Leicester must field best 11 against Spurs or risk losing momentum
Ranieri must put out strong side to sustain momentum or wheels may fall off Leicester's campaign
LEICESTER v TOTTENHAM
(Tomorrow, 3.35am, Singtel TV Ch 110 - Eleven Sports)
Cynicism is such a wicked thing.
The English Premier League positively bathes in the stuff, but the behaviour of some at the weekend seemed particularly cruel.
Almost 9,000 heartless folks believed Leicester City's bubble had burst.
All of them, or 8,483 to borrow the figure in the Guardian, pulled Riyad Mahrez from their fantasy football teams on the official Premier League website.
How self-satisfied they must have felt when the Algerian missed that critical penalty against Aston Villa.
How their heads must have swelled, correctly predicting that the wheels had fallen off Leicester's bandwagon.
The trouble is, they haven't. Not yet.
But they just might if the Foxes lose the FA Cup third-round replay against Tottenham tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Their season doesn't entirely hang on the outcome of proceedings at the King Power Stadium, but its complexion will be dramatically altered.
Manchester United and Liverpool's dullness, Manchester City's inconsistency and Arsenal's frustrating habit of being, well, Arsenal, have all conspired to draw attention away from Leicester's dip in form.
One win in their last six saw the cynics scratch out Mahrez's name in fantasy football league sides as sceptics spoke of bursting bubbles.
Of course, the eye-catching stat is slightly misleading. There was only one defeat in the mix. The four draws included an excellent 0-0 result against Manchester City and the solitary victory came against tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) opponents, Tottenham.
It's hardly a crisis, but there is a growing sense that the fall is coming.
All good things must come to an end. Thanks for the memories, Leicester. It was fun while it lasted but the traditional billionaires will take it from here.
The casual dismissal of Leicester's aspirations couldn't be any more patronising if critics patted the players on the head, ruffled their hair and sent them into the dressing room for cookies and warm milk.
In any other season, conventional wisdom might apply, but in a campaign that makes less sense than a Donald Trump press conference, there is actually little to suggest that the Foxes must fall by the wayside.
A fortuitous lack of injuries has allowed Leicester to get by with just 17 players in their starting line-ups. Along with Watford, it's the lowest number in the Premier League.
Smaller clubs must flourish with minimal rotations and Leicester's style of play suits their size. In stark contrast to, say, Manchester United or Arsenal, the Foxes do not pursue a possession-based game.
In the Premier League, they rank in the bottom three for possession. They are outright last in pass-completion success.
On the flip side, they are currently second in the standings when it comes to long balls played (West Brom are first).
In other words, they don't mess about. They get the ball forward quickly, not in a Wimbledon 1990 kind of way, but very much in a post-modern, counter-pressing style.
Leicester do not lump balls aimlessly through the air in the vague hope of finding the right jersey. They deliver smart bombs. They explode in precise pockets.
Fast counter-pressing can take its toll on hamstrings, but Leicester have largely avoided the niggling, contact injuries that have affected more possession-based sides.
The Foxes have hit upon a direct, aggressive and occasionally intoxicating system that makes the most of a small squad, reduces the risk of injury, particularly in midfield, and services prized assets N'Golo Kante, Mahrez and Jamie Vardy (with Daniel Drinkwater and Shinji Okazaki stepping up in recent weeks).
Without a doubt, Leicester can finish in the top four. They can also beat Tottenham. And therein lies Claudio Ranieri's predicament.
Can he achieve both?
The temptation to rest players must be overwhelming, particularly when Benjamin Chilwell and Demarai Gray delivered in the first FA Cup tie.
The Italian finds himself in the unenviable position of contemplating different scenarios: a refreshed First 11 and a possible FA Cup exit or a banged-up, bruised First 11 buoyed by the psychological boost of making it to the fourth round.
The fear of serious injury hangs in the air like stale beer in the stadium bar, but the repercussions of defeat are no less risky.
One win in seven games sounds less like a blip than the beginning of the end.
Ranieri surely has less incentive to be overly cautious in the replay.
Leicester's gung-ho approach and infectious enthusiasm for direct, attacking football have been highlights of an otherwise drab EPL season.
No one expected the Foxes to get this far. Why tinker with the fairytale now?
Leicester are already tiptoeing towards history in the Premier League.
They might as well put their best foot forward on the road to Wembley.