Leicester City vs Manchester City
Venue: King Power Stadium
Referee: Paul Tierney
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Manchester City travel to the King Power Stadium to face Leicester City late on Saturday, in what should be an exciting second versus third clash and the game of the weekend. With four points now separating the two sides, this game could end up deciding either sides’ eventual league position – either Leicester close the gap or City open it up to seven points.
Rest against rhythm
Manchester City, both players and club, will have been greatly pleased to get back on the pitch on Wednesday – and even happier with a solid win over West Ham. After a bucket-load of chat over City and Guardiola’s future following UEFA’s decision to hand City a two-year ban from European competitions (subject to appeal), Wednesday’s win placed the conversation back on their always-exciting football – giving the club some relief. Even better for Pep, that game gave his team the rhythm he desired, having previously complained about lacking enough games to give his side rhythm between the winter break and their upcoming Champions League tie against Real Madrid.
But this desire for rhythm, and that tie itself, may put City at a disadvantage here. Leicester have not played since last Friday, a draw away at Wolves, which gives them a huge seven days to rest and prepare for this fixture – perhaps the biggest of their season so far.
Manchester City, on the other hand, will have only two full days to prepare for their test at the King Power. With Real Madrid coming up next week, and little preparation, could we see Guardiola play a changed side or weakened side for such a vital game? Or will he play the same team that have had less time to rest? Knowing Pep, and the demands he puts on his squad, the latter is more likely. In doing so, they risk being outrun and outfought by a Leicester side who will be more than fired up for the fixture.
The reverse fixture at the Etihad got off to a spectacular start for the Foxes, whose counterattacking threat saw Jamie Vardy score just 22 minutes in. A salvo of chances followed for Leicester, but none failed to find the target, and former-fox Riyad Mahrez deflected shot brought City back in control only eight minutes later. But there was a chance for Leicester, albeit a spurned one, to put City on edge.
Brendan Rodgers was confident in his pre-match interview however and said that his team have learned their lessons from that game. Declaring that they would be more aggressive, press harder, and play better when they had the ball. These sounded like the words of manager prepared for the challenge posed by City who, let us not forget, were only last season the first team in a decade to win the title two times on the bounce.
Manchester City’s away loss to Tottenham before the winter break will be a yet another confidence-booster, along with the fact that a win here would set the Foxes up perfectly for the Premier League run-in. Jamie Vardy’s dry spell could also be set to end as they face another ‘big six’ side, who he revels in playing, and he will take joy in the fact that he is the player to score the most goals against Pep Guardiola teams in the entirety of the Spaniard’s managerial career. Expectations will be high at home, but play the way they know they can, and Leicester may well fulfill them.
De Bruyne wizardy in store?
One player Leicester could not handle (not that many teams can) in the reverse fixture was midfield-magician Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian was at the heart of City’s 2-0 win on Wednesday, providing an assist and scoring, and will surely be in the centre of things once again at the King Power.
De Bruyne is having perhaps his best season yet, better even than the title-winning ones, having created an extremely impressive 24 goals. His haul of 16 assists is far the best in the league, and this string of impressive performances prompted Jamie Redknapp to label him “the best player in England.” A hard one to disagree with.
Leicester are without a recognized defensive midfielder available to them with Wilfrid Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy out injured, while Hamza Choudhury serves a one-match ban after receiving a red card last week. The Foxes have no other injury concerns, however.
Sterling and David Silva are doubts for Manchester City, with the latter more likely to play, and Leroy Sané is still out – although his return is now fast approaching.
Predicted Starting XIs
Leicester City (3-4-3): Schmeichel; Bennett, Evans, Soyuncu; Ricardo Pereira, Tielemans, Maddison, Chilwell; Perez, Vardy, Barnes
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Fernandinho, Laporte, Mendy; De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan; Mahrez, Aguero, Bernardo Silva
Score Prediction: Leicester 2-3 Manchester City
Showing no problems after their European ban on Wednesday, City will look to keep that good momentum going and keep the chat about matters on the pitch. Leicester may take the early lead once again, but City will fight back and score three in a row around half time. A second Leicester goal will put them back in it – but they won’t snatch a result.