14.

The first occasion was an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Britannia on Sept. 19. Bojan Krkic and Jonathan Walters gave Stoke a two-goal lead in the first half before Mahrez and Vardy struck in the second half.

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