Leicester v Manchester City Wednesday 26 December, 15:00
Pressure off Puel after Stamford Bridge surprise
For the second year in-a-row, Leicester City suffered defeat to Boxing Day's opponents in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup on penalties last Tuesday and the fans were understandably unhappy. The Foxes manager, Claude Puel, had received criticism 12 months ago for playing a weakened team but he still did the exact same thing this time around and it proved costly again.
Pep Guardiola gave a debut to 17-year-old defender, Eric Garcia, and his starting 11 also contained the promising Phil Foden, wantaway young striker, Brahim Diaz, Oleksandr Zinchenko, reserve keeper, Arijanet Muric, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Garcia - who were both returning from injuries.
Pep's men were on the wane when Leicester equalised late on and Foxes fans must have been wondering "What if?" after they'd lost on penalities again, 364 days after suffering the exact same fate. A stronger starting 11 could well have knocked the holders out and with Burton over two legs now standing between City and another Wembley final, Puel's critics were gifted more ammunition.
Rumours were rife that he'd be drinking in the last chance salon on the 29th when the Foxes take on Cardiff but that was assuming defeat at Chelsea on Saturday and another beating by the champions on Boxing Day. How quickly things change. Jamie Vardy scored the winner at Stamford Bridge and Puel now has some breathing space.
With the benefit of hindsight, defeat to Crystal Palace away and against Spurs at home in their two previous Premier League encounters doesn't look so bad now (Palace won at City on Saturday and Spurs battered Everton 6-2 on Sunday). All of a sudden, Leicester will go in to Wednesday's encounter full of pep.
City desperate to bounce back
Manchester City's 3-2 defeat to Palace on Saturday was a surprise but it had been coming. It had been the first time this season that the Citizens had begun a game without one of either David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne or Fernandinho and that slight lack of quality told.
Silva and De Bruyne receive the plaudits week after week but City fans know that Fernandinho is the player they miss the most. The veteran Brazilian midfielder is quite simply irreplaceable and John Stones just doesn't make for an able deputy.
Pep had played the centre-half in place of Fernandinho in midfield last week in the cup and he was adequate but against Palace, in the intensity of a Premier League tie, he was often on the backfoot and rarely played the ball forward. With the patient ball retainer, Ilkay Gundogan, in front of Stones, City struggled to penetrate and with the likes of Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker badly in need of a rest, and with yet another change to the defence, City weren't at their best again.
City have conceded in each of their last eight games in all competitions, lost two of their last three Premier League games and for the first time since the market opened, they're no longer odds-on to win the league, having already been matched at just 1.19. With Liverpool now four points clear and at home to Newcastle on Boxing Day, this can only be described as a crucial tie for Pep's men but can they bounce back?
Festive form points to an away win
Leicester were responsible for one of Pep's worst results as City manager, when they raced to a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes at the King Power Stadium two years ago. The game ended 4-2, with Vardy bagging a hattrick, but City are unbeaten against the Foxes in their five encounters since and they're looking for their fourth victory in-a-row against them in the Premier League.
City also have a vastly superior record when it comes to games on Boxing Day. The Citizens have won eight of their last ten (D1 L1) and they're seeking their fifth straight Boxing Day victory. In contrast, Leicester have lost all four Boxing Day encounters since they were promoted back to the top-flight in 2014-15.
The stats appear to favour the visitors but it's impossible to make a robust case for backing them at long odds-on after Saturday's defeat to Palace and Leicester's win at Chelsea. Fernandinho may well make a welcome return and I'd be amazed if De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero are on the bench again (as they were on Saturday) but even so, we're in the midst of the hardest period of the season and the champions look fatigued.
City by a single goal the value play
At just a shade of odds-on, Yes in the Both Teams to Score market looks fair given City's recent record of leaking at least one goal and six of the last seven games between the two in all competitions has seen both sides find the net. However, I'm not convinced it's a market to get involved in.
With Liverpool long odds-on to beat Newcastle, this is almost a must win match for Citynow and although predicting a Pep line-up is notoriously difficult, whether Fernandinho is back or not, the Stones in midfield experiment is highly likely to be temporarily suspended.
In all likelihood, the Englishman will drop back alongside Aymeric Laporte to re-establish City's most successful defensive partnership and they could just shut the Foxes out altogether. Stopping conceding is a big priority now and the stats suggests there might not be a hatful of goals between these two anyway.
Over is odds-on in the Over/Under 2.5 Goals market but so far this season only 38% of Leicester home games and 38% of City's away games have seen three goals or more scored. This could be a tight and cagey affair and Under 2.5 Goals looks the value there but I'm looking elsewhere for my only wager.
De Bruyne and Aguero will probably start and I can see the visitors having just too much for the home side but I don't envisage anything like a runaway success. City to win by one goal has been understandably cut by the Sportsbook from 13/5 to 12/5 but the Draw can be backed in theLeicester +1 market on the exchange at almost 3/1 and that looks a nice price.
Same Game Multi
If you fancy combining two or more scenarios to build a bet that pays handsomely, click on the Same Game Multi tab at the top of the Sportsbook market and pick two or more selections to build a wager. Kevin De Bruyne has scored in each of his last two visits to the King Power and he could easily get on the scoresheet again.
City to win and De Bruyne to score, which pays £4.31 for £1 stake, is one outcome worth considering but given he's opened the scoring in each of his last two visits, City to win and De Bruyne to score first, which pays £11.76 for £1 stake, may be a better option.