Stoke City host one of their fellow Midlanders in the Saturday lunchtime weekend opening showpiece. As winter sets in, the Potters’ blustery stadium becomes an even less appetising day trip.
Both sides notched crucial wins last weekend, though. Stoke fought – on some occasions literally – to a surprising win at Watford, while Leicester delivered a win on Claude Puel’s first match in charge as they saw off the languishing Everton.
Mark Hughes lifted a lot of the pressure that had built with that win. It is still possible the Potters drop into the bottom three again this weekend, however. The visitors, on the other hand, will be looking up. Puel could take his side as high as eighth with a win at the Bet365 Stadium, such is the bunched nature of the Premier League mid-table.
The sides are separated by a mere point, but new manager bounce was already evident for Leicester. Stoke are at risk of having a long season embroiled in a relegation tussle, with their attack not producing and their defence far more porous than any of the overused stereotypes suggest.
Taking chances has been a trouble for Stoke. Mame Diouf has been their best goal threat, but his versatility costs him minutes in the final third. When Xherdan Shaqiri is absent – as he was for defeat to Bournemouth two weeks ago – Hughes’ side are without invention.
Needing plenty of opportunities to score, and not creating many, makes for a perilous combination. Stoke to score under 1.5 goals at 1/2 is one of my picks for this one.
The hosts’ defence has given up the second most expected goals in the league this season. Perhaps considered uncharacteristic, but Stoke’s back-line has been unsettled with injuries and too often without protection from the midfield.
Facing a Leicester team who have the most expected goals outside of the top six, Stoke will need to recreate the backs-to-the-wall defensive resilience of last week to have any chance.
Given his four goals already this season, Shinji Okazaki is at a great price of 7/1 to open the scoring. Okazaki is one of the league’s most underrated players, and could cause problems with his well-timed surges into the opponent’s box.
This match may not be pretty, and could – again – have us wondering why it was picked to go on television. Combative football should be expected, particularly with both sides more comfortable playing on the counter-attack. Leicester will be happy to gamble on Stoke’s limited creativity, and unleash the devastating duo of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy on an uncertain defence.
Cards are well worth backing. I can’t look past Christian Fuchs in this market. His price of 12/5 to pick up a card looks very long considering that he will be dealing with the jinking Shaqiri. Joe Allen at 15/4 is good value, too, given that he is already on four yellows for the season and could be forced into a play-breaking trip.
Leicester suffered with a torturous early fixture list, but have now gone four unbeaten in the league. I think their price of 37/20 is a solid one to make it three wins in a row, with the matchup of their flying attack against this Stoke defence. Kevin Wimmer getting isolated against Mahrez has to be a massive concern for Hughes.
TIP: Leicester to win 1-0 @ 8/1
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*
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