LONDON (Reuters) - Several bookmakers had suspended betting on Antonio Conte being sacked as Chelsea manager the last time the Italian’s side played compatriot Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City in the Premier League.
The run-up to that October clash at Stamford Bridge now sounds like an echo from another era for both managers as they prepare for what should be another lively evening at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
Then, Chelsea were only seventh in the table with 13 points from four wins, a draw and two defeats and their boss found himself on the defensive, trying to make light of all the speculation.
A supportive Ranieri ventured to suggest that Chelsea, the side he once managed, were still likely to finish in the top four.
Now, Conte arrives at what was once a fortress for the Foxes cushioned by a five point lead over Liverpool at the top of the table and a run of 13 league wins in a row ended only this month by Tottenham Hotspur.
Conte, whose side hammered Leicester 3-0 in that Oct. 15 battle of the last two champions after also beating them 4-2 in the League Cup third round in September, is now up for a hat-trick of wins over Ranieri’s struggling side.
Chelsea are also clear favourites to reclaim the title taken from them last season.
Leicester, who were 12th in October with just two wins from seven league games, are now 15th and six points off the drop zone with only three more victories to their credit over the intervening three months.
They are also without African Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani, both on African Nations Cup duty with Algeria, and Ghana midfielder Daniel Amartey.
The odds on Ranieri being the Premier League’s next managerial casualty are now 25/1 on SkyBet, with Conte the least likely at 150/1 along with Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino and Liverpool’s Juergen Klopp.
Saturday’s match will also mark a return for N‘Golo Kante, Leicester’s ever-running midfield motor last season who has played an equally impressive and important role since switching to Stamford Bridge.
Tottenham are at home to West Bromwich Albion in Saturday’s lunchtime game and can go second, at least temporarily, if they chalk up their sixth league win in a row.
Liverpool, who have won 12 of their last 18 Premier League games but were held 2-2 at lowly Sunderland in their last match, travel the short distance to Manchester United on Sunday in the weekend’s showcase.
Fourth-placed Manchester City are at Everton on Sunday while Arsenal, fifth, travel to lowly Swansea City.
At the other end of the table, ex-England manager Sam Allardyce continues his trip down memory lane with struggling Crystal Palace travelling across town to his former side West Ham United.
Palace, who have picked up only one point since Allardyce replaced Alan Pardew last month, played another of the manager’s old clubs Bolton Wanderers in the third round of the FA Cup last week with the replay scheduled for Selhurst Park on Tuesday.
Bottom side Hull City, under new Portuguese manager Marco Silva, host Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth on Saturday in a battle between the two youngest managers in the top flight.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis