Almost 5,000 Derby fans make the short trip down to the King Power to see their side face Premier League champions Leicester City in the FA Cup’s only Fourth Round replay.
When the two sides met ten days ago at Pride Park they couldn’t be separated, Derby came from behind to take a 2-1 lead before Leicester captain Wes Morgan snatched a late equaliser for the Foxes in what was described as a classic cup tie. The winners of the replay will travel to The Den where they will face League One side Millwall for a place in the FA Cup Quarter Finals.
Last season, Leicester shocked the world as they went from being favourites for relegation to becoming the champions of England. This season however, Claudio Ranieri’s side sit 16th in the league just one point above the relegation zone. Everything that went well for them last season has gone the exact opposite this, the Foxes have scored just 24 goals compared to the 68 they scored last season and their defence that was so solid has already conceded 41 goals, five more than it did in the whole of the last campaign. This has inevitably piled the pressure onto Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri who’s side come into the fixture having won just two of their last 11 in all competitions. Today the Leicester board reiterated its support for Ranieri, but is this out of loyalty rather than the belief that he can save a rapidly sinking ship?
Leicester’s main man is Algerian winger and 2016 Football Writers Player of the year Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian burst onto the Premier League scene last season, scoring 17 goals and assisting 10 in 39 appearances (all competitions). This time round however, he’s had a frustrating time in front of goal, scoring or assisting just 11 goals in 29 appearances – though he’s been struggling recently, Mahrez will still be a healthy threat for the Foxes. Another player who’s been failing to hit the heights this season is Jamie Vardy. The 30 year old rose to stardom last season when he scored 24 goals and assisted 8 in 38 league and cup appearances, completing his incredible journey from non league to the Champions League. This season, Vardy’s form has diminished with the now misfiring frontman scoring just six goals in 29 appearances, furthermore, Vardy hasn’t scored since a clinical hat-rick against Manchester City in early October. One other player the Rams must keep a close eye on is 20 year old winger and England under 21 international Demarai Gray, the £4 million youngsters pace caused Derby problems in the match at Pride Park in which he hit the post before creating a quick flurry of Leicester chances.
Derby come into the game on a mixed run of form having lost three of their previous seven games after a run of fifteen games in which they lost just once. Like Leicester, Derby have struggled in front of goal this season, scoring just 36 goals in 33 matches in all competitions. Also, the Rams come into the match having lost four of their last ten away matches, winning five and drawing one. This being said, the Rams have lost just four of their nineteen games since Steve McClaren’s return to the East Midlands.
A key player in the last fixture between these two was Rams keeper Scott Carson who made some brilliant saves when his side was in front. This season, Carson has kept 15 clean sheets in 29 league games and conceded just 22 goals, making Derby the best side defensively in the second tier. Another Derby player who could play a vital role is Abdoul Camara. The pacey and skilful winger has started just four games since signing from French side Angers last January but has shown his quality over the last few games, especially when coming on as a late impact sub against Leicester and Newcastle. The most likely match winner for Derby, as almost every Rams fan will know, is Tom Ince. The winger has scored ten times since McClaren’s return to Pride Park and has single handily won games for his side this season.
Both managers have said they will make changes, some of Derby’s being forced. Leicester may be without striker Islam Slimani, while 33 year old captain Wes Morgan will be rested. Derby will be midfielder without Will Hughes. Bradley Johnson and Craig Bryson are doubts after injuries in Saturday’s defeat to Newcastle. Potentially returning to the Derby side are left back Max Lowe and former Leicester striker David Nugent who has played just 22 minutes since signing from Middlesbrough almost a month ago.
Due to how close the first fixture was, I think this will go the distance with the Premier League Champions’ quality prevailing. If Derby get the first goal there is every chance that they could progress to the next round.
Come on you Rams!