Mark Hughes will not be taking Stoke City’s visit to the King Power Stadium to face Leicester City lightly, despite a dip in form for Claudio Ranieri’s side.
Leicester only trail Premier League leaders Arsenal on goal difference, but have managed just one victory from their last five top-flight fixtures.
A combined 28 league goals from Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have been pivotal to their strong campaign so far, but neither player has scored or provided an assist since the 3-2 win at Everton on December 19.
However, Hughes insists Leicester must be treated with respect as they are title challengers on merit, though he is confident of Stoke’s chances after seeing his side hold Arsenal to a 0-0 draw on Sunday.
“Leicester have probably surprised themselves this season to be honest. In fairness, it is a continuation of what they did last season,” the Stoke manager said.
“I wouldn’t suggest for one moment that Leicester are on the slide. They are a very good team who are where they are on merit.
“We are enjoying what we are producing at the moment. We are in decent shape and are collecting a good amount of points.
“Five of the next six matches are away from home so this is a big period for us. It will be challenging but we are looking forward to it.”
The two sides drew 2-2 in their first encounter of the season back in September, when Leicester came from two goals down to salvage a point.
Ranieri expects another difficult meeting on Saturday, despite seeing his team lose just one of their last 13 home matches in the Premier League.
“This is another tough match. I remember the first match against Stoke well. They are in good condition and they play well,” said the Italian.
“My players know what they have to do during the match. I just have to say, ‘stay calm’. We must make the right choices.”
Xherdan Shaqiri (hamstring) returned to training on Thursday and Hughes is hopeful of his return for Saturday, while Marko Arnautovic is expected to feature despite carrying a hamstring problem.
Shay Given (knee) is nearing a return to fitness, but Geoff Cameron (ankle) will not be available for Stoke.
Jamie Vardy came off the bench to feature in Leicester’s FA Cup defeat to Tottenham on Wednesday as he continues his return from a groin injury. Ritchie De Laet is a doubt after sustaining a groin problem in the warm-up prior to the midweek third-round replay.
Key Opta stats:
– Stoke City have kept five clean sheets in their last eight Premier League away trips.
– Leicester City have won nine penalties in the Premier League this season – the record in a single Premier League campaign is 13, set by Crystal Palace in 2004-05.
– Bojan has opened the scoring in each of the last two Premier League meetings between Leicester and Stoke City.
– Leicester City have the lowest overall passing accuracy (69.6%) and passing accuracy in the opposition half (62.6%) so far in the 2015-16 Premier League.
– No side has seen as few goals scored in their Premier League games so far in 2015-16 than Stoke City (46).
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