LONDON • Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri is not concerned with 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 today's home meeting with Stoke City, Leicester face consecutive games against Liverpool and title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal following a break for the FA Cup fourth-round weekend.
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. 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 problem. He wouldn't make the training sessions but play the Saturday match and score.
"Slowly you lose your stamina. That is normal. Now he is getting better after groin surgery. He rested two months, a long time, now he can start to play and to train."
Mahrez's loss of 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 pressure. "Sometimes they score a lot of goals. Everything they touch is gold, sometimes not. He is playing very well, he is very relaxed."
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 his team remaining in only one competition offers any advantage over title rivals who remain involved in other competitions.
"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 is not 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. "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."
The Potters are boosted by Xherdan Shaqiri's return after he missed two games with a hamstring injury.
LEICESTER CITY V STOKE CITY
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