Struggling Leicester City will remain without Islam Slimani for Sunday's (5 February) visit of Manchester United. The club's record signing recently suffered the recurrence of a minor groin injury while on international duty with Algeria at the Africa Cup of Nations and missed both the FA Cup fourth round draw with Derby County in addition to a midweek defeat at Burnley that left the defending Premier League champions 16th and only two points above the drop zone.
Such a defeat ensured that Leicester remained without an away victory in the top-flight this season and extended their scoreless run to four league games. The return of a key striker who has netted seven goals in 18 appearances since a £29m ($36.3m) move from Sporting Lisbon last summer would certainly help improve matters, although Claudio Ranieri refuses to take any risks with Slimani, linked with a big-money move to Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian in the last days of the transfer window, ahead of a prospective relegation six-pointer against Swansea City next weekend.
"He is getting better and he's trained very hard, not with us, but I don't want to risk him," the manager told reporters during his pre-Manchester United press conference on Friday. "Not Sunday or in the cup. I want to make sure he is 100% [for Swansea].
"Leo [Ulloa] is still injured as well as Slimani. Both players are getting better, but are not available. The other players are all available."
On Mali centre-back Molla Wague, a deadline-day loan signing from Udinese, he added: "Molla Wague is doing okay but he's had some travel to do having played in the Africa Cup of Nations recently."
The eccentric Italian also appeared confident that Ulloa, currently suffering from a thigh problem, would feature for the club in future despite vowing never to play for Leicester again in a social media post in which he claimed to have been let down by the Foxes and betrayed by Ranieri. The former Brighton & Hove Albion forward submitted a transfer request after starting just one league match all season but remained at the King Power Stadium despite reported interest from the likes of Sunderland, Alaves and Galatasaray.
"Why not? He'll play, he's a professional 100%, don't worry," Ranieri said. "He is a good team-mate and they [the squad] are happy. The situation is a normal situation, we didn't want to sell him. Of course he is frustrated because he wanted to play and go but he is a fantastic man, a good player but he is also a good professional player. Sooner or later when he is ready he will have the chance to play. I know he tried to say everything and wanted to push hard [to go] but it's OK."
Despite the inevitable lashings of goodwill associated with that fairytale triumph, Leicester's woeful recent form has given rise to suggestions that the club may need to sack Ranieri in order to turn their faltering season around and avoid becoming the first English top division champions to be relegated a year after winning the title since Manchester City 80 years ago.
"I don't speak about my position with the owner," Ranieri responded to questions over his future. "Never do I speak with the chairman about my position. We know that in football, when everything is right, everyone is fantastic. When you start to lose, the manager is bad, etc. [It's just] rumours."