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Who out of Leicester and Wolves are much more likely to burst the highest 4 bubble this season?

Leicester City and Wolves are once again threatening to break into the top four this season and meet in a thrilling Premier League clash on Sunday.

The Foxes have won five of their seven top-flight games this season, the latest of which came away at Leeds on Monday, and Brendan Rodgers’ side are also making light work of their Europa League group. 

Nuno Espirito Santo’s men meanwhile have picked up after a slow start to the season which saw them concede four goals at West Ham and another three at home to Manchester City, with wins coming recently against Leeds and Crystal Palace.

Brendan Rodgers' Leicester have won five of their seven Premier League matches this season

Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester have won five of their seven Premier League matches this season

Both sides were similarly promising at the beginning of last season, but the Foxes fell away to finish outside the top four having been in the Champions League places for much of the season.

Meanwhile, their Midlands counterparts failed to qualify for the Europa League – after an impressive run in the tournament in 2019/20 – following Arsenal’s FA Cup win and defeat to Chelsea on the final day of the league season.

But hopes are high once again at both the King Power Stadium and Molineux of challenging the so-called ‘Big Six’ and here, Sportsmail looks at which side is better equipped to last the distance this season. 

Nuno Espirito Santo has seen his Wolves side recover from a slow start to climb up the table

Nuno Espirito Santo has seen his Wolves side recover from a slow start to climb up the table

Goalkeeper

The two sides have conceded just 17 goals between them in the Premier League this season, and their solid foundations come from two high-class international shot stoppers.

Kasper Schmeichel’s reputation continues to go from strength to strength four years on from Leicester’s historic title victory, and the Dane has been excellent between the posts again this season.

He produced a standout save for his country against England to stunningly deny Mason Mount at Wembley last month, and has managed to provide some stability given Leicester’s injuries at the beginning of the campaign in defence, though he will be frustrated at only managing to keep four clean sheets from a possible 10 so far.

Kasper Schmeichel has been a reliable everpresent for Leicester and has been in form so far

Kasper Schmeichel has been a reliable everpresent for Leicester and has been in form so far

Portugal international Rui Patricio has kept the same number of clean sheets in three fewer games and has been a key member for his country and Wolves, who he joined from Sporting Lisbon in 2018.

However, the 32-year-old was easily beaten by a Jacob Murphy free-kick in their disappointing 1-1 draw with Newcastle in October, a rare error from the Portuguese but a blunder which has not yet been matched by Schmeichel this season.

The 34-year-old Dane’s experience of winning the Premier League and with the pressure of consistently performing at the climax of the season, along with his obvious leadership qualities, just sees him edge this one.

Verdict: Leicester

Rui Patricio also possesses experience but was caught out against Newcastle earlier this term

Rui Patricio also possesses experience but was caught out against Newcastle earlier this term

Defence 

The Foxes have never been too far away from an injury crisis in defence this season, with Jonny Evans the latest victim of physical fitness after missing out on the win against Braga with a back injury.

First-choice stars Ricardo Pereira, Timothy Castagne, and Caglar Soyuncu were also still injured for the victory against the Portuguese outfit on Thursday, which has meant veterans like Christian Fuchs have seen more game time than they probably expected.

Wilfried Ndidi was also forced to play at the back during the early stages of the season, and after a short easing of the crisis, it returned in full flow after he too was ruled out for 12 weeks in late September.

Castagne is not expected back until after the international break

Turkish defender Soyuncu is expected to be out for three months

Leicester have suffered an injury crisis at the back this season with Timothy Castagne (left) and Caglar Soyuncu (right) among the casualties

Despite the enforced chopping and changing Wesley Fofana has put in impressive displays

Despite the enforced chopping and changing Wesley Fofana has put in impressive displays

Meanwhile, impressive summer signing Castagne was ruled out last month until after the international break, and Turkish centre-back Soyuncu is expected to be absent for three months.

The Foxes have therefore had no time to establish any sort of consistent backline, but have seen the likes of Wesley Fofana perform admirably in a defence that has still managed to hold its own, particularly away at Arsenal.

Wolves have conceded one fewer goal than Leicester in the top flight this term and have seen Conor Coady lead the line admirably once again alongside comrades Willy Boly and Max Kilman at the heart of the defence.

Coady has been rewarded for his performances with a new five-year deal at Molineux as well as international recognition after making his England debut in September, before scoring on his second start against Wales.

