The relegation battle is fascinating going into the final two weeks of the Premier League season and that has all been down to the excellent resurgence of Leicester City. Both the Foxes and Sunderland have climbed above Newcastle and Hull in recent weeks and they go into this weekend knowing a victory will secure their Premier League status. These two sides have been in good form over the past few weeks as they have both been picking up points regularly.
As they are both currently outside of the drop zone, this weekend is crucial as it would be a huge blow to fall back into the bottom three with only one week left of the season. As Newcastle play relegated QPR and Hull travel to a Tottenham side already on holiday, these two teams will know the importance of not losing at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland have become renowned for their ability to fight at the end of the season and win big games when it matters. They have been very poor this season, and perhaps have been fortuitous in their wins over Southampton and Everton, but they have worked hard and become hard to beat since Dick Advocaat took the reigns on a temporary basis. The Dutchman is likely to depart at the end of the season, but he has been key in turning the club around. He has turned Danny Graham’s Sunderland career on its head and the striker has become a vital part of the side’s survival hopes. Advocaat hasn’t tried to play good football because he knows he doesn’t have the players to do so. However, he has organised the defence well and has brought out the fight and determination in the Sunderland players and that is evident on the pitch.
Meanwhile, Leicester have been a machine in recent weeks, picking up an incredible 18 points in their last 7 games, with the only team managing to beat them being Chelsea. Many thought Leciester were doomed for relegation in March, but their turnaround has been amazing to watch, as it has been based on attacking football, with Leonardo Ulloa and Jamie Vardy playing key parts. Nigel Pearson has attracted controversy this season at times, yet he has managed his side well and deserves huge credit for the turnaround at Leicester. They are only three points above the drop zone, however they have the best goal difference in the bottom six and they have also scored the most goals. If Leicester do survive as looks likely at the moment, they have to take this form into next season and secure themselves as a Premier League club once again.
In November, the two sides battled out a 0-0 draw and it was a match that reflected both sides as a relegation candidate with a lot of more attacking play on show. The last time these two sides met in the league at the Stadium of Light was in 2006 in the Championship. On that occasion, the sides played out a 1-1 draw The teams looked very different on that occasion with Matty Fryatt scoring for the visitors before Tobias Hysen equalised for the Black Cats.
Sunderland have only conceded more than one goal in one of their last six matches. Although on that occasion Crystal Palace scored four against them. They have kept two clean sheets over those six matches.
No side has picked up more points than Leicester City in their last seven games. They have managed to pick up 18 points, while champions Chelsea have picked up one less over the period.
Lee Cattermole has a reputation for being a player who struggles with discipline, but his obvious quality is sometimes overlooked. Regular watchers of Sunderland will tell you that Cattermole should be considered for England selection and that he would add defensive stability to the national side. Although an England call looks unlikely due to his unfashionable reputation, he has played a huge part in Sunderland’s recent form and he leads from the front with the side playing very much in Cattermole’s identity. Sunderland have been hard working in recent weeks and they have put everything on the line to save the club’s Premier League status. The 27 year old has been consistent this season, with a passing accuracy above 80%, while he makes a total of 5 interceptions and tackles per game, highlighting his importance in the middle of the park. His disciplinary problems haven’t totally disappeared as Cattermole has picked up 13 yellow cards, which is more than any other player in the league, but he hasn’t been sent off on any occasion this season. He will be key on Saturday as Leicester play with high intensity and Cattermole will need to be at his best to stop their attack from making an impact.
Leicester’s turnaround has received widespread praise in the media, with one man taking the majority of the headlines, and that is Jamie Vardy. He has scored some crucial goals over the run in and his ability to create for Ulloa has also been pivotal to Leicester’s impressive form. Vardy runs the channels all game and he is a nightmare to play against, he showed that against Newcastle as his runs were the cause of both red cards. After rising up the leagues from non-league, many had doubts about the forward’s ability to make an impact in the top flight, but he has had a very good first season in the Premier League. Over the last seven matches, Vardy has two goals and three assists, but his contribution has been much more than that, as he has caused opposition defences lots of problems, while his link up play has been brilliant to watch. In a season in which Danny Ings and Charlie Austin have taken the Premier League by storm, Vardy’s impact has been more subtle, but he has showed that there is talent in the Football League.
Jack Rodwell and captain John O’Shea could return this weekend to play in this relegation six pointer. Meanwhile, Emanuele Giaccherini and Ricky Alvarez are likely to miss the rest of the season.
Leicester could be boosted by the returns of David Nugent and Andy King who have been missing in recent weeks. However, Matty James is unlikely to feature in the final two matches of the season.
I expect both teams to play with high intensity and there will be lots of tackles going in as both teams try to secure their Premier League status this weekend. Leicester have been excellent going forward and they will try and start quickly to put Sunderland on the back form, who are not playing with as much confidence as the visitors. Sunderland have an ability to grind out results late in the season and they have shown this in the last few Premier League seasons. I expect both teams to score, but I think the match will finish in a draw, which should be just enough to secure both teams in the division.
Sunderland 1-1 Leicester City