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Preview: Watford vs. Leicester City - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Premier League clash between Watford and Leicester City, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

The first Saturday of Premier League football for more than three months begins with Watford manager Nigel Pearson welcoming former club Leicester City to Vicarage Road in a 12.30pm kickoff.

The Hornets go into the match with only goal difference keeping them out of the relegation zone, whereas Leicester are flying high in third and look destined to qualify for next season's Champions League.


Match preview

Watford manager Nigel Pearson pictured on January 12, 2020© Reuters

Pearson was largely credited for building the foundations of Leicester's greatest-ever season, saving them from relegation the campaign before they won the Premier League title in the most remarkable fashion under his successor Claudio Ranieri.

The second leg of that achievement is unlikely to ever be repeated, but once again Pearson has a rescue job on his hands at Watford as he prepares to welcome his former employers.

The battle at the bottom could barely be tighter; Watford are only out of the relegation zone by virtue of a goal difference one better than Bournemouth's, while 16th-placed West Ham United are also level on 27 points.

The Hornets are at least in contention to survive, though, which can be credited to a vast improvement under Pearson.

When the surprise managerial choice took over, Watford were rooted to the bottom of the table with only one win in their opening 16 games and a six-point gap to safety already, and after such a poor start they would no doubt be happy with a 17th-placed finish this term.

Watford's Ismaila Sarr celebrates scoring their first goal on February 29, 2020© Reuters

Pearson's honeymoon period did seem to have ended by the time of lockdown, though; after a run of seven games without defeat across all competitions, Watford lost five and won just one of their seven outings immediately before play was suspended.

The victory was an unforgettable one, producing one of the biggest shocks in Premier League history by overcoming the previously-unbeaten champions-elect Liverpool in style in what was their last home game.

However, it is consistency which keep teams in the Premier League and a 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace one week after the high of beating Liverpool brought them crashing back down to earth.

That most recent result was the 13th different Premier League game in which Watford have failed to score this season - the most in the top flight - although that, like most other elements of their form, has also improved since Pearson's arrival and they have not yet gone back-to-back games without finding the net under him.

One of the most impressive statistics of Watford under Pearson surrounds their home form, with only Liverpool winning more points in front of their own fans since he took charge of his first game at Vicarage Road shortly before Christmas.

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers pictured in December 2019© Reuters

The Hornets have already beaten three top-six teams in their six home league games under Pearson, losing only once in that time, and they also boast an impressive record against Leicester at Vicarage Road with three successive wins.

However, home advantage is expected to be lessened with matches being played behind closed doors, which will come as welcome news for a Leicester side that had failed to win any of their last three on the road before lockdown.

Indeed, the break arguably came at a good time for the Foxes, who had only won one of their last five league games and had seen their lead over Chelsea and Manchester United begin to shrink.

Leicester remain eight points clear of fifth-placed Man United, though, and did return to winning ways in style in the final Premier League game before play was suspended, thrashing Aston Villa 4-0.

Brendan Rodgers's side could therefore record back-to-back league wins for the first time this calendar year should they beat Watford.

The Foxes will be deserved favourites to do just that considering they have scored more goals away from home alone than Watford have home and away this season, while also boasting one of the best defensive records in the division.

Watford Premier League form: LLDLWL
Watford form (all competitions): LLDLWL

Leicester Premier League form: WDDLLW
Leicester form (all competitions): DDLLWW


Team News

Watford's Gerard Deulofeu receives medical attention after sustaining an injury on February 29, 2020© Reuters

Despite such a long break, Watford still have a number of injury concerns for this match with Gerard Deulofeu, Daryl Janmaat and Isaac Success all sidelined.

Question marks hang over as many as five others players too, although the doubts surrounding Adam Masina, Will Hughes, Kiko Femenia, Craig Cathcart and Roberto Pereyra are much less serious and it is possible that all of them could be available to Pearson on Saturday.

Crucially, captain Troy Deeney is also likely to be in contention having initially refused to return to training due to fears over coronavirus.

Deeney has been involved in six goals from his last six Premier League home games - as many as he had in his previous 25 at Vicarage Road.

Leicester have their own talismanic striker to lead the line at the other end, with Jamie Vardy's brace against Aston Villa before lockdown taking him to a league-high 19 for the season and 99 in the Premier League for his career.

One more goal for the 33-year-old would see him become just the 29th player to join the Premier League 100 club, and only the 16th to have scored 100 goals for a single club in the competition.

Leicester are not at full strength, though, with Ricardo Pereira still sidelined for the rest of the campaign due to a knee injury and Daniel Amartey also sidelined.

Ayoze Perez has shaken off a knock in time to feature, while on-loan defender Ryan Bennett is also available, but Dennis Praet will face a late fitness test due to a calf strain.

Watford possible starting lineup:
Foster; Femenia, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Hughes, Capoue; Sarr, Doucoure, Pereyra; Deeney

Leicester possible starting lineup:
Schmeichel; Justin, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell; Perez, Tielemans, Ndidi, Maddison, Barnes; Vardy


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We say: Watford 1-2 Leicester

Watford have shown that they have the quality to beat the very best, but without the home fans cheering them on they may find it more difficult to spring such shocks.

The Hornets may well have enough to stay up this season, but we are backing Leicester to come away with all three points in this one.



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Watford's Ismaila Sarr celebrates scoring their first goal on February 29, 2020
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Friday's key events


ATHLETICS
· The athletics schedule begins, with 100m sprinter Dina Asher-Smith among the names in action on the opening day. The men's 10,000m final concludes the action, with Team GB's Sam Atkin and Marc Scott taking part in the absence of 2012 and 2016 champion Sir Mo Farah (1am-2.30pm)

ROWING
· Victoria Thornley is Team GB's representative in the women's single sculls final (1.33am)
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SWIMMING
· Team GB duo Molly Renshaw and Abbie Wood take part in the women's 200m breaststroke final, but new Olympic record-holder Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa is the hot favourite (2.41am)
· Luke Greenbank has very realistic ambitions of picking up a medal in the men's 200m backstroke final (2.50am)
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CANOE SLALOM
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