2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)

Easily shaking off their north London derby loss, Tottenham Hotspur seek back-to-back wins as they face Leicester City on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

 

The Spurs (11-0-4), though, must also resist the temptation to peek beyond this match to their crunch Champions League encounter at Barcelona midweek. Tottenham must at least match the result of Inter Milan, who host group-bottom PSV Eindhoven, for a second consecutive appearance in the knockout round.

But first things first, and that means building on a 3-1 victory over Southampton on Wednesday in which the Lilywhites barely had to get beyond second gear. Harry Kane scored his 13th goal in all competitions and assisted on Heung-Min Son’s marker on 55 minutes that lifted Spurs to third in the table on 33 points, two better than London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal.

It was also Son’s 100th goal in European competitions in a career that included stops at Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen before joining Spurs in 2015, and all four of his goals this term have come in Tottenham’s last eight matches in all competitions after helping South Korea beat Japan in the Asian Games final.

“We are so happy in the way he has started to perform in the last few games, after the international break,” manager Mauricio Pochettino said post-match about Son. “It’s difficult to guess because he’s still so young, a great character, he’s so professional and he’s enjoys playing football a lot, but enjoys training the same in the same level.

“If you want to go further as a player you must love your job. You must love training and spending time with your team-mates on the training ground. If you are capable of that and feel like he feels, it’s possible to do everything.”

All told, Pochettino made five changes to his starting XI from the north London derby, including three at the back. In all likelihood, Juan Foyth will retain his centre back spot for this contest since he is not on the Champions League roster, while Toby Alderweireld may be given a rest in this contest.

Fellow central defender Jan Vertonghen still needs more match fitness after missing 10 matches with a hamstring injury before returning last week and then served a one-match ban Wednesday after his two yellow cards versus Arsenal. Kieran Trippier may also sit this one out as Pochettino is still annoyed at the groin injury he believes the right back picked up due to overuse by England.

“I think it’s the same problem, the same problem that started in the World Cup. If you remember the semi-final against Croatia, when he left the pitch,” Pochettino said. “Then I think to play after three days against Belgium, I think maybe it affected a little bit. Now he’s suffering in that situation. In situations like today when the pitch is not in a good condition, this area, the groin, suffers more when the pitch is different.

“It’s a thing that we need to care a lot for him, protect him, he needs to work a lot to protect and sort that problem.”

Pochettino will also have to ponder resting Kane, who is in both a purple patch in terms of scoring and an absolute terror to Leicester City. The Three Lions talisman has six goals in his last seven matches in all competitions and 11 in seven career matchups with Leicester City. Kane had a brace and the winner in the most recent matchup, a wild 5-4 Spurs win to cap last season, and had a four-goal effort at King Power to cap the 2016-17 term.

Dele Alli will likely be restored to the starting XI for this contest, though fellow attacking midfielder Erik Lamela could be held out of a third straight match due to a thigh injury suffered in Spurs’ win over Inter Milan on Nov. 28.

Leicester City (6-4-5) are unbeaten in their last six in league play (2-4-0) after playing Fulham and former manager Claudio Ranieri to a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage on Wednesday. James Maddison scored the equaliser on 74 minutes, with substitute Shinjo Okazaki providing the assist two minutes after his insertion by Claude Puel.

“I think in the first half we missed a lot of chances and they scored,” midfielder Vicente Iborra told Leicester City’s official website. “In the first half we tried to combat the game, we had a lot of chances and at the end we could’ve scored, but I think the point is fair.”

The draw left the Foxes ninth in the table on 22 points, but they are also just one back of sixth-place Everton. Leicester have not conceded at home in 330 minutes in all competitions dating to Fabian Balbuena’s 30th-minute goal for West Ham in a 1-1 draw Oct. 27.

Puel has injury concerns to his two best players as centre back Harry Maguire only returned to training this week following a lower-body injury and is uncertain to feature in this match, but Jamie Vardy has been definitely ruled out of thie contest. The striker picked up a groin injury in training ahead of Wednesday’s match, and Puel hinted surgery could be an option for Vardy – Leicester’s joint-top scorer with Maddison with five goals in league play.

Vardy was as much a thorn in Tottenham’s side as Kane was to the Foxes last term, scoring in both matches and bagging the winner in Leicester’s 2-1 victory at King Power. That ended a five-match unbeaten run (4-1-0) in the Midlands for the Lilywhites, who are 5-3-2 in their last 10 league meetings.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Spurs are even-money favourites to claim all three points from the Midlands, and a draw at 11/4 rates slightly above Leicester City pulling off a surprise victory at 14/5. There are 4/5 odds for the teams to combine for more than 2.5 goals, and it is even money to stay under that threshold.

Even with the likely absence of Vardy, oddsmakers rate Leicester’s offense, as there are 4/6 odds for both teams to score compared to 11/10 for at least one clean sheet.

As would be expected given his prolific track record versus the Foxes, Kane leads the way for first-goal scoring honours at 3/1, while his understudy Fernando Llorente is second at 5/1. Vardy has 11/2 odds along with Lucas Moura, while Son is a step back at 13/2 and Lamela at 15/2. Leicester striker Kelechi Iheanacho is an 8/1 pick to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with Maddison and Demarai Gray both 9/1.

Kane is a 5/6 pick to score over the course of the 90 minutes, with Llorente a 6/4 selection. Vardy and Moura are again paired together, this time at 13/8, while Son is 2/1. Lamela checks in at 12/5, Iheanacho is 5/2, and both Eriksen and Alli are 11/4 picks to put one past Schmeichel.

PREDICTION

This is a tough ask for Leicester, even if Maguire does find his way into the starting XI for the first time since Nov. 3. Kane has been an unholy menace to the Midlands side, and even with Maguire back, he will be a handful for Leicester’s central defence.

But this match does put Pochettino in a tough spot considering he will need all hands on deck for Tuesday at the Nou Camp. In an ideal world, Kane buries a brace in the first hour of the match and Pochettino pulls him for the final quarter-hour with the match done and dusted. It also would not be surprising to see Lamela get a late runout for Eriksen just to make sure he could be available to face Barcelona.

