With aspirations of following in the Foxes’ footsteps in qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, the Hammers look like being formidable opponents at the weekend. Claudio Ranieri’s team will be keen however to build on last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Sunderland and will hope to extend their seven-point lead over Tottenham Hotspur at the top of the Barclays Premier League. So, supporters should be expecting an encapsulating match-up at the weekend.
It goes without saying, even before the game, that both of these teams have enjoyed memorable campaigns (regardless of what transpires between now and May). Most, if not all, now know the story of Leicester City’s 2015/16. Named as strong candidates for relegation in most predictions, the Foxes have gone against convention and have turned the Barclays Premier League on its head.
Since the appointment of Claudio Ranieri in the summer, the East-Midlanders have consistently been in the top-four. Having now earned themselves a (some would say unassailable) seven-point lead at the top, the club now look like the overwhelming favourite to take the glory this season.
Fighting off the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City to possibly claim the trophy, the Foxes have stormed ahead of the pack by already earning 21 wins out of their 33 games so far and have scored nearly 60 goals in the process. If they are to continue this form (starting on Sunday), the achievements of the team would go down in the history of the sport as one of the most shocking title wins ever.
Nevertheless, West Ham United have also exceeded all expectations in their final season at Upton Park. Appointing former player, Slaven Bilic, in the summer, the Hammers have surprised many. As a result of their glistening football displayed under the Croatian, the club are not yet out of contention for Champions League qualification. In fact, the team’s entertaining FA Cup campaign only recently came to an end (with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United).
Having managed to claim maximum points on 13 occasions and take 53 points so far this campaign, the Clarets have justifiably earned plenty of pundits for their attacking football - troubling plenty of teams within the top-flight in the process. Sitting pretty in sixth place in the table, supporters have been thoroughly enjoying West Ham’s 2015/16.
Therefore, it goes without saying that both teams, not just Leicester, will be highly motivated to take the victory at the weekend.
Hammers hold slight historical hoodoo
Since the first meeting between the two sides way back in 1919, the Foxes have just fallen behind in the standings. Managing to earn 45 victories (compared to West Ham’s 51), the East-Midlanders hold just a slight disadvantage going into this weekend’s clash.
On the other hand, it’s in fact Ranieri’s men who hold the better recent form between the two sides. Preceded by a seven-match winless streak stretching back to 2001, the Foxes have now won each of the last three matches against the Londoners – all by the same 2-1 score-line. As a matter of fact, it was their victory at the King Power Stadium in April last season that sparked their famous ‘Great Escape’.
Having said that, knowing the unpredictably of the Premier League this season, any team could be capable of pulling out a positive result. It really is anyone’s call this weekend.
For Sunday, Claudio Ranieri has a pretty much full complement of players to choose from. Besides the missing Matty James, the Foxes can boast a clean bill of health, so the Italian has plenty of choice for his team selection.
As a matter of fact, the ex-Chelsea boss has suggested that he could welcome Ghanaian utility man, Jeffrey Schlupp, back into the fold after recovering from injury. Nonetheless, it will be a hard task for him to displace Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez on the wings following their glittering form this campaign.
In other news ahead of the potentially decisive clash, fans are glad to see Jamie Vardy back to his respective best form again. Having gone six games without a goal, the speedy forward netted twice against Sunderland last weekend. Therefore, more of the same will be a welcome sight for the majority of the King Power Stadium.
In fact, it’s a similar story with the aforementioned Riyad Mahrez. Some people’s vote for the Player of the Season, the Algerian has gone slightly off the boil in recent weeks and has not scored in just under a month. Supporters then will hope to see their star-man back on form this weekend.
Elsewhere, Slaven Bilic also has an almost full squad to choose from for the trip to the East Midlands. With only Alex Song and Diafra Sakho missing for the Hammers (following the return of both Winston Reid and Sam Byram), a strong XI looks in the offing for Sunday’s clash. Possessing plenty of talent from the likes of Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio and of course the talismanic Dimitri Payet, the Foxes look in for a tough test.
However, one man they will have to keep a close eye on is ex-Liverpool frontman, Andy Carroll. Following a hat-trick against Arsenal last weekend, the burly striker has come into form right at the perfect time. So, it goes without saying that the likes of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth will have to use all of their considerable experience and physical strength to keep the 27-year-old quiet.
Leicester City – Schmeichel, Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, Mahrez, Drinkwater, Kante, Albrighton, Okazaki, Vardy.
West Ham United – Adrian, Byram, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate, Noble, Antonio, Payet, Lanzini, Carroll.