Team News: Leicester City
By Kevin Affleck
José Holebas has recovered from the injury that kept him out against Liverpool, meaning Javi Gracia has a big selection call to make at left-back for the game at Leicester City.
Holebas was ruled out of the game against the Reds after picking up a calf injury the day before the game, but he is now fully fit and the Head Coach must now decide whether to pick the player who has been involved in more goals than any other defender in the league this season or keep faith with Adam Masina.
Masina won 100 per cent of his tackles against Liverpool while only Dejan Lovren and the imperious Virgil van Dijk won more duels than the Italian.
“José is ready,” said Gracia. “He didn't train the first day of this week, but the second he did and he is available.”
Gracia brought Holebas back in away at Newcastle even though Masina helped keep successive clean sheets against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Huddersfield Town, but it is difficult to read what the Spaniard will do this time.
“José is important because he is a very good player,” said Gracia. “This season he is playing really well, but it wasn't a problem if José is not available as we have Adam Masina who is always ready to play.”
Gracia reported a near clean bill of health in the treatment room, with only Adalberto Peñaranda definitely ruled out of the game at the King Power. Daryl Janmaat and Tom Cleverley are in full training, but Gracia will not rush the pair back into action, particularly with the games coming thick and fast next month.
“At this moment only Peñaranda is maybe not available,” he said. “He had a little pain in his foot. Maybe one, two or three days he will be available. The rest of the players are fit and available for the next game. Maybe they [Cleverley and Janmaat] need to be in the best condition, but they are training with the team every day.”
The welcome news on the injury front is in stark contrast to the situation when Gracia arrived. The number of players unavailable was well into double figures. The Head Coach hinted that he will use the depth of the squad during the hectic festive period.
“It is good all of them are fit and we have options to see different players in different games,” he said. “I'll see the first game [of the spell in December] and then we will take decisions about who can help us each time. All of them being fit is good for me.”
The quality and potential of the squad was just one of the reasons why Gracia had absolutely no hesitation in extending his contract with the club this week. The popular Spaniard has signed a four-and-a-half-year deal, with the option for a further three years.
“I'm delighted with the signing of the new contract,” he said. “I feel comfortable here in this environment with all the people working at this club, with the owners, with the players. I feel comfortable. I am happy to stay here. I am proud to belong to this club, our club. I have the feeling I am part of this family and I like to be here.”
The Hornets are in ninth on the back of their best ever start to a top-flight season and Chairman Scott Duxbury said the team “can finish anywhere, because our potential is huge”. “This squad can achieve anything,” he said at the At Our Place event last week.
Gracia concurs, but even though he has the security of the long-term contract and can start plotting for the future, he will not deviate from his step-by-step philosophy.
“I prefer we don't put a limit on the club or this team because I prefer to show day-by-day what we are able to do,” he said. “It's important the next step is to try to improve, but the best way to improve is by focusing on the next day, the next game. This way we are able to achieve something different with the players we have.
“We can improve our best position in the league and we will try to do it. We'll see. With this mentality we can achieve something good for the club. We have a very good squad and I would like to keep all these players to build up something special.”