Pochettino has almost every player available for Saturday and Tuesday, but it also comes down to man management for the Argentine. Each of the three substitutions are going to be scruitinised, and the primary goal beyond the three points is to get out of this match with no injuries, no knocks and able to choose the best 25 players.

Spurs have almost always taken care of business before a Champions League match — they are 4-0-1 in the league contests ahead of such a contest, and the lone loss came to Liverpool. It will require some graft, but for all the talk about the lack of Tottenham’s squad depth throughout the season after a dormant summer, this will be the match where it will make a difference.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Leicester City 0, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)
Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 12 Preview — Leicester City (5-1-5) vs. Burnley (2-2-7)

The pain is still raw and apparent in the Midlands, where the tears still flow over the tragic death of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a helicopter crash as he was leaving King Power Stadium a fortnight ago.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Saturday’s match against Burnley marks the first at King Power Stadium since the Foxes lost their owner, and emotions for players, staff and supporters will again be running high as the club prepares for the difficult task of honouring one of their own.

The tributes of flowers, scarves, cards and shirts have overwhelmed Filbert Way both physically – they wrap around the entire length of the stadium – and emotionally as the players and staff were often seen walking around the area in the days immediately following the crash that claimed four lives in addition to the Leicester City owner. The players also flew to Srivaddhanaprabha’s native Thailand during the week to pay their respects.

The club announced Wednesday they will begin relocating the tributes to a designated area near the southeast corner of King Power Stadium, close to the actual site of the crash which has been cleared to be used by investigators.

There will be other tributes ahead of the match, with a large number of supporters expected to walk from Jubilee Square to King Power Stadium. There will be a two-minute silence observed, with supporters requested to raise the scarves during that observance to honour the lives lost. There will also be what the team has called a “Tribute to Khun Vichai” video that will be played pre-match as the club and their supporters come to grips with all that has transpired in the past fortnight.

“It’s not easy to prepare this game, but the togetherness between us all, it’s a good feeling, a good energy, a fantastic strength,” said manager Claude Puel to the club’s official website. “Our strength, spirit and positive attitude, as well as the support of our fans, will be very important. We know our fans, they are fantastic… there were 3,000 of them at our last game in Cardiff, it was a fantastic reunion with the fans After the game, there was a lot of emotion that we shared with them and we can imagine what it will be like at home with 30,000 people in the stadium.”

“We have lost what feels like a family member and we wouldn’t have been here without him,” added keeper Kasper Schmeichel, who witnessed the crash, to The Times. “When he took over, this club was in a pretty precarious situation and to build what he built is amazing. It is one thing building a club and a team who can perform on the pitch but we are all a lot more proud of being part of the club he has created and the feeling he has instilled in everyone being welcomed.”

Some of the club’s catharsis was found last weekend in Wales, where Leicester City recorded a 1-0 victory over Cardiff City. Demarai Gray side-footed a cross from Ben Chilwell in the 55th minute for the match-winner, helping overcome the loss of standout centre back Harry Maguire.

The England international could be facing a lengthy spell out of action with a leg injury suffered in the first half-hour. Midfielder and top playmaker James Maddison will also miss this match and the England fixtures, though it is believed he will be able to return straightaway following the international break.

Jonny Evans is expected to take Maguire’s spot in central defence alongside Wes Morgan, while Marc Albrighton is the most likely replacement for Maddison in the middle of the park.

All the goings-on surrounding Leicester City could simply be pretext to an additional heaping of misery onto Burnley (2-2-7), who arrive in the Midlands having dropped three on the trot while shipping 13 goals. Though there is no shame in being overrun by reigning champions Manchester City and Chelsea, alarm bells were undoubtedly ringing after last weekend’s 4-2 defeat at West Ham United.

The Clarets pulled level twice at London Stadium, first through Jon Berg Gudmundsson at the end of the first half and through Chris Wood on 77 minutes, but a breakdown seven minutes later resulted in a go-ahead goal by the Hammers, who then put Burnley out of their misery with a fourth in stoppage time.

Burnley gaffer Sean Dyche, who was at King Power Stadium to scout Leicester City and West Ham the day of the helicopter crash, has been walking a delicate line between training his side for this match and being properly respectful of all that will take place around them.

“We will approach it in the best, most respectful way we can. That means letting the players know that the feeling of the day, predominantly, is going to be all about Leicester – and rightly so,” Dyche told the club’s official website. “I know their Director of Football, Jon Rudkin, who is someone I class as a friend, and I sent him a couple of texts saying that we will play any part we can, if needed.

“It is a horrible loss to the football club because I know all about that club. Being from Kettering, I’ve seen the changes, from when I was a kid to what it is now, and since the owners have been there as a family they have built a real connection with people there.”

That fine line has been difficult considering Burnley’s struggles, which have dropped them to 15th in the table and two points clear of the drop. The Clarets have yet to find their footing following a season that ended so positively with a Europa League berth, and Steven Defour knows his side has to kick on at some point to avoid being caught up in the relegation scrap.

“Each year we’ve had a bad spell at some point. The last two years we had a bad spell more in January and February,” the midfielder said. “We’re having it now and I hope we can close it as soon as possible and we can look up and kick on the season. Get back in our rhythm, get back to basics and the quality we had last year and everything will sort itself out.”

Burnley’s defence, which has already taken hits this year with the absences of Ben Gibson and Stephen Ward, could be further thinned without centre back James Tarkowski, who has been dealing with a groin issue nearly the entire season. Right back Phil Bardsley could be in line for a return, along with midfielder Jack Cork, as the latter missed his first league match last week with an ankle injury.

The home team won both matches last term, with Leicester City claiming a 1-0 victory on Gray’s sixth-minute goal. Burnley, though, have won two of the last three meetings after a 10-match winless stretch (0-3-7).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Leicester City are firm favourites to claim all three points with 1/2 odds, while the Clarets are 6/1 underdogs to stop the rot and pull out a victory. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 16/5.

The Foxes have 13/10 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in this contest, and offer a 13/5 return for 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. There are 4/1 odds for a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while Burnley have 11/1 odds for a victory over the 2.5 goals threshold and 12/1 under it.

