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Leicester vs. Stoke preview: Ranieri expects Vardy and Mahrez to rediscover golden touch

Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri is relaxed about the apparent loss of form to key players Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez as his team’s incredible season reaches a pivotal point.

The unfancied Foxes have won only once in their last seven league and cup games, with England striker Vardy having failed to score in six starts and Algeria winger Mahrez without a goal in five games.

After Saturday’s home meeting with Stoke (10am ET on NBC Sports Live Extra in the US), Ranieri’s team face consecutive games against Liverpool and title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal following a break for the FA Cup fourth round weekend. For the latest odds about Saturday’s game and the other forthcoming ones, click here.

But the Italian, who remained level-headed during his team’s unexpected charge to second place in the table, is not about to give up on a duo who have scored 29 goals between them this season — including Vardy’s new record of netting in 11 successive Premier League games.

“Jamie is not fully fit now, because he was playing so many matches when he was scoring goals, without training,” said Ranieri, whose side are behind leaders Arsenal on goal difference.

“Always he had some little problems. He wouldn’t make the training sessions, but play the Saturday match, and score a goal. And for the rest of week, didn’t make training session, one, two days very soft, then play again.

“Slowly you lose your stamina. That is normal. Now he is getting better after the groin surgery.

“He rested two months, a long time, now he can start to play and to train.”

In Mahrez’s case, his loss of goal-scoring form has been heightened by two misses from the penalty spot, including a particularly costly one in the recent draw with struggling Aston Villa.

“No, that is normal, the striker’s life is like this,” said Ranieri when asked if the Algerian is under particular pressure.

“Sometimes they score a lot of goals. Everything they touch is gold, sometimes not. He is playing very well, he is very relaxed.”

– Energetic –

Leicester’s latest setback saw them exit the FA Cup in a third round replay against Tottenham on Wednesday.

However, Ranieri refused to accept that the fact his team remains only in one competition offers any kind of advantage over title rivals who remain involved in other competitions.

“I don’t know because our football is very energetic,” he said. “For this reason I change a lot. We can’t keep possession of the ball and recover during the match.

“We have to play every time 100 per cent. For us it is important to have only one competition and work hard during the week.”

Stoke manager Hughes has not been surprised that Vardy’s amazing start to the season has ground to a halt.

“Realistically Vardy would come to a point where he would find it more difficult because opposition teams were going to legislate and make sure they weren’t going to be exposed by his quality,” said Hughes.

SEE MORE: Ranieri: ‘I want to be the most crazy man and team in the Premier League’

“That’s probably why he has found it more difficult of late but that’s not to underestimate the strength he poses, along with Mahrez. Both of them seem to have had remarkable seasons.

“There was always a danger they would stop scoring or the chances being created weren’t as readily available and maybe their ability to win games would lessen. Is that happening at the moment? It seems to be.

“At the moment they’re on a run where positive results and three points are not forthcoming but I wouldn’t suggest for one moment that they are on the wane, or on the slide. They’ve still got a real threat.”

SEE MORE: How Mark Hughes has transformed Stoke City’s playing style

Hughes is boosted by Xherdan Shaqiri’s return to training after missing two games with a hamstring injury.

“We’ve been steadily going about our business – not spectacularly in terms of timescale but still progressive, still moving forwards,” Hughes said.

“We’re ahead of where we thought we would be at this stage.”

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