Leicester City-Watford Preview
The stars are aligning for Leicester City.
Claudio Ranieri's Leicester are three points clear at top of the Premier League as they prepare for a trip to north-west London to face Watford on Saturday. The title dream is now a reality, but that looked far from the case Tuesday when the Foxes were held to a 2-2 draw at home by West Bromwich Albion.
Dropping points against the Baggies was seen by many experts and onlookers as the first sign of the pressure really getting to the unlikely league leaders, but Ranieri and his boys watched with delight the following day as all three of their title rivals absorbed demoralising defeats - meaning the point gained against West Brom actually extended Leicester's advantage over the chasing pack.
Add in to the mix that closest pursuers Tottenham and Arsenal face each other this weekend, and it's looking rosy for Ranieri and company.
The only sour note for Leicester (16-9-3) as they gear up for the visit to Vicarage Road is the continued absence of injured midfield star N'Golo Kanté, whose energy and all-round game have made him one of the stars of the season across the division.
However, even in the absence of Kanté - whose only goal this season came in Leicester's 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture Nov. 7 - there is reason for hope. And that is the presence of Andy King.
Welsh international King is the top-scoring midfielder in Leicester's history, having risen up through the divisions with the club, and it was his late winner against West Ham last April that sparked the Foxes' great escape from relegation.
Replacing the injured Kanté against West Brom, King was sensational in the centre of the park, putting in a terrific performance in his first league start since Boxing Day and scoring his side's second goal with a lovely finish.
"He does finishes like that every single day in training," Danny Drinkwater - King's partner in central midfield - said. "It was a good moment for him - I'm happy for him, definitely.
"I've played quite a lot with him. He's full of energy and he goes about his business well. He's great to play with and he's always got a good finish on him. I can learn a lot from his finishing to be honest. He's always positive around the players and he's always trying to give us information to help us, so fair play to him because he deserves it."
King will be yet another goal threat for Saturday's hosts Watford (10-7-11) to contend with. But Quique Sánchez Flores' side are well-equipped to deal with Leicester's many attacking options, as the Hornets have kept four clean sheets in their last seven games in all competitions and have not conceded more than one goal in a game since Jan. 13.
A late Juan Mata free kick resigned Watford to a 1-0 defeat at Manchester United on Wednesday, and it's the recent lack of goals that has stunted an otherwise impressive campaign for the newly promoted club. The Hornets have failed to find the back of the net in six of their last 10 contests, with 15-goal striker Odion Ighalo going through a frustrating dry patch, but Flores is sticking by his star centre-forward.
"Ighalo is a little bit frustrated," the manager said. "Strikers need goals to feel good. You can feel he is trying, but sometimes he makes bad decisions.
"My work with Ighalo now is to try and take away pressure. He has put pressure on himself. It's like he feels he has to score. That isn't the best way to recreate a good feeling. I support him now more than ever."
Watford have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 13 meetings with the Foxes in all competitions.
Leicester have lost just two in their last 17 (10-5-2) away from home in the Premier League.