Norwich City-Leicester City Preview
Leicester City's incredible Premier League ride doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon, and the Foxes head into Saturday's clash with struggling Norwich City having won three of their last four league matches, but looking to bounce back from a 2-1 defeat against Arsenal on Feb. 14.
Leicester's remarkable journey to the top of the table with 12 matches remaining continues to be a fairy-tale story adding to the lore of the Premier League. Last season the Foxes (15-8-3) avoided the drop only thanks to a late surge under former boss Nigel Pearson
Fast-forward to today, and manager Claudio Ranieri's club is a legitimate title contender, with bookmakers slashing their odds to win the Premier League from 5,000/1 to 20/1, thanks to a stout defence and a pair of superstars in the making in leading scorer Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
Vardy opened the scoring with a penalty strike against Arsenal on the stroke of halftime, but the Foxes were pegged back in the second half thanks to goals by Theo Walcott and a stoppage-time winner from Danny Welbeck, playing the final 36 minutes with 10 men after Danny Simpson was given his second yellow card.
Ranieri expressed his disappointment at the defeat to Arsenal, but was pleased with his side's performance.
"I give compliments to my players because it was the same performance as Manchester City. There we won, but today we lost. I'm happy with our performance, not with the result, but the performance was good," he said. "Of course everybody is sad but I told them from the beginning, the performance is important and the performance was outstanding."
Having already been eliminated from the FA Cup, Ranieri let his players enjoy most of last week off to recharge for the stretch run. Leicester have only the Premier League title to play for, which could turn out to be an advantage as fellow contenders Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City are vying for multiple cups.
"They are refreshed and ready for the fight," Ranieri told his team's official website Thursday. "I told them the Arsenal match is easier than against Norwich. "It's a big battle Saturday and we must be concentrated.
"Also for the mentality, you are very concentrated against Arsenal but I want to see my players 1/8show 3/8 the same concentrate – very hungry, because we lost the match at the last second 1/8against Arsenal 3/8."
Ranieri will have to make at least one change to his lineup with Simpson serving his red-card ban, but "The Tinkerman" does not lack for options, with Marc Albrighton, Marcin Wasilewski and Daniel Amartey among those vying for that spot.
One of the keys of this unlikely run of success for Leicester has been consistency – the club has not lost back-to-back Premier League matches in over a year. They last lost consecutive games back in January of last season when they lost four straight.
The only criticism one could possibly levy on the club is their over-reliance on both Vardy and Mahrez in the attacking third. The duo have combined to score 34 of Leicester's 48 goals this season, but since no one has really been able to stop them, perhaps it isn't an issue.
Norwich City (6-6-14), meanwhile, are battling for their Premier League lives, currently above the drop in 17th place only by virtue of a better goal difference than Newcastle United.
The Canaries snapped a five-match losing streak on Feb. 13 with a 2-2 draw against West Ham United in which Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan scored second-half goals, but the club is desperate to go on a good run of form to avoid a return to the Championship after one season in the top flight, and it will have to start on Saturday against the top team in the division.
But if they are going to get a result against Leicester, they will need to shore up a very leaky defence, one that has conceded a league-high 18 goals in the second half of the season. They have also scored the opening goal just eight times this season, second-fewest behind bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa.
Taking that 1-0 lead will be crucial for the Canaries on Saturday as the club is undefeated when they do score the first goal – winning six times and drawing twice.
"We attacked the game more in the way we did at the start of the season," Norwich manager Alex Neil said following the draw with West Ham. We tried to play on the front foot and squeeze them up the pitch, and when we had it we played some really good football at times.
"In terms of all round performance, it was certainly an improvement from where we have been. It's a style that I'm much more comfortable with. We need to go and try and win games and I think you saw that approach today."
Leicester beat Norwich 2-1 at Carrow Road in early October thanks to a penalty by Vardy and a Jeff Schlupp goal two minutes into the second half. Dieumerci Mbokani pulled one back for the Canaries on 68 minutes, but they could not find an equaliser.