As expected, Jamie Vardy is the top choice among oddsmakers to score the first goal of the contest, fetching 11/4 odds. Teammates Kelechi Iheanacho and Shinjo Okazaki round out the top three places as both are 9/2, with Leicester’s Fousseni Diabate a surprising fourth option at 6/1, edging out Gray (13/2). Wood is the top pick for the visitors, with his 15/2 odds the same as “No Goal-scorer,” while Sam Vokes is further back at 17/2.

Vardy is better than even money to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 10/11, with Iheanacho (6/4) and Okazaki (13/8) among the limited options with shorter than 2/1 odds. Gray is fourth at 11/5, while Wood again leads the Burnley picks at 13/5.

PREDICTION

How much more do they have left to give? While not trying to ask a mean-spirited question given the circumstances of the past fortnight, it is a fair question to ask of Puel and his Leicester City players. After their victory over Cardiff City, the players flew to Thailand almost straightaway to attend Srivaddhanaprabha’s funeral as part of the seven days of recitation ceremonies.

The whirlwind that has followed the passing of the Leicester City owner has been minimal in terms of distractions — the players have flown to Thailand and back to resume practice for this contest and Puel has said all the right things and has been an absolute pillar of strength to the Leicester community. The latter will be something keenly remembered since many of the supporters were not entirely sold on the Frenchman when he took over the club.

For this match, it is the two ends that will likely determine Leicester City’s chances for victory here — Schmeichel and Vardy. Of all the players on the club, Schmeichel has had the most to bear in some ways as being a witness to the crash. How he has processed the grief — he has said he has spoken to someone — is his alone to hold, but there will likely be an inspired effort from the Denmark international.

The same holds true for Vardy, who became the face of this franchise in their fairy tale run to the 2016 Premier League title. The relentless running, the tireless industry, the thrill of the chase, these are all things the striker has brought to the Midlands, and for 90 minutes on Saturday, he will likely deplete himself like few, if any times, over the course of his career. A goal from the former England international, regardless of rooting interests, would be something well-received.

In the grand scheme of the narrative of this match, Burnley are but extras, but they are also the right extras. There are few people other than Dyche who can put all this in a proper perspective as it relates to his side, and to his credit, he has done so in a first-class way. His Clarets, though, need a victory, and a defence that has struggled in quality through a lack of depth will get no respite from Vardy and Iheanacho, whose industry will need to compensate in the fall-off of playmaking quality from Maddison to Albrighton in the No. 10 role.

It is a match where the football is secondary, but a result is required. It sound trite to call a Leicester City victory a “happy ending,” but it is the one most fitting on this difficult day.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LEICESTER CITY 2, Burnley 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 12 EPL PREVIEWS:

Huddersfield Town (1-3-7) vs. West Ham United (3-2-6)
Liverpool (8-3-0) vs. Fulham (1-2-8)
Chelsea (8-3-0) vs. Everton (5-3-3)
Manchester City (9-2-0) vs. Manchester United (6-2-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 9 — Arsenal (6-0-2) vs. Leicester City (4-0-4)

Arsenal look to keep pace near the top of the Premier League table Monday when they wrap up Match Day 9 at the Emirates against Leicester City looking for a 10th consecutive victory in all competitions.

The Gunners (6-0-2) need a victory to stay within two points of front-runners and reigning champions Manchester City, and claiming three points in this match would ensure they would be no lower than fourth in the table and ahead of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal have not reeled off 10 straight wins since Aug. 25-Oct. 23, 2007, ending the season in third place just four points behind champions Manchester United. Despite the run of victories, there is merely quiet confidence and low-key pragmatism with the London side as they continue to take to first-year manager Unai Emery.

“We need to be realistic, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” defender Hector Bellerin told Arsenal’s official website. “There’s loads of things that are changing for us, not just as a team but as a football club so the most important thing is to believe in the way that we want to play. We’re a team now that play from the back, we probably risk it a bit more than before, but for us it is important for our fans and for everyone around us to believe in this idea that we have.

“At the beginning it is going to be harder, but the more we train it, the more we work at it, the better we are going to get at it. For us it is about getting used to the system, be a team, be competitive and have this winning mentality, take it to the next level and become the team that the manager has in mind.”

Emery has a relatively healthy squad, but he will need to make choices at centre back and keeper for his starting XI. Sokratis returned from Greece with an ankle injury suffered in their 2-0 loss to Finland in a friendly, which means Rob Holding could be in partnership with Shkodran Mustafi in central defence.

Between the sticks, Petr Cech is nearing a return to full fitness after being sidelined the last two matches with a hamstring injury. Summer signing Bernd Leno allowed one goal in three halves of action in league play and has backstopped Arsenal to three wins in Europa League and Carabao Cup play.

Mesut Ozil is expected to be available after missing the 5-1 victory over Fulham before the international break due to back spasms, and the hamstring injury that prevented Danny Welbeck from joining England has cleared. While healthy, midfielder Aaron Ramsey is likely to come off the bench as his future – his contract expires at season’s end – continues to be a subject being put off.

“My focus is on every match. The football, the future is tomorrow,” Emery said when asked about having Ramsey beyond this season. “My reason, I explain to every player and to you also, I want the mentality for the next match. Individual things are not for me to speak about now.”

Leicester City (4-0-4) have yet to deal with prosperity when presented to them, staggering into the break on a 2-1 home loss to Everton as Wes Morgan was given his marching orders after a his second booking in the 63rd minute. Since it was his second red card of the young season, the Jamaica international will miss this match and the Foxes’ contest at home versus West Ham next Saturday.

Jonny Evans will again step into the breach in central defence to pair with Harry Maguire. He along with James Maddison were with England during the international break, with the midfielder all smiles after his maiden call-up to the Three Lions.

“It’s been brilliant since I signed a few months ago, I’ve settled in so quickly and I feel at home here,” the 21-year-old told LCFC.com. “There’s so much competition for places here, it’s the Premier League, we’ve got such a talented squad. We’ve got so many good players in that dressing room.

“Hopefully I can keep my form high and my performances good and we can carry it out for the rest of the season.”

