While the champions are now favourites to defend their crown after a scintillating streak since early November, their inconsistent visitors arrive at the Etihad Stadium having dramatically lost out in the EFL Cup quarter-finals.
Amid an incredible run which shows no sign of ending, Manchester City have not only established a three-point Premier League lead, but also registered 11 goals without reply in their two most recent outings.
After surviving a dubious penalty call to go on and record a 4-0 win over lowly Newcastle United, they posted their third successive clean sheet last weekend, maintaining the best defensive record in the division, having conceded just nine goals.
Four different goalscorers at St James’ Park – plus six names on the scoresheet in the 7-0 victory against Leeds a few days earlier – demonstrates the wealth of attacking talent available to Pep Guardiola, who has also seen his side qualify for a place in the Champions League’s last 16.
Despite the summer departure of record goalscorer Sergio Aguero and the forthcoming transfer of Ferran Torres to the same destination, Guardiola insists that no signings are required during the winter window, and recent events certainly support his case.
City have scored 24 times since they last failed to win in the league, back in late October, and sit top of the Premier League at Christmas for only the third time – on both previous occasions they went on to be champions.
Guardiola’s men also secured their 34th league victory of 2021 by beating Newcastle, setting a new record for the most top-flight wins by any team in a calendar year, so are well placed to tackle a side recovering from cup heartbreak for the second time in a month.
Having been eliminated from the Europa League earlier in December when losing 3-2 to group rivals Napoli, more woe followed on Wednesday night as Leicester missed out on a place in the EFL Cup semi-finals by losing on penalties at Anfield.
After establishing a 3-1 lead by just after the half-hour mark, the Foxes seemed set to seal a place in the final four, but Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino took the contest to penalties when he fired a late equaliser past Kasper Schmeichel. Almost inevitably, Leicester then went out of the cup in a dramatic spot-kick shootout, with Ryan Bertrand‘s miss proving pivotal.
Currently ninth in the Premier League table, the season as a whole has not been going to plan for the East Midlands side, who had won just one of their previous six games before beating Newcastle last time out in the top flight.
Perhaps hoping that a 4-0 win over the Magpies would kickstart an underwhelming campaign, Brendan Rodgers was then hit by the postponement of games against Tottenham and Everton, due to the impact of COVID-19.
Not only must they now get themselves up off the canvas in short order before facing the irrepressible champions, but Leicester will travel to the North-West knowing that away from home this season their only league wins have come against newly-promoted clubs. They have also lost eight of their last 10 meetings with Manchester City – including a 1-0 defeat earlier this term.
Given the difficulties of their top-flight contemporaries at the moment, City appear to be relatively unscathed by injury or illness, with only two men expected to miss out on Leicester’s visit.
Kyle Walker could be sidelined once again, having missed the wins over Leeds and Newcastle last week, while Ferran Torres – who is still recovering from a foot injury – remains out of commission, with the Spain forward close to completing his move to Barcelona.
Though Pep Guardiola likes to rotate his resources, the hosts could therefore be more or less unchanged, with Riyad Mahrez – who scored his 50th Premier League goal last time out – joining Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus in attack.
Leicester, meanwhile, have not been so fortunate in evading COVID-19, as players including Ayoze Perez, Ademola Lookman, Kelechi Iheanacho and Jannik Vestergaard have all recently tested positive – though they were all back on the bench in midweek.
Injuries to both Jonny Evans (hamstring) and Wesley Fofana (ankle) mean that Brendan Rodgers could opt to field Wilfred Ndidi in the back four again, particularly if Vestergaard requires more time to recover and Caglar Soyuncu is ruled out.
The Foxes’ Turkish centre-back came off early against Liverpool, and there is concern that he may have aggravated a hamstring problem he has only just returned from. So at perhaps the worst possible time – given City’s goalscoring prowess – Leicester are set to be seriously depleted in defence.
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Cancelo, Dias, Laporte, Zinchenko; Gundogan, Rodri, De Bruyne; Mahrez, Sterling, Jesus
Leicester City possible starting lineup:
Schmeichel; Castagne, Vestergaard, Ndidi, Thomas; Dewsbury-Hall, Tielemans, Soumare; Maddison, Vardy, Barnes