Swansea City-Leicester City Preview
With one point through two matches, Leicester City are hardly in a good place as defending Premier League champions.
But the good vibes from a favourable Champions League draw and confidence from last season's double over next league opponent Swansea City have Claudio Ranieri and the Foxes confident heading into Saturday's clash at King Power Stadium.
Leicester City (0-1-1) learned their road map for Europe's top club competition Thursday, and on paper, they have a very good chance to progress to the knockout rounds. While there is an evergreen opponent in Portuguese champions Porto, the group is rounded out by Belgian Juliper League winners Club Brugge and Danish Superliga title-holders FC Copenhagen.
As always, though, Ranieri is playing up the Foxes' underdog status ahead of their first Champions League campaign in club history. While trips to Porto, Brugges and Copenhagen lack the allure of Paris, Madrid and Moscow, Ranieri wants the fans to revel in the experience.
"Once again I say we are underdogs," he told the team's official website after the draw. "For this reason we must fight for everything. Now that the teams have been drawn that excitement is building even more and although it won't be easy against great champions like Porto, like everyone, I'm curious to see how my players perform."
The reigning champions still appear to be a work in progress, but their defence tightened considerably in a scoreless draw versus Arsenal. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel turned in an inspired performance, and the Foxes did well to take the match to last season's runners-up - and things may have been different if appeals for a penalty on two occasions weren't waived off by Mark Clattenburg.
About the only negatives were losing midfielders Nampalys Mendy and Jeffrey Schlupp for this match. Mendy, considered the heir apparent to N'Golo Kante, landed awkwardly on his ankle in the second half while Schlupp has a knock. Ranieri has opted on the side of caution in resting the duo ahead of next week's international break.
"Mendy is getting better," Ranieri said. "I think and I hope that after the international break he's ready to play. Also Jeff had a little injury to his muscle."
Andy King, who played well after replacing Mendy, likely will get the start for this match and pair with Danny Drinkwater, who just put pen to paper on a new five-year contract Thursday. He is confident the team is ready to hit their stride and thrive in the Champions League.
"It felt more like the old Leicester on Sunday and if we can keep putting in performances every week like that then I'm guessing we're going to be in and around it once again," Drinkwater said.
"If we can somehow improve on that, whether it be Champions League qualification and getting through to the semifinals, then that is something that myself and the club have never experienced."
One thing they had plenty of experience with last season was pounding Swansea City (1-0-1). The Foxes hit for seven goals without replay in doing the double, including a 4-0 demolition in the corresponding fixture in which Leonardo Ulloa bagged a brace starting in the place of suspended Jamie Vardy.
Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton added goals, and Mahrez blistered the Swans for a hat trick in the other contest at Liberty Stadium last December. Swansea City manager Francesco Guidolin insisted his team should be using those two heavy defeats as motivation for this match.
"We have to remember - we need to reflect on those results," he told Swansea City's official website. "Last season we conceded seven goals against Leicester. It's important to remember that.
"We have to play with courage against them. We need to play a clever game this weekend, and we also need to play a courageous game against a very good team."
The Swans have lost three on the bounce to the Foxes and carry a 303-minute scoreless drought against them into this match since Wilfried Bony completed his brace the 57th minute of a 2-0 victory Oct. 25, 2014.
Swansea regrouped from their 2-0 home loss to surprisingly resilient Hull City with a 3-1 victory Tuesday at League One side Peterborough United. Oliver McBurnie put the match out of reach with two goals three minutes apart late in the first half, and the brace was enough to convince Guidolin to bring the 20-year-old to the Midlands this weekend.
"Oli is a player who is improving, he has enthusiasm and he is a fighter," Guidolin said. "I think he needs to improve again, but he is always with us in the training sessions and the future is for him.
"He will travel this weekend, then I will decide."