Sunderland v Leicester
Match Odds: Sunderland [2.8], Leicester [2.86], The Draw [3.35].
This is a proper relegation battle – 16th against 15th in the penultimate game of the season. A win for either side, combined with a Hull defeat at Tottenham, would see the victorious side avoid the drop.
While both have struggled over the course of the season, these two sides are in surprisingly good form. Leicester, unbelievably, have collected more points than any other team in the division over the past seven games (18), while Sunderland have won their last two.
The home side haven’t won three in a row since this stage last season, when they completed a great escape under Gus Poyet. Clearly, they know how to time their runs of form – but, as they say, the formbook goes out of the window in games like this.
In truth, Sunderland’s 2-0 victory over Everton last weekend was somewhat fortunate – both their goals were extremely lucky. Yet Dick Advocaat‘s side can be proud of their clean sheet, and the Dutch manager is unlikely to make sweeping changes for this game.
That means he’ll continue with a 4-3-3 system featuring three strikers spread across the width of the pitch. Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham, who might have expected to form a little-and-large partnership, are instead being asked to stay out wide, tracking opposition full-backs when required, with Danny Graham remaining in the centre-forward role all three would prefer.
Defoe and Wickham have performed their defensive duties manfully so far, although their task could be even more difficult this weekend, considering Nigel Pearson is likely to continue with a 3-5-2 system. This means Defoe and Wickham will be tracking wing-backs rather than full-backs, which will be tricky considering both Marc Albrighton and Jeffrey Schlupp have been bursting forward energetically in recent weeks.
Graham, meanwhile, will be battling up against three centre-backs on his own for long periods, and will need to come short and link play, or risk being isolated.
Leicester have injury problems in the centre of midfield, with Andy King and Matty James both struggling, so Danny Drinkwater and Esteban Cambiasso will start. This could be an area where Sunderland outplay the visitors – Jordi Gomez and Sebastian Larsson have been performing well in recent weeks and can use the ball intelligently.
The key midfield battle, though, is between Lee Cattermole and Riyad Mahrez.
The Algerian has been performing solidly this season without contributing quite enough in the final third, but his two goals in last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Southampton suggests he’s starting to take more responsibility in this central position. He’s a tricky dribbler, while Cattermole is the Premier League’s most-booked player this season – it makes sense to back another at anything as low as [3.0].
Another on-form Leicester attacker is Jamie Vardy, with three goals and four assists in his last eight games, although it remains to be seen who he’ll be partnered by. Leonardo Ulloa is an injury doubt, but so is his understudy David Nugent – so the Argentine will probably get the nod. Still, Sunderland will prefer facing him to the energetic, irritating threat of Vardy, who seems exactly the type of player to score a crucial goal in a relegation scrap like this.
You won’t find many more evenly balanced matches than the one we have here – Sunderland are trading at around [2.8], Leicester a shade higher at [2.86].
The away side look the better bet to me; their resurgence has arrived because they’ve started playing genuinely good football, whereas Sunderland have been a touch fortunate against sides playing with little motivation. I’ll back the away team to win.
Back Lee Cattermole to be shown a card @ [3.0]Back Leicester to Win @ [2.86]
The Betfair Trader’s View: Alan Thompson
The win last week at Goodison Park for Sunderland was huge, especially when you consider their last two games are away at Arsenal and Chelsea. Prior to last week, I thought this home game against Leicester was possibly the Black Cats’ only realistic chance of gaining the points required to stay in the Premier League. But trying to predict anything in this relegation battle has been difficult to say the least.
Leicester City have now won six of their last seven starts in the Premier League, their only defeat in that sequence coming at the King Power Stadium against the champions (1-3) and yet they are still not safe.
No team has drawn as many games as Sunderland (15) this season and because of the circumstances, that outcome at [3.35] requires some serious consideration, a draw would put Leicester safe and Sunderland three points clear of Hull (should The Tigers lose at Spurs) – you can imagine if the news from White Hart Lane filters through that Hull are losing then neither side might be too keen on taking any unnecessary risks.
With Sunderland’s last two extremely difficult away games you feel the need for them to get something from the game is much more critical than Leicester’s, who will face QPR at home on the final day. However, the form The Foxes are in and the fact that Sunderland have been well beaten recently at home to Aston Villa (0-4) and Crystal Palace (1-4), as well as losing to Hull City and QPR at the Stadium of Light earlier in the campaign doesn’t fill me with any confidence to back the home side.
The run that Leicester are on and the fact that they are averaging over two goals per game from their last eight starts, I can’t see them losing this so I will be backing Leicester in the Draw No Bet market at [2.0].