Location: Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England
Kick-off time: 3:00 PM GMT, 10:00 AM Eastern, 7:00 AM Pacific
Leicester were able to salvage a point in the final moments against Middlesbrough this past weekend and now face another bottom-half side on Saturday against Sunderland.
It’s tough at this point to imagine this match as a six-pointer considering Leicester’s success last season in the Premier League and their current Champions League form, but matches like these are even more crucial to their survival when the Foxes re-focus on Europe in a few months.
Despite having one match remaining in the Champions League group stage against Porto, Leicester has advanced to the Round of 16 and have plenty of time to regain their foothold on the league with 12 fixtures before the Champions League resumes in February. It’s no surprise the league has taken a backseat this season, but it’s a welcomed change for Leicester who can focus on one competition for an extended period of time.
Midfielder Nampalys Mendy is available for selection after missing two months with an ankle injury, potentially bolstering a position that’s been highly in question for the Foxes this season. Danny Drinkwater will serve his second of a three-match ban for violent conduct, further amplifying the importance of Mendy’s return. The partnership of Andy King and Daniel Amartey looked shaky in Leicester’s draw with ‘Boro, so a little assurance in the midfield would be a welcomed sight for Claudio Ranieri and his men.
CR: “Mendy and Chilwell, they are back and available.” #SunLei— Leicester City (@LCFC) December 1, 2016
How the Foxes line up their next two matches will tell a lot about the different motivations of the players and staff. Islam Slimani will want to start against Porto due to his history against the club, and we all know Riyad Mahrez is a big-game player and brings his best when he hears the Champions League anthem. With advancement to the last-16 already confirmed, it’s a tricky situation for Ranieri. You would expect he would focus on the pressing matter of the Premier League with his best players, but individual motivations could factor into his eventual decision.
Plenty of fans have called for Ranieri to bench Robert Huth for his defensive miscues and Mahrez for his invisibility against Middlesbrough, and they could be right. But Huth brings a defensive game that we’ve seen be dominant, and Mahrez’ overall creativity and ability to make chances out of nothing is not usually a factor that you want to limit. Luis Hernandez and Demarai Gray are easy swaps for the two, and one would expect both will get a start at some point in these next two matches.
The Black Cats, alternatively, are back at the bottom of the Premier League again. The serial relegation club didn’t have a win in their first 10 matches before winning back-to-back against Hull City and Bournemouth.
Without striker Jermaine Defoe consistently banging in goals for this side, you could’ve knocked them for one of the worst campaigns in Premier League history. Manager David Moyes has had his hands full all season, and it will be an uphill battle for the Black Cats to stave off relegation again. Unlike last season, Sunderland look at this fixture as a winnable game against a vulnerable Leicester side who has still yet to find its footing in the Premier League.