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Match Preview: Leicester entering must-win territory against Swansea

Foxes can release a bit of pressure with three crucial points at home.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Location: King Power Stadium, Leicestershire, England
Kick-off time: 15:15 PM GMT, 11:15 AM Eastern, 08:15 AM Pacific
SB Nation Opposition Blog: N/A
Available TV: Sky Sports (UK), NBCSN (US), Sportsnet (Canada)
Available streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra

Leicester City prepare to protect their five-point cushion at the top of the Premier League against Swansea City at the King Power Stadium on Sunday afternoon, and they'll have to do it without leading scorer Jamie Vardy in their lineup.

Vardy was sent off for two yellows and suspended for this Sunday's match in his team's 2-2 draw against West Ham on April 17. To make matters worse, Vardy accepted a FA charge of improper conduct on Thursday, meaning the Foxes could be without his services for Manchester United away as well. The player's hearing will be later in the week, with the ruling set to come following Swansea's visit to the King Power.

Vardy's pending absence calls for manager Claudio Ranieri to put his "Tinkerman" name to work and alter a squad he hasn't changed once in the past five matches. The Foxes lose their most direct route up the pitch and their biggest threat on goal in Vardy, and Leicester's offensive approach needs to be re-evaluated ahead of this weekend's all-important home clash.

A straight swap of Vardy for Leonardo Ulloa looks to be Leicester's best option up front alongside Shinji Okazaki. Ulloa's last-minute penalty against West Ham sealed an important point for the 10-man Foxes, and the Argentine would certainly be buzzing for his first start since his team's 0-0 draw against Bournemouth on January 2. Ulloa and Okazaki have yet to start together in a match this season, and replacing Vardy with Ulloa doesn't necessarily fill the need for pace up front in Ranieri's strategy.

Without Vardy's pace to harass defenders, Leicester could elect to make up for their lack of speed with Demarai Gray and Jeffrey Schlupp on the wings to run at defenders and quick turns up field off the counter. But whatever Ranieri's thought process may be, fans are hoping Riyad Mahrez can find his form again after being rather anonymous on the pitch for the past two matches. Mahrez notched his first premier League hat-trick in the reverse fixture -- a 3-0 win for the Foxes over Swansea at the Liberty Stadium on December 5.

With a spot in the Champions League group stage guaranteed, the Foxes have no other option but to set their sights fully on winning the Premier League title. Ranieri had fans and media alike convinced 40 points was the true goal this season, which may be true, but circumstances have changed greatly since holding the league lead at Christmas.

"We're in the Champions League, man. Dilly ding, dilly dong!" said Ranieri to the media on Thursday. "It's fantastic, terrific, well done to everybody - the owners, the fans, the players, the staff - everybody is involved.

"It's a great achievement - unbelievable. Now, we go straight away to try to win the title. Only this remains."

The Swans had their moments in their last match, but ultimately fell 3-0 to a scrappy Newcastle side who are fighting for their lives in the Premier League. However, it's a Swansea team who just a week before beat Chelsea 1-0 and will try to take advantage of Leicester's situation up front to push for a winner. Gylfi Sigurdsson has nine goals in 2016 for Swansea and will be a threat for 90 minutes for the Leicester defense, who need another strong performance at the back.

On paper, this is Leicester's easiest remaining fixture and their second-last home game of the season. With the magic number of points to win the league staying at eight, the Foxes need to take full advantage of their home crowd to maintain their five-point lead over Tottenham. Spurs look unstoppable at the moment and are easy favorites over West Brom this weekend, so the Foxes can expect no favors on that side of things.

"I have 79 points, but that's not enough," added Ranieri. "Now we have to fight more now. I told to my players come on, now is the right moment to push.

"I always believe, I'm a positive man. If Tottenham go over us, congratulations. But I prefer to stay five points above. If we win the title, it's unbelievable."

The title is still firmly in Leicester's hands, but a full three points is vital with Manchester United and Chelsea away fixtures ahead in the coming weeks.

Prediction: Leicester 2 - 0 Swansea. Mahrez finds his form and eases the nerves of Leicester fans everywhere.