Conor Coady has enhanced his reputation and has been rewarded with England caps

Conor Coady has enhanced his reputation and has been rewarded with England caps

Nelson Semedo has also performed well in the wing-back position since arriving from Barcelona in the summer and appeared to steal the show against Palace. 

On the opposite side Rayan Ait-Nouri netted on his debut against Roy Hodgson’s men, and the duo appear more than capable of supplying Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez, which will come as a relief with the reliable Jonny Otto an expected long-term absentee.

This is a harsh comparison considering how little time Leicester’s first-choice defence have spent together on the field, and they have shown they could sustain a top-four challenge already this season even with issues.

But Wolves just edge it and appear well settled with the excellent Coady shining and leading an effective three at the back system. 

Verdict: Wolves 

Semedo has fitted in well at right wing back for the Molineux side

Ait-Nouri impressed and scored on his Wolves debut against Crystal Palace

Nelson Semedo (left) has impressed since joining from Barcelona while Rayan Ait-Nouri (right) impressed on his debut

Midfield  

Both managers are fortunate to call upon a midfield unit that provide a significant goal threat and fantastic protection to the defence in equal measure.

Ndidi’s shift to centre-back and subsequent absence through an adductor injury has undoubtedly hurt Rodgers, but Nampalys Mendy has performed admirably in the defensive midfield position after a frustrating 2019/20 in which he featured in just eight Leicester encounters.

And that solidity – whether provided by Ndidi or Mendy – has allowed the likes of Youri Tielemans, James Maddison and Dennis Praet to go and demonstrate their qualities in the final third. 

Ndidi was ruled out of action for 12 weeks in late September with an adductor problem

Mendy made just eight appearances for Leicester last season

Nampalys Mendy (right) has impressed for the Foxes in the absence of Wilfried Ndidi (left)

Their solidity allows the likes of James Maddison to create and score goals from midfield

Their solidity allows the likes of James Maddison to create and score goals from midfield

Tielemans scored twice in the win against Leeds and reports have now emerged the club are preparing to hand him a new deal, while James Maddison – who saw progress stunted by a hip injury – has returned with a bang and fired in the goals including a terrific strike in the thrashing of Manchester City.

Maddison may have missed out on the latest England squad but has been labelled a ‘winner’ by Rodgers for the improvisation he provides going forward, and with Praet was on target against Braga. 

Leander Dendoncker has meanwhile become Wolves’ midfield enforcer, producing performances full of endeavour and tenacity to allow his partner – whether it be Ruben Neves or Joao Moutinho – the freedom to express themselves and dictate the tempo of the game.

Leander Dendoncker is the lynchpin in the Wolves midfield with his tenacity and desire

Leander Dendoncker is the lynchpin in the Wolves midfield with his tenacity and desire

Dendoncker’s only omission in the previous 61 games was the 4-0 thumping at West Ham, and has wonderfully complimented Neves, whose threat from free-kicks and long range make him one of the league’s most fearsome midfield talents.

The experience of Moutinho and the youth of Porto loanee Vitinha certainly adds further quality to the midfield off the bench, but with no natural replacement for Dendoncker, Wolves may suffer in their top-four quest if the Belgian suffers an injury and therefore narrowly miss out to the Foxes here.

Verdict: Leicester 

 Attack

The real strength of both sides, Rodgers and Nuno can call upon prolific central strikers who are supported by an abundance of pace flanking them. 

Jamie Vardy won last season’s Golden Boot and looks well set to challenge for the honour once again after a blistering start with eight goals in seven matches this term, with seven of those coming in the Premier League.

He has turned up in all the big games this season, netting a hat-trick against City in their 5-2 win at the Etihad before coming off the bench following an injury to head in the winner at Arsenal.

Jamie Vardy won last season's Golden Boot and has netted eight times already this season

Jamie Vardy won last season’s Golden Boot and has netted eight times already this season

He also scored a brilliant third goal at Leeds and looks to be in the sort of form that propelled Leicester to the league title more than four years ago.

Kelechi Iheanacho demonstrated against Braga that he can provide capable back-up with two goals, and has returned figures of three strikes and as many assists so far in 2020/21.

Harvey Barnes and Cengiz Under are young and vibrant wide players who have already caused many a problem for defenders with their pace, and while the former’s end product is sometimes lacking he remains one of the club and country’s most exciting upcoming talents.

