Saturday 14th January 2017- 17:30- BT Sport 1HD
The current Premier League champions play the champions elect in Saturday afternoon’s late kick off, as Chelsea travel to the King Power stadium to play Leicester. The form of both these sides couldn’t be any further removed from the form they showed in the 2015/16 season. Leicester are back to the more familiar surroundings of struggling around the bottom half of the table, and find themselves 6 points off the relegation zone, and haven’t won in their last 10 games.
Chelsea meanwhile are top of the table, currently clear of their nearest rival by 5 points, having won 13 of their last 14 league games, there winning run halted by Tottenham on the 4th January. At this point a year ago, Leicester were 17 points clear of their opponents on Saturday, at this moment in time they find themselves 28 points behind them.
Claudio Ranieri was this week awarded the coach of the year by FIFA, however Ranieri admitted he was struggling to unlock his players passion for the Premier League this week:
“I have a lot of passion and I think I’m good at getting that across to my players,” he told the club’s official website.
“You might say that I have the key to unlocking players’ minds, though not all of them.
“It pains me when I can’t make it happen… I think that’s the secret, because when you’re working at the highest level it’s vital that you show the players how much you love the game and that you convince them to do the same.”
He also pointed to Leicester’s good form as to why his players are struggling to repeat the heroics of last season
“It’s also true, though, that we maybe haven’t been as focused in the Premier League because we’ve been thinking that we’ll bounce back from every defeat without any problem.
“It’s been different in the Champions League. It’s a new tournament for us, and shorter too, which has helped us to focus.”
Things have improved recently for the Foxes, though, with just one defeat in their last five matches in all competitions and back-to-back Premier League clean sheets for the first time since April. Leicester have recent experience of beating title hopefuls too courtesy of their 4-2 triumph over Manchester City last month, although since that memorable result they have managed just one win in their last five league outings.
The visit of Ranieri’s former side does not come at the perfect time for Leicester, then, but they do at least boast home advantage, which has proved to be key for the Foxes this season. Eighteen of their 21 points having come in front of their own fans, including all five of their victories and only two defeats.
Leicester’s will be without Leonardo Ulloa, who is out with a thigh injury but Jamie Vardy returns after illness. Andy King is also expected to overcome a bout of illness to be available. The Foxes will be without Africa Cup of Nations-bound trio Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Daniel Amartey.
Chelsea bounced back from the loss to Spurs, to cruise to the next round of the FA Cup, beating Peterborough 4-1. If they are able to do the same in the Premier League then they could move eight points ahead of the chasing pack depending on results elsewhere.
Despite their defeat at White Hart Lane, Chelsea still boast the best away record in the Premier League this season with 22 points from a possible 30, while no team has conceded fewer goals on the road. Indeed, Chelsea have let in just three goals in their last seven away league games.
Antonio Conte will be urging his side to prove that the loss to Spurs was merely a blip, and the fact that they are currently nine points better off than eventual champions Leicester were at the same stage of last season should be comforting reading for any fans worried by the White Hart Lane defeat.
Conte has no injury concerns for the trip to Leicester, with a fully fit squad to choose from although Diego Costa will not be included in the squad following an apparent bust up with Conte over the players fitness. There are also rumours circulating that Costa has been the subject of an approach a side in China, apparently offering Costa £30m per year. I’m sure the fall out of this story will take up the back pages of the newspapers for days to come.
John Terry is suspended for the trip following his red card against Peterborough after seeing his appeal turned down by the FA, though the captain was unlikely to start anyway, as he has been moved to the role of squad player, following Conte’s switch to 3-4-3
Nathan Ake may be in contention for a place in the squad after being recalled from Bournemouth following his fine form on loan with Eddie Howe’s Cherries. Conte revealed that Marcos Alonso has been carrying a minor injury for the whole of the season, and Ake’s return may give him the chance to rest Alonso.
Kurt Zouma will also be pushing for a role after returning from a long-term knee injury with a start in Saturday’s FA Cup win. A number of high-profile players are expected to return having been rested in the FA Cup, this will include former Leicester player N’Golo Kante, who makes his first return to the King Power, since moving to Chelsea in the summer.
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202