Claudio Ranieri

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 19:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur scores their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham at White Hart Lane on April 19, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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FA Cup predictions: Upsets at a minimum for Premier League clubs

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Pep Guardiola said Friday that “the FA Cup is complicated”. There may be no better way to sum up the competition for top Premier League clubs.

Often sandwiched between critical league contests or European competitions, weakened lineups have become the norm in earlier rounds of the tournament.

[ MORE: Gareth Bale back this week ]

With 16 teams remaining, managers must weigh the risks of current and future schedule congestion with the fact that four more wins in the FA Cup bring silverware (and an automatic berth in the Europa League group stage).

Here are some predictions for this weekend’s fifth round match-ups:

Burnley FC vs. Lincoln City

Sean Dyche‘s Clarets are 10 points clear of the drop zone and facing non-league competition at home. They’ll have a strong lineup and win easily. Sorry, Imps, this one goes 3-1.

Middlebrough vs. Oxford United

Boro is still very much in a relegation battle, but needs to find its scoring touch in a big way. Oxford waxed a weakened Newcastle in the last round, and are no easy hurdle. 2-1, Smoggies.

Millwall vs. Leicester City

The Foxes have a trip to Sevilla and a visit from Liverpool next, and Claudio Ranieri won’t risk his best XI here. That and the away trip are probably enough to move Millwall into the quarterfinals. 1-0, Lions.

Huddersfield Town vs. Manchester City

The Terriers are Premier League hopefuls, but there’s a far cry between hope and reality. And Huddersfield boss David Wagner could be resting some guys as well with a busy promotion push ahead. Even City’s second unit — the PL giants host Monaco on Tuesday — will be enough for a 3-1 win.

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Chelsea

With a comfortable lead in the table and no other competitions this season, Chelsea will manage to cruise on the road. 2-0.

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs need to end the woes of back-to-back poor performances, and a London Derby will have both sides ready to roar. Expect a tight one, and perhaps a replay. 2-2.

Blackburn vs. Manchester United

It’s fortunate for Blackburn that United played a Europa League match on Thursday, but the Red Devils are too deep and Jose Mourinho has several pieces of silverware on his radar. Manchester United, 2-0.

Sutton United vs. Arsenal

The fairytale ends here, as this is a classic set-up for the Gunners to showcase their might at the expense of a lesser side. Arsenal, 4-0.

Ranieri turns attention to survival after latest PL defeat

SWANSEA, WALES - FEBRUARY 12:  Tom Carroll of Swansea City takes on Danny Simpson and Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Leicester City at Liberty Stadium on February 12, 2017 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri‘s side have looked anything but the Cinderella story that graced the Premier League a season ago, and now there’s a legitimate chance that Leicester won’t even be back in England’s top flight next season.

[ MORE: Swansea drops Leicester, puts Foxes in precarious position ]

Through 25 rounds of action, the Foxes sit just one point above the relegation zone and have gone winless in their last six PL matches.

[ MORE: Nathan Dyer’s season in jeopardy after Achilles injury ]

While the club’s goalscoring woes are certainly a major concern after Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez put on a clinic during the 2015/16 campaign, Ranieri’s side has become one of the worst defensive sides in the PL after conceding on 43 occasions.

“We have two problems – we concede goals and we don’t score,” Ranieri said to Sky Sports. “We have to speak together to find a solution, it is not possible to continue in this way. I wanted this game to be the start of a ‘new season’, but it is the same, it is unbelievable this season.

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies on Leicester’s loss to Swansea ]

Sunday’s latest 2-0 defeat against fellow relegation-fighting side Swansea City showed the Foxes’ inability to defend once more, while only mustering up one shot on target throughout the encounter.

Not only have the Foxes floundered at critical moments in the PL season but the club has also bailed out of the Champions League and EFL Cup.

Now, Ranieri and co. are fighting for survival at the bottom of the PL, as six teams sit within five points of one another.

“We started well against a good team but their first two shots on goal are goals and it is very difficult to come back from that. We created chances in the second half but they defended very, very well.

“We wanted to make a good result against another team near the relegation zone. Our mind is on the Premier League. The FA Cup and Champions League is something different.

“We want to play well and be safe in the Premier League. Our main target is to be safe in the Premier League.”

Defensive regression biggest culprit of Leicester collapse

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 06:  Wes Morgan (L) Ron-Robert Zieler (C) and Robert Huth of Leicester City look on after conceding their second goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion at The King Power Stadium on November 6, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Leicester City’s title run last season seemed to be.

They have both gone up in flames just as quickly.

Leicester City is fighting relegation just a season removed from one of the most improbable championship campaigns of all-time. Plenty has been written about the reasons for their continuing collapse. Some have blamed manager Claudio Ranieri, hailed as a hero less than a year ago. Others point to the utterly eye-opening goalless streak, now at an ugly 610 Premier League minutes thanks in large part to the sudden ineptitude of Riyad Mahrez. Many point to the departure of midfield adhesive N'Golo Kante, who is nearing a second title in two seasons.

[ RECAP: Leicester City falls to Swansea City, fifth loss in a row ]

Those would all have merit. However, the overwhelming perpetrator is a massive regression of the back line, and unlike the other factors which have seemingly come from nowhere, this one we all should have seen coming.

Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs, and captain Wes Morgan played a combined 9,550 Premier League minutes last season as both Huth and Morgan played every tick of the clock. This year, those three players are 32, 30, and 33 years old. How the Leicester City board never found capable replacements or backups for those players is mind-boggling. Could we really have expected that trio to continue playing at an all star level as they climbed further above the 30-year-old mark?

[ LISTEN: 2 Robbies talk Leicester City ]

Squawka Statistics ranks Leicester City as the third-worst defensive team in the Premier League by its Performance Score, but it shows directly on the pitch as well. Fuchs was undressed in the recent 3-0 loss to Manchester United, and was yanked at halftime in the loss to Swansea on Sunday. Huth has looked slower and slower, and should have been sent off by referee Jon Moss for a terrible challenge on Swans midfielder Tom Carroll. Morgan should have been called for a handball when he clumsily went to ground to block a shot. The mistakes are there for all to see, and they’re getting more and more glaring.

Sky Sports tweeted this out on Saturday before the Swansea loss. It’s meant to put the loss of Kante into an image, but doesn’t this simply serve to display the defensive frailties? Look at the massive increase in defensive errors leading to goals.

It must be said that the disappearance of both Mahrez and Jamie Vardy is a troubling trend, and Leicester can’t win if they can’t score, that much is true. As the club grows increasingly incapable of scoring goals against Premier League opposition, their chances of survival get slimmer and slimmer, and the pair may end up finding themselves benched, Mahrez just a year removed from winning Player of the Season.

Ultimately though, the defense must improve if the club is to survive, and it likely won’t come with Huth, Fuchs, and Morgan all on the field together. Expect them to start seeing less time, with Ranieri saying after the Swansea loss, “Am I too loyal to my players? I could be, could be. It is difficult when you achieve something so good. You want to give them one chance, two chances, three chances. Maybe now, it is too much.”

The club failed to strengthen in this department in January, and ultimately Ranieri may be unfairly blamed for the sudden ineptitudes of the squad he led to the title just a year ago.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Leicester City (Lineups & Live Stream)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Demarai Gray of Leicester City celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Leicester City and Swansea City play a vital relegation battle as the Foxes visit the Liberty Stadium at 11:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

The defending champions are on a four-match losing streak that has seen them drop to just a point above the drop. That has seen manager Claudio Ranieri ring the changes, as Shinji Okazaki and Ahmed Musa were dropped to the bench in favor of Demarai Gray and Mark Albrighton. Islam Slimani makes the bench as he returns from a groin injury.

Gray scored in the midweek FA Cup win, and has been slotted in with Ranieri hoping to spark something in the squad that will end the miserable run. The Foxes have been shut out a whopping five straight matches, without a goal in 520 minutes. Ranieri has stuck with Christian Fuchs in defense after a poor showing in the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United last time out.

[ WATCH LIVE: Swansea City vs. Leicester City live online at NBCSports.com ]

For Swansea City, January signing Jordan Ayew still has not yet made his club debut after returning from the African Cup of Nations. Ki Sung-Yeung and Jefferson Montero are out injured, but Gylfi Sigurdsson continues in the attack, one of the most in-form forwards in the Premier League.

Leicester City has won four straight matches against Swansea City, with 11 goals for and just one conceded over that time. No defending champion has lost five straight in English top flight play since Chelsea in 1956.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson; Carroll, Fer, Cork; Dyer, Llorente, Sigurdsson.
Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Kingsley, Amat, Routledge, Narsingh, Ayew.

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Ndidi, Albrighton; Gray, Vardy.
Subs: Zieler, Chilwell, King, Amartey, Musa, Slimani, Okazaki.

PL Sunday: Chelsea aims to extend lead; Swansea, Leicester battle

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Victor Moses of Chelsea celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley at Stamford Bridge on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
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Chelsea has a firm hold on the top of the Premier League, and the club’s lead could be up to 12 points on Sunday if they play their cards right.

Meanwhile, the day’s second matchup features two sides firmly in the relegation heap, including last season’s PL winners Leicester City.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Burnley vs. Chelsea — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

While the Clarets have proven to be a very tricky team to take care of at home, Burnley’s last league win against Chelsea hasn’t come since 1983. Given Chelsea’s current form, the challenge of knocking off the Blues will be made all the more difficult for Sean Dyche‘s team.

This season, Burnley has taken 28 of its 29 points at home, making the Turf Moor one of the league’s most difficult venues to play at for visitors.

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea enters Sunday unbeaten in its last six across all competitions, and with a nine-point advantage over second place Tottenham. The Blues can once again put out a healthy lineup, with Diego Costa and Eden Hazard leading the dangerous attack.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Liverpool drops Spurs ]


Swansea City vs. Leicester City — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Both sides enter Sunday’s encounter a mere one point above the drop zone, so a victory would mean the world to both Swansea and Leicester. Jordan Ayew could make his debut for the Swans, although the side will likely be without key figures Ki Sung-Yeung, Jefferson Montero and Leon Britton.

Paul Clement‘s side have certainly improved in form since the new manager took over for the departed Bob Bradley. Swansea has won three of its five PL fixtures since Clement took over at the Liberty Stadium.

Meanwhile, Leicester’s fall from grace continues to get uglier by the day as Claudio Ranieri‘s side comes closer to the bottom three. The Foxes have won four straight against Swansea in PL action, but the club’s poor form could make for a more closely-contested match.