Maddison has three goals and two assists in all competitions for Leicester as he, Maguire, Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho have accounted for 10 of Leicester’s 18 overall goals. Vardy in particular has been a nuisance to Arsenal, scoring six goals in the last six meetings between the sides and recording a brace in the most recent visit to the Emirates – a wild 4-3 Arsenal victory to open the 2017-18 league season in which the hosts rallied with two goals in the final seven minutes.

Leicester City ended a marathon 22-match winless streak (0-7-15) to Arsenal in the most recent meeting, a 3-1 victory at King Power Stadium as Vardy’s penalty on 76 minutes snapped a tie after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal in the 53rd minute canceled out a first-half tally by Iheanacho.

The Foxes have never won at Arsenal in the Premier League era, taking just two draws in 13 matches and losing 11 on the trot in league play at Highbury and the Emirates after a 1-1 draw in 1995. Leicester City are winless in 25 matches (0-6-19) at Arsenal since a 2-0 victory in Division One in 1973.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are prohibitive 8/15 favourites to make it a “perfect 10” with another victory, while the odds of Leicester City getting the rare point in north London are 10/3. The longshot, naturally, is the Foxes returning to the Midlands with three points from this trip for the first time in 45 years at 9/2.

Oddsmakers are expecting goals, with a Gunners win and more than 2.5 goals returning 21/20 odds. A low-scoring Arsenal win checks in at 4/1, with a 0-0 or 1-1 draw behind that offering at 11/2. For those who fancy the Foxes, there are 7/1 odds on a win with more than 2.5 goals and 14/1 for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline.

Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette lead the line for first goal-scorers at 7/2 odds, followed by Welbeck (4/1) and then Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (6/1). Ever persistent, Vardy leads the options among Leicester City at 6/1 as well, while Maddison lurks further back at 10/1 after Ozil (15/2) and Alex Iwobi (17/2).

Aubameyang and Lacazette are even money to score during the match, with Welbeck a close third at 23/20. Mkhitaryan is a surprising fourth option at 7/4, narrowly ahead of Vardy (9/5). For those who think the Foxes could nick a goal off a corner kick, Maguire offers a decent return at 15/2 odds.

PREDICTION

If this game was being played in the Midlands, an argument can be made the Foxes have the personnel to take this game to Arsenal. But with the hoodoo the Gunners have over Leicester City in London, coupled with their current form — even with the international break — it’s a far tougher sell.

Arsenal are starting to coalesce into a team who are grater than the sum of their parts. In that regard, Emery has done a fantastic job getting players to buy in, which has accelerated the timetable of their in-season success. Of course, they are also in a patch of schedule where they are not playing the cream of the Premier League, but each victory is another building block to be examined and learned from.

The Gunners are the side Leicester City can achieve to be and record a top-half finish. They have talent sprinkled throughout their attack in the precocious Maddison, the relentless Vardy and a pair of interesting assets on the wing in Iheanacho and Ricardo Pereira, whom manager Claude Puel keeps shuttling back and forth on the right with Daniel Amartey.

Keeper Kasper Schmeichel gives them a chance to steal a victory, though that task is somewhat tougher this time around without Morgan, even with a capable replacement in the well-respected veteran Evans. The international break may gave the Foxes the chance to run with Arsenal early, but if the Gunners go through their gears quickly in their return, another victory should be in the offering.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Leicester City 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (6-2-0) vs. Manchester United (4-1-3)
Manchester City (6-2-0) vs. Burnley (2-2-4)
West Ham United (2-1-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6-0-2)
Wolverhampton (4-3-1) vs. Watford (4-1-3)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)

Leicester City look to make it three wins on the spin in league play Saturday when they host an Everton side out to regroup after a disappointing exit from the Carabao Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Foxes (4-0-3) enter this contest in eighth place, just ahead of new boys Wolverhampton on goal difference and also reached the fourth round of the Carabao Cup by ousting Wolves on penalties nearly two weeks ago. Claude Puel’s team followed that match with a professional 2-0 road victory over struggling Newcastle United last Saturday.

Jamie Vardy struck a penalty on the half-hour after Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin handled Harry Maguire’s shot inside the 18, and Maguire rose highest to meet a corner by James Maddison in the 73rd minute. Leicester’s defence – powered by the central pairing of Maguire and talisman Wes Morgan – stifled the Magpies and limited them to one shot on target, a speculative 60-yard effort keeper Kasper Schmeichel comfortably caught under the crossbar.

Maguire will likely add to his 14 international caps following his recall to the Three Lions for the upcoming international break. This time the 21-year-old Maddison will join him at St. George, hoping to show manager Gareth Southgate the playmaking skills England are lacking in the midfield at the moment.

“We’re doing really well at the minute, there’s a great spirit around the place and training’s been really good and we’re keeping to high standards so long may that continue,” Maddison told LCFC TV while looking ahead to Everton. “They’ve spent a lot of money in recent years and they’ve got a good squad with a lot of quality and it’ll be a tough test, and it’ll be brilliant for us if we can go into the international break off the back of three wins in a row.

“That’s fantastic at any point of the Premier League if you get three in a row. We’ll work hard on the training pitch and we’ll go into that the best prepared we can.”

Puel will again be without Demarai Gray, who missed the win over Newcastle with an ankle injury suffered in the Carabao Cup. The Frenchman, though, has definitely found a comfort level with a 4-2-3-1 formation as Ricardo Pereira and Daniel Amartey have alternated at right back and right wing throughout the season.

Both Vardy and Maddison have two goals and an assist in Leicester’s last three league games, while Kelechi Iheanacho has a goal and two assists in that run.

Everton (2-3-2) are 11th in the table on nine points but have yet to find that next level to be competitive for those spots beyond the Big Six that could result in European play next term. The Toffees have one win in their last five matches in all competitions (1-2-2) and were dumped out of the Carabao Cup on penalties Tuesday at home against Southampton after a 1-1 draw.

Theo Walcott came off the bench to score the equaliser five minutes from time, but both he and Richarlison were unable to convert from the spot against Southampton keeper Angus Gunn, with the young keeper saving Walcott’s attempt after Everton counterpart Martin Stekelenburg gave the Toffees a lifeline with a save on Matt Targett’s try.