Harvey Barnes also provides support to Vardy with some dynamic play out on the flanks

Harvey Barnes also provides support to Vardy with some dynamic play out on the flanks

Raul Jimenez is Wolves’ answer to Jamie Vardy and has netted four goals in eight games including a valuable winner at Leeds.

The Mexican combines superb aerial ability with devastating finishes with his feet and could well become a target for Manchester United again in January.

Jimenez may have lost Diogo Jota to Liverpool but his relationship with Adama Traore remains excellent, despite the Spain international’s rather underwhelming start to the season in which he has yet to register a single goal or assist.

Daniel Podence has been the man tasked with replacing Jota, and many Wolves fans are optimistic that he has the qualities to replace his compatriot despite his polar opposite style. 

Raul Jimenez is Wolves' answer to Vardy and the Mexican is excellent in the air and with his feet

Raul Jimenez is Wolves’ answer to Vardy and the Mexican is excellent in the air and with his feet

He is not necessarily built for counter attacking but having started eight of the last nine Premier League games, has found ways to exploit the pocket of spaces opened up by Jimenez.

Pedro Neto and record signing Fabio Silva are the young vibrant stars who look to make an impact from the bench, and while the former has been called up to the Portugal squad the latter has been told by his boss he must remain patient.

However, Wolves have scored nine fewer league goals than Leicester this season, and with the likes of Traore not hitting their top form and Vardy on fire and having the know how of leading the line throughout the season, it appears the Foxes are best placed at the moment to be able to maintain their push for Champions League football in this department. 

Verdict: Leicester 

But Wolves have scored nine fewer goals this season with Adama Traore not currently firing

But Wolves have scored nine fewer goals this season with Adama Traore not currently firing

Managers

Rodgers and Nuno have been in charge of a combined 234 games at their respective clubs, and with some of the so-called ‘Big Six’ still scratching around for a man they can fully support, these two managers have enhanced their club’s status.

The Northern Irishman had been known as the nearly man at Liverpool but has now managed to drag Leicester away from their slump under Claudio Ranieri and Claude Puel following the 2016 triumph and demonstrate consistency at domestic, and now European, level.

Rodgers appears a shrewd tactician and despite numerous challenges at the back this season and kept his usual composure to instil and breed confidence among his squad.

He made a jibe at praise given to overseas managers after the Leeds win but is no doubt the right man to bring about long-term success at the King Power Stadium.

Brendan Rodgers looks like the man to bring Leicester long-term success domestically

Brendan Rodgers looks like the man to bring Leicester long-term success domestically 

Perhaps the only man who can match Rodgers for composure and calmness is his opposite number on Sunday, and his level-headedness in discussing pay-per-view issues as well as the current coronavirus pandemic is representative of the culture he has brought to the club.

His refusal to look at the current Premier League table despite Wolves’ impressive start is not far withdrawn from his usual approach but demonstrates that he may have taken several lessons from last season.

A Europa League quarter-final and seventh place finish may have come as a result of just a few games too many in 2019/20, but Nuno has a clear identity of how he wants his team to play and rarely shifts away from such attractive ideals.

Both managers have been touted for jobs at the so-called ‘Big Six’ in the future, but the work they have both done to provide their clubs with elevated status means they are impossible to split. 

Verdict: Draw

Nuno has drilled a well-oiled machine at Wolves and remains level headed at the best of times

Nuno has drilled a well-oiled machine at Wolves and remains level headed at the best of times

Final verdict 

Sunday’s game will not make or break either side’s chances of breaking into the Premier League top four this season.

But it appears that ahead of the match it is Leicester who are better equipped to deal with the peaks and troughs that come with every passing campaign.

Nuno has created an efficient system at Wolves but Leicester have blown teams away this season with an attack that is on fire and a defence that has resisted stern tests despite an injury crisis.

Vardy and Maddison's Leicester look best equipped to deliver a Champions League spot

Vardy and Maddison’s Leicester look best equipped to deliver a Champions League spot

Wolves have failed to see some key men including Traore click yet, and should he begin to fire their arsenal will begin to frighten the very best the league has to offer.

But Brendan Rodgers appears to possess slightly more variety in midfield and Vardy meanwhile is stealing all the headlines with his incredible goalscoring rate. 

With some of the current side having already experienced Premier League glory, they look to be the side who can go one better than last season and claim Champions League football for themselves. 

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