Looking to stay at arm’s length from the race for the fourth and final Champions League spot, Leicester City face a tricky challenge Friday when they face Wolverhampton at Molineux.
The Foxes (15-4-6) are closer to second than they are fourth with 13 matches remaining, lurking two points behind two-time champions Manchester City and eight clear of fourth-place Chelsea. The midseason break may have come at an opportune time for Brendan Rodgers’ side, having followed up their second-leg loss to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup semifinals with a 2-2 draw at home versus the Pensioners on Feb. 1.
Having given the players a chance to enjoy themselves with their families and away from the training grounds, Rodgers feels the time off has done well to recharge batteries for the stretch run that also includes an upcoming fifth-round FA Cup match versus Birmingham City on March 4.
“My decision was [based on the fact that] the players see enough of each other, every day for large parts of the season,” Rodgers explained to the team’s official website. “There are parts of the season when you’ll take them away, but the choice was to give them a total break with their families.
“It was a case of allowing them to go away to spend time with their family because we’re very much in each other’s pockets for most of the year.”
Despite the time off, Rodgers noted midfielder Wilfried Ndidi is a doubt for this contest after perhaps coming back too quickly from his knee surgery, but veteran centre back Wes Morgan should be available for selection. Late deadline signing Ryan Bennett – on loan from Wolverhampton until the end of the season — cannot feature in this match per league rules facing a parent club while on loan.
Despite losing their last contest outside King Power Stadium in league play, Leicester City have been a formidable outfit on the road, claiming seven victories and 22 of a possible 36 points while conceding just 12 goals in as many matches.
Jamie Vardy, who has gone seven games without a goal in all competitions but still leads the Premier League Golden Boot race with 17, has failed to find the back of the net in six career matchups with Wolverhampton.
Wolves (8-11-6), who will resume their Europa League campaign next week with a first-leg Round of 32 tie versus Spanish side Espanyol at home next Thursday, can vault from ninth to provisionally sixth by claiming the full three points in this contest while moving within three points of Chelsea for fourth.
Coach Nuno Espirito Santo likely also welcomed the break considering his team had gone 1-2-3 in their last six league matches. They followed up a tough loss to champions-elect Liverpool with a scoreless tie at Old Trafford versus Manchester United last fortnight, which also marked the fourth time in their last eight matches they failed to score a goal.
But it may be the return of centre back Willy Boly that proves most crucial for Wolverhampton’s Europa League hopes in addition to finishing high enough in the table for a second straight season of play on the continent. Boly made his return in the draw against United, seamlessly reuniting with fellow centre back and talisman Conor Coady in helping Wolves record their first clean sheet in league play since blanking West Ham United 2-0 on Dec. 4.
“We said when he got injured how big a miss he would be,” Coady told The Express and Star. “He slotted straight back in and is a fantastic footballer. He is a brilliant person too to move forward in the team. You saw what he did on Saturday.
“He did exactly what he did before he got injured. He is a fantastic person to come back in.
“It’s not an easy game to come into either. He was brilliant and he does that every single game – you know what you are going to get from him. He has been a big miss since he has been injured, so to have him back is a huge thing for this football club.”
Winger Adama Traore, who has come on in recent months, is expected to play after getting treatment for a separated shoulder suffered in the draw versus United. Traore, who left the game due to a calf injury suffered later in the contest, has three assists in his last three matches and shares the team lead with eight in all competitions.
The teams opened the season with a cagey scoreless draw at King Power in August, with Leander Dendoncker’s goal in the second half chalked off after VAR adjudged the ball hit Boly in the arm in the buildup to the strike. The teams combined for just three shots on target, with Leicester getting their only shot on frame in the 83rd minute.
The teams have played to five draws in their last 10 contests in all competitions, and Wolverhampton is 3-2-0 at Molineux versus the Foxes.