Stoke City-Leicester City Preview

The Associated Press

There are still some words unspoken from Claudio Ranieri's sacking at Leicester City last month, in large part due to the manager's silence on the subject.

But with last year's Premier League manager of the year soon to make his first extensive public comments, his former team looks to make it five wins on the bounce in all competitions Saturday when they host Stoke City at King Power Stadium.

Though Leicester City (8-6-14) have put themselves in a less perilous position in the bid to avoid relegation, a return to the top flight is still not assured. The Foxes, though, have climbed to 15th in the table and are six points clear of the bottom three on the strength of a three-match win streak in league play.

Additionally, they are still in the Champions League picture, though a daunting two-leg quarterfinal starting April 12 against Spanish side Atletico Madrid looms in the distance. Ranieri was sacked the day after Leicester City's 2-1 loss at Sevilla in the round of 16, but caretaker Craig Shakespeare oversaw a 2-0 victory in the second leg that added another chapter to the unlikely story of last season's Premier League-winning campaign.

After a sabbatical of nearly six weeks with family and friends while traversing Europe to deal with the disappointment of his firing, Ranieri expressed more surprise than disappointment at his termination from the Midlands club.

"Thinking of Leicester, the first thing that comes to mind is the sense of surprise, even more than bitterness," he reportedly said according to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. "I have been through a lot in my long career, but never anything like this. It was a shock, but in the end these things are part of football."

But the bigger news came in his revelation that he will not broach the subject further until April 10, when he will be a pundit for Sky Sports during the Crystal Palace-Arsenal match. Even with the aforementioned comments and his often jovial demeanour as Leicester's dream world came undone during their title defence, the curiosity factor still is a draw for the man nicknamed "The Tinkerman."

"Until that day I will not talk," he said. "Because everything took place in England and it seems fitting to talk in England."

One could only wonder what Ranieri would say if asked about the turnaround of his team, which has looked full of vim and vigour in the last month. While the personnel have largely remained the same save the constant presence of Demarai Gray and the 100 percent health of keeper Kasper Schmeichel, the biggest difference has been the resurgent form of both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

Leicester's two pacesetters have found their mojo, with Vardy accounting for three goals and two assists during the four victories and Mahrez contributing two goals and an assist. Both players scored in the Foxes' 3-2 win at West Ham United prior to the international break, and Vardy continued his fine form with a goal as a substitute in England's 2-0 victory over Lithuania in a World Cup qualifier Sunday.

The win helped England move four points clear of Slovakia atop Group D at the halfway point of their Russia campaign and continued to put Vardy in the forefront of manager Gareth Southgate's mind as the process of phasing out Wayne Rooney continues for the Three Lions.

With Vardy and Mahrez back in form, it may be difficult for Stoke City (9-9-11) to claim just their second road win since the start of December. The Potters kept themselves comfortably mid-table with a win over Middlesbrough around claiming just one point from table-toppers Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in their four matches before the sojourn.

The reverse fixture at bet365 Stadium was a wild encounter that ended with Leicester City rallying to a 2-2 draw despite finishing with 10 men. Vardy was sent off in the 28th minute for a two-footed challenge, and after referee Craig Pawson awarded Stoke a penalty for a handball by Danny Simpson, the Foxes had a collective meltdown late in the first half and were hit with four additional yellow cards between the 38th minute and halftime.

Robert Huth picked up a sixth caution shortly after the interval, but whatever Ranieri said at halftime eventually worked as sub Leonardo Ulloa struck in the 73rd minute and Daniel Amartey nicked the point for the Foxes seven minutes later. And knowing how quickly Leicester can turn things around is not lost on goalkeeper Lee Grant.

"(Leicester City have) undoubtedly good players. You don't win the Premier League with a team that's not talented," he told Stoke's official website. "They've managed to put together a strong run of form, their key players are playing well for them.

"I think they've got the quality to finish higher up in the league than they are now but it's now up to us to upset that form."

Vardy had a goal in last season's corresponding fixture, a 3-0 romp in which Danny Drinkwater added a goal and an assist. Leicester City have scored seven goals in the last three games between the teams, earning a win and two draws in those contests.

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