Hull City vs Leicester City Preview: Can the Foxes or the Tigers prevail on the opening day?

Can the returning Tigers prevent Claudio Ranieri's men from opening the defence of their title with a victory?

Hull City vs Leicester City Preview: Can the Foxes or the Tigers prevail on the opening day?
The champions take on the Championship play-off winners in the opening match of the Premier League

In the Premier League season opener on Saturday afternoon, reigning champions, Leicester City, travel to the KCOM Stadium to take on managerless Hull City.

In taking on the North-East side in the early kick-off, Claudio Ranieri's men not only get their own title defence underway but the rest of the top-flight also. So, the question on the lips of most fans is:  can the Foxes be the first to take the three points this campaign or will it be the newly-promoted Tigers?

Contrasting summers

Ironically, both teams ended last season in very similar ways; by lifting silverware. With Leicester unforgettably hoisting the Premier League crown last season, Hull City soon returned the favour at Wembley Stadium after being victorious in the Championship play-off final after beating Sheffield Wednesday 1-0.

However, the fortunes of both teams couldn't have differed more since then. Since lifting the title at home to Everton in May, Claudio Ranieri's troops have celebrated in earnest, not to mention working hard to plan for the upcoming campaign.

Travelling to Bangkok, Los Angeles, Stockholm and Bad Radkersburg have all been on the Foxes agenda ahead of the new season and taking part in the International Champions Cup (where they took on the likes of Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain and Celtic), have seen the East-Midlanders step-up their preparations for the Premier League and Champions League campaigns.

Furthermore, Claudio Ranieri and his back-room staff have managed to bring in a few excellent additions to their squad. Twice breaking their transfer record to bring in the likes of midfielder, Nampalys Mendy, from OGC Nice and Ahmed Musa, a speedy forward from CSKA Moscow, the champions have made a real statement of intent. However, the duo are also joined by defender Luis Hernandez, goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler and winger Bartosz Kapustka, furthering the Foxes' options in all positions.

Also, signing a number of key players down to new contracts, including the likes of Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy, has shown that the Foxes are more than keen to stick-by the squad that earned them their maiden top-flight title last time around.

In stark contrast, it's been a tough off-season for Hull City fans to stomach following their glorious day in the capital. Having seen manager, Steve Bruce, walk out on the club not long before the start of the season, fans were understandably worried. These concerns have only worsened with the complete lack of transfer activity at the KCOM Stadium so far.

Hull City have endured a tough summer since the departure of Steve Bruce | Photo: Getty
Hull City have endured a tough summer since the departure of Steve Bruce | Photo: Getty

Furthermore, with a number of key players falling foul to injury troubles, the Tigers have an extremely thin squad going into the first game of the new season.

Nevertheless, Mike Phelan’s men have enjoyed a positive pre-season schedule despite the turbulent troubles off the pitch. Only losing one game to Serie A outfit, Torino, the Tigers managed to dispatch of the likes of North Ferriby United, Mansfield Town, Scunthorpe United and Çaykur Rizespor whilst drawing to Grimsby Town and Barnsley. So, of the players ready to go for the season-opener, confidence should be high.

Could it be close to call?

Despite many installing Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester as clear favourites to take the three points from this particular match, history suggests that it’s going to be a closer affair than most have predicted. Having met each other a total of 88 times in all competitions, there’s not a lot to separate the two sides.

Since the maiden clash in 1905, Hull have taken the victory on 29 different occasions, just edging ahead of their East-Midland counterparts who have 26 wins to their name. As a matter of fact, the two sides have shared the points on a further 23 occasions. Therefore, if this trend does continue, we could be in for a close clash on Saturday afternoon.

On the other hand, despite a loss in the Capital One Cup last season on penalties, the Foxes have dominated proceedings in recent times. In the last six matches in the league between the two sides, the Midlanders have taken maximum points in three of those, and in fact have not lost to the Tigers in league competition since December 2011.

Even more surprisingly, the hosts this weekend have only tasted victory over their opponents at home three times within the last 25 years. So, maybe the clash at the KCOM Stadium might not be as close as general history between the two suggests.

Riyad Mahrez celebrates his winning goal in the last league game between the two at the KCOM Stadium | Photo: Getty
Riyad Mahrez celebrates his winning goal in the last league game between the two at the KCOM Stadium | Photo: Getty

Team News

As has widely been reported, Mike Phelan’s side have plenty of injury worries to consider for the visit of Ranieri’s men. On the long-term absentee list remain club-captain Michael Dawson, goalkeeper Allan McGregor, wide-man Moses Odubajo and defensive duo Alex Bruce and Harry Maguire so fans could be expected to see a much-changed home side on Saturday.

Although, former Wigan Athletic midfielder, Shaun Maloney and Greg Luer are both available again after recovering from injuries sustained in pre-season.

Nonetheless, it is the figure of Abel Hernandez up-front that the defending champions will have to keep their eyes on. Having become a key figure in the squad during the Tigers’ promotion last season, the former Palermo forward will look to display his pace and sharp finishing ability again this campaign having scored 22 goals to fire his team’s way back to the Premier League.

Elsewhere, Claudio Ranieri and his team do not have such injury problems for the trip up to East-Yorkshire. According to the ex-Monaco boss, a full squad is available for the opening day besides the suspended Robert Huth. Still serving a three-match ban for a charge of violent conduct for an altercation with Marouane Fellaini in last season’s clash against Manchester United at Old Trafford, the big German could be replaced by either new signing Luis Hernandez or the ever-popular Marcin Wasilewski.

Robert Huth will be unavailable for the champions due to suspension | Photo: Getty
Robert Huth will be unavailable for the champions due to suspension | Photo: Getty

Nonetheless, fans will mostly be intrigued by who will line-up for the Foxes in the more advanced positions. With N’Golo Kante departing to Chelsea, it could be debated as to who will replace him in the centre of the park. One option could be Nampalys Mendy who recently joined from OGC Nice or club legend Andy King.

Also, it will be interesting to see who will claim the attacking positions in Ranieri’s team. Most supporters will look forward to seeing the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez again after the duo netted 41 times between them last season. However, record signing Ahmed Musa will be keen to start well at his new club, providing further competition for Shinji Okazaki and Leonardo Ulloa.

Predicted Line-Ups

Hull City – Jakupovic, Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Snodgrass, Meyler, Clucas,Huddlestone; Diomande, A. Hernandez.

Leicester City – Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, L. Hernandez, Fuchs; Albrighton, King, Drinkwater, Mahrez; Vardy, Musa.