Saturday June 20th – 12.30pm on BT Sport
As a new feature for the rest of the 2019/20 fixtures, our match reporting team are writing preview of games, Colin Murrant kicks off….
Amongst all the current troubles in the world, football is back and fans everywhere have a chance to escape all of those woes for a few weeks at least. It will be surreal watching City on TV in an empty stadium with dubbed chanting but, for those of us in self isolation, the return of football brings something to look forward to on an otherwise Groundhog Day.
“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream” said Vincent van Gogh. Dealing with the dreaming first, The Foxes are in third place in the EPL and have a home tie in the FA Cup quarter final. The dreams are clear, clinching that Champions League spot for 2020/21 season and winning the Cup at Wembley: how painful if after all these years City finally (and hopefully) win the Cup for the first time and The Blue Army cannot be there to witness it.
The lack of certainty is beyond calculation, predictions on final tables have been made but these are based on the assumption that the season merely carries on where it left off. How is it possible to calculate the impact on individual players’ both mental attitude and physical wellbeing, their motivation playing in an empty stadium, some wanting away at the end of the season, etc.
Sides have major key players returning, Kane, Pogba and Rashford to name but three; Leicester have lost Ricardo but will have a rejuvenated Vardy who leads the chase for the golden boot with 19 goals, 2 ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The only certainty is that Liverpool will win the title, the first side to win it in June, beyond that everything is up for grabs. With nine games to go this is a mini season about to start with some teams gaining momentum following the enforced break whilst others will not recover form and drift away.
Just nine games remaining, exactly the number that were left when City kick-started the great escape in 2014/15. How ironic then that Nigel Pearson should be manager of City’s first opponents Watford, a team that looked doomed to relegation before he took over as the Hornets fourth manager this season following Gracia, Sanchez Flores and Mullins.
Watford picking up 5 wins and 4 draws during Pearson’s 15 matches in charge, their last home match being a 3-0 demolition of Liverpool. Whether Watford escape the drop is a key question, at the moment they are in seventeenth place one ahead of Bournemouth but on level points with a better goal difference of one: Villa in Nineteenth have a game in hand and could leapfrog both. Both Villa and Bournemouth have easing injury problems.
Recent encounters between City and Watford have tended to go the way of the home side, Leicester winning this season at the King Power 2-0 on the 4th of December. City’s last victory, and only Premier League victory, at Vicarage Road being a single goal triumph in the TItle winning season, courtesy of a wonderful Mahrez goal.
In terms of personnel, Watford have a lot of injury doubts: Daryl Janmaat (knee), Jose Holebas (foot fracture), Gerard Deulofeu (knee) and Isaac Success (hamstring) are likely to be absent. Talisman Troy Deeney is available although he returned to training late as did Adrian Mariappa who had to self-isolate having tested positive for Covid-19.
One player who has come on to the scene for Watford this year is Ismaïla Sarr, the Sengal flyer was unstoppable against Liverpool scoring twice including a superb chip over the goalkeeper. Sarr also scored against Brentford in a friendly on Saturday 13th June at Vicarage Road as Watford ran out 2-0 winners, Étienne Capoue scoring the other goal. Latest matches suggest Sarr may be adapting to life in the Premier League and may be the one to watch, his overall season statistics are less impressive having scored just 5 times in 19 matches.
From City’s point of view, Ricardo Pereira will miss the game which will be a massive loss, but that gives James Justin a wonderful opportunity: he is the logical replacement at right back but Hamza Choudhury has also played in that position. City have had an indifferent 2020 although wins against Birmingham in the FA Cup, and the 4-0 PL demolition of Aston Villa suggested form was returning. Vardy looked back to his hungry best against Villa, sharing the goals with the in-form Harvey Barnes.
The composition of the midfield is more difficult to predict given the likely absence of Ayoze Perez. Availability permitting, Ndidi, Maddison and Barnes seem certainties with probably Albrighton and Praet, although Iheanacho may provide an option alongside Vardy.
The next few weeks for Foxes’ fans will be tense with so much at stake. During the last months of the Title winning season it was similarly nerve racking, fans wanted the next match to come as quickly as the last game finished. The number of fixtures over the next five weeks almost bring this to reality. And maybe, just maybe, those Starry, Starry nights will have us all dreaming with Vincent.
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation