Leicester City vs. Chelsea – 8:00pm local time on Monday, December 14, 2015 at King Power Stadium
$3.20 at www.Bet365.com
Table position: 1st
League form: W W W D W
$2.40 at Sportsbet.com
Table position: 14th
League form: L L W D L
$3.40 at CrownBet
Last five EPL meetings
Leicester 1-3 Chelsea
Chelsea 2-0 Leicester
Leicester 0-4 Chelsea
Chelsea 2-1 Leicester
Leicester 2-3 Chelsea
AT first glance, it’s no surprise the two teams in Monday night’s English Premier League match-up sit at opposite ends of the table.
But if you haven’t followed the EPL much this season, you won’t believe which is which.
Remarkably, after narrowly escaping the drop last season, it’s Leicester City who are the top of the pops.
The Foxes have lit up the Premier League from day dot, with new manager Claudio Ranieri bringing in an all-action brand of football which has garnered a league-high 32 goals in 15 games.
The potency of that attack is reflected in the EPL goalscoring charts, where Jamie Vardy (14) and Riyad Mahrez (10) make up two of the top three.
Leicester have lost only once this season, but many are tipping the bubble will burst amid the hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday fixtures.
Shrewd recruitment during the January transfer period could be the key to keeping the Midlands club in the title hunt, according to a certain Sir Alex Ferguson.
“What is the manager Claudio Ranieri saying to the owners? Because if I were him, I’d want an investment in January, because this is a big opportunity,” the former Manchester United manager said at a media event in London this week.
“They could win the league with the way they are playing at the moment, and they have goals in their team. That is not the owners’ problem. The problem for the owners is have they got the money? I think they have.
“Do they trust the coach? The problem will always lie with the coach because he has got to pick the team. Adding more players to it, he has only given himself a problem.
“At the moment, he can pick the same team because he has a limited squad and is doing very well. But if he wants to win the league, I think he should add to it. And I think there may be a great chance.
“So, for a small club historically like Leicester City, they have a challenge. How far can they go with this present squad? Can they last the whole season?”
Ranieri’s immediate concern will be to get one back on the club which sacked him back in 2004.
And given the state of affairs at Stamford Bridge right now, the Italian could hardly wish for a better opportunity.
Chelsea’s catastrophic title defence took another wrong turn last week as lowly Bournemouth became the fourth side this season to leave west London with three points in tow.
The Blues have now lost five of their last eight Premier League games and lie in 14th place, only two points above the relegation zone.
The pressure is mounting on manager Jose Mourinho, with tales of unrest within the Chelsea dressing room becoming a regular feature in the tabloid columns.
At least one of his former charges is not surprised.
Adrian Mutu, who played under both Ranieri and Mourinho during his brief time at Chelsea, claimed in the British press this week that the self-styled ‘Special One’ had reached the end of the line.
“He has been a great coach in the past, but as a person, he is fake,” the Romanian forward said.
“He only looks after himself, and has no consideration for how his players are feeling and thinking. You could not go and talk to him.
“As a coach, he is finished. There is no way back for him. How do you come back from something like this?”
On the subject of Mourinho’s relationship with the playing group, Mutu added: “You can see now how many of his players look unhappy.
“Why? He is the reason. He cannot talk to players like they should be spoken to.
“The first thing he does is he goes to the biggest player in his team, and tries to make him angry.
“No matter who it was, John Terry, Frank Lampard, it is just what he does for fun.
“That was just his way of doing things, and he won’t change for anyone.”
Chelsea boosted their morale somewhat on Wednesday night by booking a spot in the Champions League knockout phase with a 2-0 win over Mourinho’s old club, Porto.
And while Leicester may be riding high, the Blues will take solace in the fact they have beaten the Foxes in each of their last eight meetings dating back to 2001.
Leicester City team news
Ranieri was known as the ‘Tinkerman’ during his time at Chelsea, but the former Juventus, Roma and Valencia coach hasn’t had to make many changes throughout the course of the season.
The Foxes have enjoyed good fortune on the injury front, with only two senior players currently out of action.
Matty James returned to competitive action recently with the Leicester development squad, having sat out since May with a ruptured ACL.
He is expected to be available for first-team duty early in the New Year, along with Belgian defender Ritchie de Laet (foot).
Possible Leicester XI: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Kante, Albrighton; Ulloa, Vardy.
Chelsea team news
The Blues have had key names missing here and there over the last few months, but Mourinho has no excuses this week with a full squad at his disposal.
The likes of John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Loic Remy, Ramires and Pedro have suffered minor strains and knocks throughout the campaign, but all are now fit for duty.
First-choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is also back in action after missing a few months with a knee injury.
Radamel Falcao is sidelined with muscular problem and will miss another week at least, but the Colombian striker would struggle to make the bench in any case.
Possible Chelsea XI: Courtois; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Ramires; Willian, Fabregas, Hazard; Diego Costa.
– Leicester to win ($3.20 at Bet365.com)
– Correct score 2-1 ($11 at William Hill)
– Both teams to score ($1.73 at www.CrownBet.com)
Chelsea have a dominant record against the Foxes in all competitions since the turn of the millennium, including two wins from two over Nigel Pearson’s side last season.
But if we’ve learned one thing this season, it’s that strength on paper means absolutely nothing.
The Blues’ back line is a shadow of its former self, which bodes poorly for their chances against the most free-scoring attack in the Premier League 2015-16.
The only thing counting against Leicester is an indifferent record when facing the traditional pace-setters, as their dates with Arsenal and Manchester United have resulted in a 5-2 defeat and a 1-1 draw respectively.
Leicester first goalscorer bets
Jamie Vardy ($6 at Sportsbet)
The England striker’s record-breaking scoring streak came to an end last weekend, as he failed to fire for the first time in 12 games in the win over Swansea. He is still the most dangerous forward in the Premier League, however, and is every chance to extend his lead atop the EPL scoring charts.
Riyad Mahrez ($8.50 at William Hill)
One of the reasons Vardy couldn’t score last week was because this guy was busy hogging the glory. The Algerian winger bagged all three goals against the Swans, thus taking his season tally to 10. As a penalty taker, he’s always a good bet to notch the opener.
Chelsea first goalscorer picks
Diego Costa ($7 at Sportsbet)
The Blues’ Brazilian hitman has spent more time this season trying to get his opponents booked than finding the back on the net. That kind of behaviour got him exiled from the first team, but he’s been recalled now and will want to prove his worth ASAP.
Willian ($11 at Sportsbet)
In an otherwise dreary campaign for the giants of west London, the former Shakhtar Donetsk star has shone as brightly as ever. He scored a beauty against Porto in midweek and has proven a huge threat with the dead ball all season.
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