LONDON • Claudio Ranieri believes that his Leicester team are equipped to cope with the absence of Jamie Vardy, hailing the "24 Caesars" in a squad where all players are valued equally.
For the first time this season in English football's Premier League, Leicester will be without Vardy for Swansea's visit today, with the prolific forward suspended after his controversial sending-off against West Ham last weekend.
But Ranieri feels that his squad's collective ethos, rather than a reliance on star names, has underpinned their success.
"I think I have 24 stars, I have 24 Caesars, that's our strength," he said. "There isn't one Caesar, there are another 23, so it's okay."
A victory would extend leaders Leicester's edge over second-placed Tottenham, who play West Bromwich tomorrow, to eight points with three games remaining.
But the mood music around the central England city has taken on a more ominous tone in the aftermath of last weekend's chaotic 2-2 draw with West Ham.
Leicester went into that game seven points clear, but had to endure a frantic encounter, and only substitute Leonardo Ulloa's stoppage-time penalty enabled them to rescue a point.
Spurs promptly trimmed their advantage with a slick 4-0 win at Stoke. Lose today, and Spurs can close to within two points by beating West Brom.
Following weeks of anticipation of a jubilant Leicester coronation, the spectre of a disastrous collapse is now drifting into view. The absence of Vardy, Leicester's top scorer with 22 goals, means that Ranieri will have to change his starting XI for the first time in seven games.
Ulloa is expected to fill in alongside Shinji Okazaki up front, but the Italian manager could elect to start an extra wide player, Jeff Schlupp or Demarai Gray, and move the influential Riyad Mahrez infield.
Swansea's unbeaten three-game run came to an end in a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle last weekend and, although they are 10 points clear of the relegation zone, they are not yet mathematically safe.
Manager Francesco Guidolin admits that he would love to see Ranieri win the title, but he has warned his friend and compatriot not to expect any favours.
"This is an important game for Leicester, but it is for us as well," Guidolin said. "I will give Claudio one of my favourite wines - a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo - but my job is to see my team play well and fight against the first team in the table."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
LEICESTER V SWANSEA
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