Stoke City boss could rest key duo v Leicester and is weighing up debut


James Chester and Nick Powell are expected to be left out of the starting XI as Stoke City turn their focus to the FA Cup and Leicester.

The duo have been key figures for Michael O’Neill in the Championship this season, often nursing niggling injuries or playing through the pain.

O’Neill said: “We just have to be mindful of the workload on the players. Both Powell and Chester have played a lot of football.

“James has to be managed through the season anyway with his knee, which he manages brilliantly, and he’s had a great season for us.

“We have to look at where the players are respectively and with those two we’re thinking, possibly, this might be a game when they would benefit from a little rest.

“But we’ll see whether we involve them in the squad once we make our final decisions.”

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Rabbi Matondo will be available for selection but it remains to be seen if he will start or be used from the bench after joining on loan from Schalke on Thursday.

“The paperwork was only concluded yesterday,” said O’Neill. “It was a bit convoluted and took longer than we would have liked but that’s what happens with these deals, particularly coming from abroad.

“He’s trained on Friday morning and will be in the squad. Whether he starts or not we’ll have to make a decision.

“He’s a very exciting young player. He’s demonstrated that already in training and we’re delighted to have him on board.

“He’s the type of player I think we’re going to need in the second half of the season.”

Joe Bursik is expected to carry on in goal with Blondy Nna Noukeu his deputy after emergency cover Andy Lonergan left to join West Brom.

Adam Davies and Angus Gunn are both hoping to be back available this month.

O’Neill said: “Adam’s still a little bit away. He’s out on the grass and doing a bit of work and I’d say the end of the month was a realistic target for both him and Angus to come back into contention.

“We had to make a decision (with Lonergan) but it wasn’t so much that we let Andy go, that was his decision. We’d only signed him on a month’s contract.

“We already had Niki (Maenpaa) under contract although he got injured on his first day in training and we felt that with the two young goalkeepers we could get through to that point that Angus and Adam come back.

“If that isn’t the case, we’re in a better situation than we were previously because the transfer window is open and January would give us the ability to look at a wider pool of goalkeepers if needed.

“Hopefully that won’t be the case. The two lads will come back and we’ll have good competition there with the two young goalkeepers we have at the minute as well.”

Leicester will travel without Jamie Vardy and James Morrison, who are also carrying minor injuries.

O’Neill said: “Vardy, for me, is a phenomenon given his career path and his ability to stay as one of the best strikers in the Premier League. It’s a bonus for us that he’s not playing.

“But like any Premier League side, particularly in the top six, the players they bring in are of such a high calibre as well. (Kelechi) Iheanacho will play if Vardy doesn’t, I imagine.

“Brendan has other choices he can do with this team. He can be flexible.

“Whatever team Leicester play and whatever system, they will be well structured, well organised and have quality all over the pitch.”





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