Given Everton were coming off their most complete win of the season last weekend – a 3-0 drubbing of Fulham – while Southampton had the sword taken to them by Liverpool with an identical scoreline – there is an eagerness among the Toffees to put aside the disappointment of this result.

“It’s a massive game against Leicester,” centre back Michael Keane told EvertonTV. “We had a good result at the weekend and we’re fully focused on that game now. We played some very good football in the Fulham game, especially in the second half, and we want to bring that into Saturday’s game.

“Against Southampton, I think some of the lads who haven’t been playing put in some good performances and showed what they can do – but there’s always room for improvement. Theo got that goal and we had a few half-chances towards the end but we couldn’t nick it. Then anything can happen in penalties.”

Lucas Digne is expected to reclaim his spot at left back for this match after being held out versus Southampton, but high-profile summer signing and centre back Yerry Mina is not expected to make his Everton debut until after the international break. The Colombia international had a recent setback recovering from the foot injury that has sidelined him to date, and Everton manager Marco Silva hinted he may schedule some closed door friendlies during the break to get Mina closer to match fitness.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had a second-half brace against Fulham after having thumped a penalty off the crossbar, has scored four goals in his last five matches across all competitions.

The home team won both matches last season, with Vardy and Gray scoring 11 minutes apart in the first half-hour at the Midlands. Leicester City are 4-0-3 in their last seven in all competitions versus Everton after winning just one of the first 18 matches (1-13-4) between the sides in the Premier League era.

Vardy has four goals and two assists in six lifetime matchups with the Toffees.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Leicester City are solid 23/20 favourites, with both the Toffees and a draw returning 23/10 odds for their respective selection. The Foxes have 12/5 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals in the match, while a 0-0 or 1-1 draw checks in behind that at 10/3. A low-scoring Leicester win is next at 4/1, followed by an Everton win over 2.5 goals (17/4) and under 2.5 goals (6/1). A 2-2 draw or higher is the longshot at 10/1.

Vardy is a clear favourite to make it 1-0, leading the line at 7/2. His attacking partners Maddison and Iheanacho are next at 6/1, and Richarlison is the top pick for Everton at 13/2. Despite his brace last week, Sigurdsson is further back at 17/2.

Vardy has 13/10 odds to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Maddison (2/1) edging out Iheanacho (21/10) for second. Richarlison is again the top pick for Toffees goal-scorers at 9/4, with Sigurdsson closer behind at 14/5.

PREDICTION

Leicester City are playing their best football of the season to date as Maddison has deservedly earned his call-up to England’s senior side for the upcoming international break. Had Vardy not opted to retire from international play, it is quite likely he would have joined Maguire and Maddison with the Three Lions.

Puel has his Foxes purring and a set rotation, curious shuffle of Amartey and Pereira on the right notwithstanding. Their spine is strong from Schmeichel out to Vardy, and while they may hit a ceiling below the top six, there is every reason to believe they can contend for that seventh spot and possibly higher if one of the evergreens slip.

Everton, on the other hand, can go from irresistible to uninspired and anywhere in between in a given match. While rotating a squad for the Carabao Cup can be forgiven, the fact the Toffees lost to a struggling Southampton side that overturned half their roster must be maddening to Silva. Mina cannot arrive to fortify the back four fast enough, and someone must emerge to lead the line (Bernard perhaps?) because both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun are currently not getting the job done.

One matchup to watch is in the midfield, where Maddison and Sigurdsson will clash. This will be a good test for the youngster ahead of his first call-up, facing a grizzled playmaker with loads of international experience for his country. Whichever one of the two gets more support from his respective supporting cast will likely emerge the winner, and given Leicester’s form, the hosts are in line to make it three on the bounce in league play.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LEICESTER CITY 3, Everton 1

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)

Leicester City look to avoid making it “two steps forward, one step back” on Saturday when they try to build on their Carabao Cup win at St James’ Park versus Newcastle United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Foxes (3-0-3) avoided a third loss on the bounce last weekend by rallying from an early deficit to win 3-1 over Huddersfield Town. Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho scored goals thanks to the other’s help around a 25-yard free kick from James Maddison in the 66th minute for the go-ahead marker.

Leicester City followed up that effort Tuesday by advancing to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup, eliminating new boys Wolverhampton 3-1 on penalties at Molineux following a scoreless 90 minutes.

Second-string keeper and cup starter Danny Ward made a star turn during the spot kicks, saving efforts by Diogo Jota and Romain Saiss in the first two rounds and stopping Adama Traore for the match-clincher to send the Foxes through.

“As I have said before, in penalty shoot-outs it’s my job to save them and my heroes are the boys who put them in the back of the net,” Ward told LCFC TV after his biggest moment since arriving from Liverpool in the summer transfer window. “This is massive for us, we want to take this competition seriously, we want to go as far as we can, it’s not a training exercise, we do that on the pitch at the training ground.

“We want to progress and do as well as we can.”

The win may have come with a high price as winger Demarai Gray was forced off in stoppage time with an ankle injury. Claude Puel rotated eight players from the win over Huddersfield, most notably resting defender Harry Maguire and pulling holdover Vardy at the hour for Iheanacho.

The Nigeria international has emerged as Puel’s strike partner for Vardy, totaling two goals and two assists in his last four matches across all competitions. Iheanacho had eight goals in 28 overall matches in 2017-18.

Both he and Vardy have benefitted from the arrival of Maddison, already considered one of England’s top playmaking midfielders despite being only 21. He has a team-leading three goals in league play and started the movement that led to Iheanacho’s goal versus Huddersfield, continuing his seamless transition to the Premier League following his £24 million transfer and from Championship side Norwich City.

As the Foxes seek that next level to climb from the mid-table, Newcastle United (0-2-4) are hunting for a lifeline out of the bottom three as they again seek their first victory. The Magpies avoided a fifth loss on the spin last weekend, taking a point back to Tyneside following a scoreless draw against Crystal Park at Selhurst Park.

But the public tete-a-tete between manager Rafa Benitez and embattled owner Mike Ashley added yet another chapter following the match. The Sports Direct magnate attended a match for the first time in 16 months, and the traveling Toon Army continued their vocal support of Benitez by jeering their owner.

