Claudio Ranieri is anticipating “a battle” when Leicester City take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
The Premier League leaders are unbeaten since their 2-1 loss to Arsenal in February and have won five of their last six matches – all by a 1-0 scoreline.
Leicester know that a victory over Sam Allardyce’s side would give them a 10-point cushion over Tottenham before Spurs host Manchester United later in the day, while third-placed Arsenal face a difficult trip to Champions League chasers West Ham on Saturday.
But Ranieri – who saw his side win 4-2 against Sunderland at home on the opening day of the season – has warned of the dangers of facing a team who are fighting for points in their bid for survival.
“What’s important is our performance because Sunderland are desperate and it will be a big battle,” he said. “Sometimes there can be pretty football, but I’m expecting a battle.
“I remember we won 4-2 but Sunderland played well and had chances. They have a lot of good players.”
Sunderland have won just one of their last 10 league matches and are four points behind 17th-placed Norwich City, though they still have a game in hand.
Allardyce’s side have drawn four games in a row to give themselves some hope, but the manager is looking for that extra stroke of luck in front of their “astounding” fans in order to haul themselves to safety.
“I’m looking for a bit of good fortune, to be honest,” he said. “We need to have the attitude of can we be more clinical in front of goal, first and foremost, and keep up the clean sheets.
“It’s astounding that so many people come to the stadium every game to support us and have stayed with us all the way.”
Ranieri confirmed on Friday that Jeffrey Schlupp will be available following a knee injury, meaning Leicester boast a clean bill of health for the trip north. Sunderland are expected to be missing Duncan Watmore (ankle).
A 0-0 draw in the same fixture in May 2015 guaranteed Leicester’s unlikely Premier League survival last season.
Key Opta Stats:
– Leicester City have scored just once in five Premier League visits to Sunderland (D3 L2).
– Leicester have never kept five consecutive clean sheets in the top-flight, last keeping five in 1979-80 in the second tier when they kept six in a row.
– Claudio Ranieri has used the same starting line-up in 11 different top-flight games this season; no other starting line-up (from any side) has appeared more than five times.
– Sam Allardyce has averaged just 1.04 points per game with Sunderland this season, his lowest average return from a single Premier League campaign.
– Leicester’s last four top-flight games have all ended in 1-0 wins; only once before has a team registered five consecutive Premier League 1-0 wins (Everton in November 2002).