Stoke City get a rest from league action this weekend after a mammoth stint of games which saw them – and most other Championship teams – play 12 times in 42 days.
Injuries and positive COVID-19 tests have stretched some squads beyond their limits, and the Potters are no different with a big injury list to contend with.
Tyrese Campbell is a long-term absentee with a knee injury after a superb start to the season, and Steven Fletcher has recently joined him on the sidelines, leaving Stoke very light in attack.
Experienced pros like Joe Allen and Ryan Shawcross have returned to fitness in recent weeks but it is forwards and not anywhere else that Michael O’Neill needs, which is why Schalke’s Welsh winger Rabbi Matondo has joined on loan.
He may be thrown straight into the mix for his debut against Leicester City this weekend in the FA Cup, as the Staffordshire side look to have a second good cup run of the season after their Carabao Cup quarter final finish.
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They face a tough task against Brendan Rodgers’ outfit, who is planning to name a strong side bar Jamie Vardy and James Maddison, who are being left at home to recover from knocks.
Ballon d’Or winner and former Stoke forward Michael Owen has offered his insight into the match, and he doesn’t have his former side progressing to the fourth round, with a Leicester win and ‘both teams to score’ result predicted.
“Leicester have had an excellent season, so far. However, they have played a lot of games and I’m sure Brendan Rodgers will see this as an ideal opportunity to rest some of his key players,” Owen says.
“That said, Stoke have been so inconsistent this season. We all know how effective the Foxes are away from home, and I think they’ll just have enough again here.”
There’s no doubting that Stoke face an uphill battle against the Foxes, but there’s every chance that the Potters could shock the Premier League high-flyers.
Even without Vardy and Maddison to contend with, the likes of Harvey Barnes, Ayoze Perez and Kelechi Iheanacho pose a threat to the solid trio of Nathan Collins, Harry Souttar and James Chester.
But Stoke’s new arrival Matondo could be an ace up the sleeve of O’Neill, and he will definitely give the Leicester defence something to think about alongside the trickery of Nick Powell.