Ashley and Benitez did not meet after the match, and after multiple transfer windows of unfulfilled promises of money to spend, the Spaniard hopes his boss now understands the urgency of the situation ahead of the upcoming one in January.

“I have to take this as a positive,” Benitez told The Times when asked about Ashley’s presence at Selhurst Park. “If he comes to the team he can see his players, what we have, and hopefully he can be more sensible and then he will be ready to do something if we need to do it. I think he knows that, and he can do it.

“We have to be sure everyone supports the team, starting with the owner, and then we will be stronger.”

While Newcastle have yet to record a victory, Benitez pragmatically mitigated the damage of a gauntlet versus Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal among their first six league matches and emerging with only a minus-4 goal difference. The onus is now on Newcastle to start moving up the table against the lesser-calibre clubs, something Benitez readily embraces.

“We have a lot to do now, but if the team work as hard as they did today and if you score first against teams who are not in the top six, then it can change everything.”

Scoring first, however, is something Newcastle have yet to accomplish. They have not held a lead at any point in their first seven matches in all competitions, and three of their five overall goals have come in the 83rd minute or later.

The road team won both matches last season, with an 86th minute own goal by Newcastle midfielder Ayoze Perez the difference in Leicester City’s 3-2 win at St. James’ Park. The Foxes have won their last two matches at Tyneside, but their 2-1 loss in the most recent meeting snapped a five-game winning streak in all competitions versus the Magpies.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Newcastle are slight favourites to break their duck and win for the first time this season, getting 6/4 odds. Leicester City are 19/10 underdogs, and the odds of the teams splitting the points is also tightly packed in there at 21/10.

Oddsmakers do not seem entirely sure of how Newcastle are going to win this game, with 7/4 odds of the Magpies winning with more than 2.5 goals and 15/4 odds of them winning with less than 2.5. Equally intriguing is the Foxes narrowly getting better odds to win with more than 2.5 goals (17/4) than under (9/2). A 0-0 or 1-1 draw is also getting plenty of traction with 27/10 odds.

Vardy leads the line for first-goal honours despite his status as guest, checking in with 9/2 odds. Newcastle strikers Joselu and Rondon are joint-second at 11/2, while Iheanacho gets 6/1 billing to stake the Foxes to that all-important 1-0 lead.

Vardy also leads the way for anytime goal-scorers at 7/4, with Joselu nipping Rondon for second at 21/10 compared to 11/5 for the Venezuela international. Iheanacho (9/4) and Leicester City playmaker Maddison (12/5) round out the top five of options over the course of 90 minutes.

PREDICTION

This is the point where the rubber meets the road for Benitez and Newcastle. After doggedly playing to expectations in which the Magpies were competitive but snakebitten — sometimes deservedly so based on set-up — it is now imperative for the Tyneside team to start scoring goals. And while it is easy to look at Joselu or Rondon as the source of these struggles, Kenedy should not go without blame.

One of the most important loan acquisitions for Newcastle United in helping them secure a top-half finish last term, the Chelsea product has yet to unlock the offence this season and also cost his team two points with his missed penalty against Cardiff City as the teams finished 0-0.

The good news for Newcastle is that in both Cardiff and Huddersfield Town, there are two sides that appear unlikely at any point to pull themselves out of the bottom three and separate themselves ahead of the Magpies. The challenge for Benitez’s team is to instead open a gap above them.

Leicester City continue to be a curious side that could find themselves in the hunt for a top-seven finish or in that no man’s land between 11th and 15th where the order fluctuates from week to week. While it took a season-plus, the Foxes are finally getting consistent production from Iheanacho, who has learned how to take advantage of  Vardy’s tireless work rate up front.

It also helps the Nigeria international he is being supplied by Maddison, who is quickly putting his mark on the Premier League as opposing players are taking note. This is a match where manager Claude Puel should be setting his team up for victory — they have a standout central defender and a well-rested one in Maguire who should be up for the challenge of shutting down whichever Newcastle striker Benitez chooses between Joselu or Rondon — and they have the better attacking options across the front with Rachid Ghezzal in support in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

The Foxes also have the better keeper in Schmeichel and should do well to keep possession in this match to limit Newcastle’s chances offensively. The Foxes have a chance to kick on after their midweek victory and should do so at St James’ Park.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Newcastle United 0, LEICESTER CITY 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)
Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 4 Preview — Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)

Worth every bit the £65 million transfer thus far, Alisson looks to record a fourth clean sheet in as many Premier League matches as Liverpool put their 100 percent mark on the line Saturday at King Power Stadium against Leicester City.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The one position where Jurgen Klopp clearly needed an upgrade despite Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final, Alisson became more of a need than a want when previous No. 1 Loris Karius made two of the biggest mistakes of his professional life on in that 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid.

Liverpool (3-0-0) were fortunate Alisson and Brasil made a quarterfinal exit at the World Cup since it did not drive AS Roma’s already exorbitant price tag higher. Still flush with cash following the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona the previous winter, the Reds had no trouble spending a then-record fee for their new No. 1.

Alisson’s presence has given Liverpool the freedom from asking their keeper to not lose a match and also trusting the Brasil international to occasionally win them one. That moment came versus Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend, when Alisson preserved a 1-0 victory by pushing Pacal Gross’ header around the right post on 88 minutes.

That made it three wins in three matches with nary a goal conceded. Liverpool have never started a Premier League season with four victories on the bounce, with the last occasion in 1990 when they won their opening eight First Division matches.

“Hopefully I will keep helping the team, it is about teamwork,” Alisson said to The Times. “I have my contribution, but I am not the main (one) responsible for the clean sheets. If we do not concede, we will be close to winning because our attack is really good.

“I’m very comfortable at the club, in a great environment, with everybody pushing in the same direction to win. We’ve shown what we are capable of and, hopefully, we can keep on track.”

He also showed off his deft dribbling skills, popping a back pass from Virgil Van Dijk in the air over charging Brighton forward Anthony Knockaert before coolly playing it out from the back. It’s one of those little hints of swagger Liverpool must hold if they are to derail Manchester City’s bid to repeat as league champions.

“We feel good, but the most important thing is that we’re going to try to feel as good for a long time,” midfielder Giorginio Wijnaldum told Liverpool’s official website. “The Premier League has just started and everything can happen. We are all confident, as we were last season, but we must not look too far ahead.”

