Looking to get back on track and reclaim the inside track in the race for seventh and a spot in the Europa League, Leicester City face a crucial test Saturday at London Stadium against West Ham United.
The Foxes (14-5-15) currently are seventh in the table on 47 points, ahead of Wolverhampton on goal difference, though the West Midlands club has a match in hand on Leicester City. Brendan Rodgers’ side had a four-match winning streak snapped with a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United at home April 12.
Rodgers was flummoxed to a degree as counterpart Rafa Benitez opted to flood the midfield to lessen the impact of playmaker James Maddison and limit his linking up with Jamie Vardy. Leicester City had 65 percent possession, but little proved threatening. A bright spot was midfielder Marc Albrighton getting a late runout and proving healthy after being sidelined with a hamstring injury.
“I don’t think Marc’s ready yet for 90 minutes. It depends if he starts the game and plays around 60 minutes or comes on in a game,” Rodgers told the club’s official website, hedging on whether Albrighton would be in the first XI. “It’s just great to have him back fit and available and to have someone of that quality.
“His history at Leicester has been fantastic. He’s a fantastic player and he’s very efficient in his game, he has purpose, and he’s always trying to get crosses in and create. He can get a goal too and he works tirelessly for the team.”
Leicester City are seeking their first three-match road winning streak in league play since March 5-April 10, 2016, during their stunning run to the Premier League title. The Foxes have gone 2-0-1 outside King Power Stadium since Rodgers took over.
West Ham United (12-6-16) cannot crack the top half of the table in this match as they enter the contest four points behind Everton and Watford and are hoping a respite from facing a top-six side will help them avoid a fourth consecutive defeat.
The Irons deserved a better fate than the 2-1 loss they suffered Saturday at Old Trafford versus Manchester United. Felipe Anderson had pulled them level on 49 minutes, and Michail Antonio narrowly missed giving West Ham the lead twice inside the final quarter-hour, first having a shot thump the crossbar and then having a near-perfectly placed downward header clawed away by United keeper David De Gea.
Those misses were cruelly compounded when West Ham defender Ryan Fredericks hauled down Anthony Martial from behind, leaving Paul Pogba to convert from the spot for the second time on 80 minutes that stood as the match-winner.
“I thought from Saturday’s performance, sometimes you come away from games, not very often, but sometimes you’ve lost but you feel like you’ve achieved a lot more,” midfielder Mark Noble told whufc.com. “That’s what it felt like on Saturday because we played so well from start to finish. I thought we controlled the game and looked like a real good football team. I think you could see from the fans there that they really appreciated the way we played.”
Noble’s spot in the starting XI could be up for grabs with Jack Wilshire inching closer to returning. Wilshire has made only five league appearances since his move from Arsenal, but Irons boss Manuel Pellegrini said there is a chance he could return this match or next. The Chilean also expects to have first-choice striker Marko Arnautovic available after he was a late scratch against Manchester United due to illness.
“We’ll see tomorrow how he feels,” Pellegrini said of Wilshire. “He’s played already one game for the U23s. We’ll talk with him but it’ll be soon. This week or next week. He’ll play some games before the end of the season.
“I think he’s a midfielder that we need because in that position we have so many times all of those injuries. The return for Jack to the team will be a good injection for the team.”
Leicester City nicked a point in the reverse fixture at King Power Stadium with a 1-1 draw on Wilfred Ndidi’s goal on 89 minutes. West Ham played the final 52 minutes with 10 men after Noble was given a straight red card for a poor challenge on Ndidi.
The Foxes have fared well against West Ham of late, taking points in eight of the last nine matches across all competitions (5-3-1). They are 2-1-0 in their last three league meetings in east London.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, Leicester City 1.
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 36 PREVIEWS:
Liverpool (27-7-1) vs. Huddersfield Town (3-5-27)
Crystal Palace (12-6-17) vs. Everton (14-7-14)
Watford (14-8-13) vs. Wolverhampton (14-9-12)
(Jamie Vardy photo courtesy Leicester City official Twitter account)