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Southampton-Leicester City Preview
For a man who has two of the biggest league victories of the season over Big Six sides, Leicester City manager Claude Puel appears to be treading on thin ice.
The embattled Foxes boss looks to keep the Midlands side atop the pack for seventh on Saturday when they host Puel's former club Southampton at King Power Stadium.
Leicester City (9-4-8) are currently "the best of the rest" in the Premier League on 31 points, seven behind resurgent Manchester United. Seventh place carries the potential of a Europa League qualifying berth based on Carabao Cup and FA Cup results, but supporters were hoping for a deep run in the FA Cup after a respectable quarterfinal exit on penalties in the Carabao Cup versus current holders Manchester City.
Those hopes, however, were dashed with a shocking 2-1 loss at League Two side Newport County on Sunday, a side 74 places below the Foxes in the English football pyramid. Marc Albrighton handled a cross on 85 minutes that allowed Newport's Under-16 coach, Padraig Amond, to slot home the winning penalty.
"A lot of disappointment and frustration," Puel told The Times after making seven changes to the first XI that powered a 1-0 win over Everton to ring in 2019. "But it's a cup game and we didn't find the solution to score more goals. We have had a good team with eight who had played winning the title with Leicester. I don't want to look for excuses."
Puel's man management has left him open to criticism that has canceled out wins over Manchester City and Chelsea. He and top striker Jamie Vardy - who did not even make the trip to Wales - have not seen eye to eye on multiple occasions this term, and leaving midfielder James Maddison on the bench until after intermission was another talking point in the Midlands.
"The good thing about football is that you get the chance to put it right as quickly as possible," Albrighton told Leicester City's official website. "We'll aim to do that. We're at home, so it makes it even better for us, we've got the crowd behind us and we'll look to start well in the game and put last week to bed.
"We've had two close games against Southampton (this season). I know they're probably a different task now with a new manager. They play differently and they seem to be playing with a lot more confidence."
Southampton (3-7-11) are now three managers removed from Puel, who guided them to an eighth-place finish and a League Cup final in his lone season in charge in 2016-17. Mark Hughes was barely successful in keeping the Saints above the drop last term after replacing Mauricio Pellegrino, and now Ralph Hasenhuttl is trying to do the same after a miserable start this season under Hughes.
Southampton have improved since the German took over, but they did themselves no favours in the FA Cup on Saturday, having been held to a 2-2 draw at Derby County that will result in a third-round replay at St Mary's. Nathan Redmond continued his purple patch of scoring with a brace on either side of halftime, but Tom Lawrence set up a goal and scored a second for Frank Lampard's side in a three-minute span of the second half to force the replay.
The match did allow Hasenhuttl a chance to observe more of Southampton's younger players, with midfielder Callum Slattery making his senior team debut.
"I think he won a lot of balls from this position and also has the technique to look in front and give the last pass. I was happy with his performance and he showed he is always an alternative for me," Hasenhuttl noted to the club's official website about the 19-year-old.
Keeper Angus Gunn could be in line for a third consecutive start in all competitions after turning in a clean sheet in his first league start - a 0-0 draw versus Chelsea in which the 22-year-old made a pair of quality saves to deny Eden Hazard.
Up front, Hasenhuttl will be without top-choice striker Danny Ings through injury and Charlie Austin through suspension, with the forward being given a two-match ban by the FA for making an insulting gesture in Southampton's 3-1 loss to Manchester City on Dec. 30. Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will serve the last of his three-match ban for a straight red card given late in that contest.
Austin will miss this match and the replay against Derby County next Wednesday. The absence of Ings and Austin puts more pressure on Redmond to continue producing. He has four goals and two assists in his last six matches across all competitions.
Leicester City ran out 2-1 winners in the reverse fixture at St Mary's in August, with Harry Maguire's header in stoppage time cruelly denying 10-man Southampton a point. Demarai Gray and Ryan Bertrand traded goals four minutes apart early in the second half, and the Saints played a man down after 77 minutes after Hojbjerg received a second booking.
The teams also played to a scoreless draw in the round of 16 in the Carabao Cup before Leicester advanced on penalties after an 85th-minute goal by Southampton's Steven Davis was overturned by VAR for a handball on Redmond in the buildup.
The Foxes have not done the double over Southampton in the Premier League since 1999-2000.
Updated January 10, 2019