Also influential has been centre back Virgil Van Dijk. The Netherlands international has been part of 10 clean sheets in 17 league matches since his January arrival, and Liverpool have conceded just nine goals in those contests. As Dejan Lovren continues to recover from a pelvic injury, Van Dijk has formed a solid partnership with Joe Gomez, who is on the verge of a call-up to England’s national squad during the international break.

Klopp will likely keep his starting XI unchanged for a fourth straight match, though he would also prefer right back Trent Alexander-Arnold not pick up a yellow card for a fourth consecutive match and put himself on the edge of a one-match ban.

Leicester City (2-0-1) have won three on the trot in all competitions following their season-opening loss at Manchester United. Claude Puel played a calculated gamble in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup match versus League One side Fleetwood Town, starting striker Kelechi Iheanacho amid eight changes from a 2-1 win at Southampton last weekend in hopes of jump-starting his season.

It worked as the Nigeria international bagged his first goal of the season and hit the woodwork on two other occasions in the 4-0 romp as both defender Christian Fuchs and midfielder Vicente Iborra contributed a goal and an assist.

“I am satisfied about the performance, it was a strong performance,” Puel told LCFC TV. “They were fantastic goals, they gave a good feeling for our fans, and it is important to see this kind of performance because all the squad delivered very well.”

Iheanacho is expected to lead the line once more with Jamie Vardy serving the last of his three-match ban for a direct red card. Summer signing Rachid Ghezzal continued his transition to English football from Lyon with a well-taken goal in the 71st minute in his first Foxes start.

“It’s important to keep for the quality of the team,” said Ghezzal, who came off the bench in two of Leicester’s first three league matches. “It was very important for us to make a great game, for intensity, for quality, because the players who play know they may have a long time to play another game.”

Puel is likely to stick with his 4-2-3-1, with Ricardo Pereira likely to stay advanced on the right side in front of Daniel Amartey. The two had swapped spots in the first two matches, but Pereira was more forward in last week’s win versus Southampton.

Liverpool did the double over Leicester City last season after losing 2-0 to them in the third round of the Carabao Cup. Salah accounted for three of the five goals in the wins, bagging a brace in a 2-1 victory at Anfield and the other in a 3-2 triumph in the Midlands in which Vardy was stoned on a potential tying penalty by Simon Mingolet.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are solid favourites at 2/5 odds despite being in the Midlands, while Leicester City have 13/2 odds on taking all three points. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 7/2.

For the match result plus over/under 2.5 goals, Liverpool and over is the punters’ favourite at 21/20, followed by Liverpool and the under (29/10). There is more belief in a 1-1 or 0-0 draw (24/5) than a Leicester City win and over (11/1).

Unsurprisingly, Salah leads the pack for first goal-scorers at 13/5, with Daniel Sturridge 4/1 and both Firmino and Mane at 5/1. Iheanacho is the top option for the Foxes at 17/2, followed by James Maddison and Shinji Okazaki (10/1). Salah has better-than-even money odds to score at some point during the match at 3/4, while Firmino (8/5) narrowly edges out Mane (17/10).

On the Leicester side of the toteboard, Iheanacho returns 13/5 odds and Maddison 16/5.

PREDICTION

Liverpool’s offence has been gummed up slightly the last two matches, but it has not mattered all that much because the defence has played well. Gomez in particular responded positively to the challenge Brighton presented last weekend at Anfield and while his partnership with Van Dijk may be through after the international break, he still has one more match to run.

Puel’s gamble with Iheanacho mid-week was an interesting one considering Leicester City had come off a road win at Southampton. But it paid off, and now the Nigeria international has to follow it up with another strong performance. The Foxes have a strong spine among Harry Maguire, Wes Morgan, Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy that a turnover similar to the one Liverpool created for their lone goal against Brighton should not happen, especially at home.

Not having Vardy around to hassle and harass Liverpool’s back line is going to loom large, but look for Pereira to test Andy Roberson down the right side for the Foxes. If he and Maddison can link through the middle of the park, there may be space for the Portugal wing to try and pick out Iheanacho with a cross.

This will be a tougher road test for Klopp’s side than Crystal Palace, even with the absence of Vardy, but his absence is also going to be why Liverpool continue their perfect start.

Predicted final score: Leicester City 1, LIVERPOOL 2.

Other Match Day 4 previews:

Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)
West Ham United (0-0-3) vs. Wolverhampton (0-2-1)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)
Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview: Manchester United (0-0-0) vs. Leicester City (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

It is difficult enough for teams to open the season following a World Cup because rotations are out of sync due to player availability.

Add that to the usual third-season chaos Jose Mourinho has had at his previous coaching stops, and you have a recipe for combustion as Manchester United head into Friday night’s Premier League opener versus Leicester City at Old Trafford.

POTENTIAL STARTING LINEUPS

United (25-6-7 in 2017-18) finished distant runners-up to eternal rivals Manchester City, 19 points adrift despite their highest point total (81) in five seasons. It was the club’s best finish since Sir Alex Ferguson made his farewell with his 13th Premier League title in 2013, but there was no silverware for Mourinho after winning the Carabao Cup and Europa League in 2017.

United – similar to other high-profile European clubs – had multiple first-team players participate in the World Cup this summer. Seven of the 11 players who went to Russia reached at least the semifinals.

Of those 11, Marcus Rashford and Phil Jones (England), David De Gea (Spain) and Victor Lindelof (Sweden) are expected to be available for this match. Nothing definitive has been offered regarding the status of Belgium teammates Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini and England duo Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard.

“Rashford will be in a better situation than (Tuesday),” Mourinho told MUTV on Tuesday. “Lindelof the same, Jones the same and let’s see if one of the others is ready to give us a help, 20-25 minutes. Any help that can come from them, is welcome.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba won the title with France, and while he will not play this match, things are tense between him and Mourinho. The United boss offered a backhanded compliment by saying the World Cup “is the perfect habitat for a player like him to give (their best),” to ESPN FC.

This was a pointed observation considering Mourinho spent last season trying to slot Pogba into the type of midfield partnership with Nemanja Matic that France manager Didier Deschamps successfully achieved with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante.

Mourinho made those comments while United toured the United States. He often cut a frustrated and angry figure between poor performances and the lack of first-team players available. He railed about both following a 4-1 loss to Liverpool in Michigan in which he told The Independent, “We start the game with almost half the players who are not even going to belong on our squad on August 9 (the transfer deadline day). So what did this game give me? Nothing. Nothing at all.”

These comments could be one-time snipes and aggravations, but they also fit Mourinho’s track record when things go pear-shaped in season three. It happened in 2007 in his first stint with Chelsea after winning the Premier League title the season before. A falling out within the locker room with Real Madrid star players including Cristiano Ronaldo marked his third and final season at the Bernabeu in 2013.

And most recently, the third season during his second go-round at Chelsea – again after winning a Premier League title the season before – was so toxic another parting of the ways resulted after nine losses in the first 16 league matches in 2015-16.

But Mourinho is not in jeopardy. His frustration also stems from United chairman Ed Woodward’s failure to land many of the players Mourinho sought in this summer’s transfer window. That shortcoming is magnified by Thursday’s close of the England window compared to the FIFA calendar, which runs until the end of August.

United’s biggest signing was a £47 million transfer for midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, who missed out on playing for Brazil at the World Cup due to a knee injury suffered in the tournament run-up. Starlet Diogo Dalot came over from FC Porto with a £19 million price tag, but the 19-year-old will likely start the season behind Antonio Valencia at right back.

With both nursing injuries, though, it is expected Lindelof will get the start at right back. Jones provides depth in central defense in the event Eric Bailly is unable to go after picking up a knock, and Andreas Perreira slots into the defensive midfield role with Matic sidelined by injury.

One marquee player Mourinho will have is attacking winger Alexis Sanchez, who starts his first full season at Old Trafford after arriving from Arsenal in January. His industry will be vital in the early part of the season, especially until Lukaku is ready to return and lead the line.

While United’s star players will eventually return, Leicester City (12-11-15) move on without top playmaker Riyad Mahrez. The Algeria international made his long-sought jump to Manchester City, with the Foxes wrangling a £60 million transfer fee from the reigning champions after a deal fell through in January.

The jury remains out on manager Claude Puel despite guiding Leicester City to a top-half finish following the sacking of Craig Shakespeare. The Foxes won just five of their final 21 (5-6-10) league matches, and filling Mahrez’s role may require multiple players.

James Maddison is expected be first in line, but another option is Mahrez’s compatriot Rachid Ghezzal, who has been reunited with Puel from their Lyon days after a £12 million transfer from Ligue 1 side AS Monaco on Sunday.

“I know the coach and I know his work and I like it,” Ghezzal told Leicester City’s official website. “I want to be here. It’s a good club with many ambitions and many great players. I think I will make a great season.”

Two of those “great players” – defender Harry Maguire and striker Jamie Vardy – may not be available after playing for England. Maguire boosted his stock immensely in that run to the semifinals while in Russia, with Leicester City valuing the centre back at £65 million and rebuffing United’s advances.

Leicester City were active in the summer window, adding promising attacking midfielder Maddison from Norwich City and right back Ricardo Pereira – who played for Puel at Nice – from FC Porto for nearly £50 million combined. The Foxes added to their depth in central defense with veteran Jonny Evans from relegated West Bromwich Albion.

If Vardy – a 20-goal scorer last term – is unavailable, Puel has Kelechi Iheanacho to lead the line. He was on Nigeria’s roster for the World Cup, but fellow Super Eagle Ahmed Musa left for Saudi side Al-Nassr last Saturday. Shinji Okazaki and Islam Slamini remain options as a second striker for Puel.

This is the second straight season Leicester City are playing the league’s Friday night opener, having lost 4-3 at Arsenal in 2017-18. Manchester United are unbeaten in the last seven between the teams (4-3-0), though Maguire rescued a point for the 10-man Foxes with a stoppage-time equaliser that resulted in a 2-2 draw at King Power Stadium on Dec. 23.

United are unbeaten in their last nine (7-2-0) at Old Trafford versus Leicester City since a 1-0 defeat Jan. 31, 1998, and 15-7-2 in the Premier League era. The Red Devils are also 19-5-2 in Premier League home openers, losing only to Everton in 1992 and Swansea City in 2014.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are a solid favorite at 4/9 odds to win, while Leicester City check in at 6/1. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 3/1.

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Sanchez offers a good return at 10/3 odds as the first goal-scorer and 6/5 odds as anytime scorer, and his industry offers a good chance of the match’s first goal being scored on a defensive breakdown by Leicester City. That rates him as a better option than Rashford (7/2) and Juan Mata (11/2) among likely United starters for first goal-scorer.

The Chilean has four goals in six lifetime matches versus the Foxes but none in the last three since banging a hat trick in Arsenal’s 5-2 win at King Power Stadium in the 2015-16 season.

A potential parlay could be taking both teams to score (27/10) with a 2-1 Manchester United scoreline (15/2). While he is listed on the right flank of the 4-3-3, it would not be surprising to see Mata track back into the middle of the park to link with Fred and Herrera, giving Rashford the opportunity to use his pace to run at defenders and create scoring chances.

PREDICTION

Both sides are far from a finished product, but both defensive midfielders — Wilfred Ndidi for Leicester City and Andres Perreira — are both going to have to put in heavy shifts to put out fires in front of their back lines. Ndidi has grown into this role since the Foxes parted ways with Kante, while Andres Perreira has not had as many opportunities to do so since Matic stepped into the role last season.

Also of note is how Lindelof transitions to right back for this match after a summer of manning a centre back spot for Sweden if Valencia is unable to play. United will do well to work through Sanchez on the left as it serves the double effect of pinning back Ricardo Perreira on the right.

It seems likely both Lukaku and Vardy will be introduced as match-changers for the final half-hour depending on the scoreline, and it would not be surprising to see Maguire starting the match despite Puel’s claims the England duo will not be in the first XI. Given how last season’s lid-lifter was a chaotic seven-goal affair, there should be multiple goals and another win for the home side.

Prediction: Manchester United 2, Leicester City 1