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Champions Leicester 7-4 to suffer relegation

Mancini still favourite to replace Ranieri

Leicester have struggled this season
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Never before have the Premier League title winners struggled so badly the following season - but never before had champions belied odds of 5,000-1 to finish top in the first place.

However, the warm glow of last season's stunning success has turned into a storm stronger than Doris with Leicester ruthlessly sacking Claudio Ranieri on the eve of the most critical weekend of the season for those involved in the relegation dogfight.

Eight of the bottom nine are in action on Saturday looking to drag 17th-placed managerless champions Leicester further into trouble before their crunch clash with Liverpool on Monday.

Leicester are only 7-4 to be relegated and Betway go 8-13 that City end this round of matches in the bottom three, but despite the obvious need for action there appears no quick fix to replace Ranieri.

Fellow Italian Roberto Mancini was at one stage a fairly strong favourite but he has drifted from odds-on out to 9-2 with Betfred to get the King Power gig in a wide-open betting heat.

Alan Pardew is second on the list at 10-1, followed by 11-1 Nigel Pearson and 12-1 pokes Guus Hiddink and Frank de Boer, while caretaker Craig Shakespeare is available at 20-1 to write his name into the City history books on a permanent basis.

It's a total mess and the fact that bet365 rate the Foxes 4-9 to accumulate no more than 37 points highlights the grave danger Leicester find themselves in as they look to avoid becoming the first English champions to suffer relegation since Manchester City in 1938.

Those in the scrap will fancy their chances of dragging Leicester further into the mire and here is the Racing Post Sport guide to the runners and riders aiming to stay with England's elite:

Sunderland - league position 20th 19pts relegation odds 1-4
So often the Black Cats have survived the desperate scrap but this should be the year their luck runs out. Jermain Defoe has scored 14 of their 24 Premier League goals, although they still have seven matches remaining against the bottom eight.

Crystal Palace 19th 19pts 4-5
The decision to replace Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce has not worked out well for Palace, who face a huge clash with Middlesbrough that will have been targeted by Big Sam. It is one of five Selhurst showdowns still to come against the bottom nine.

However, under Big Sam's stewardship Palace lost at home to Swansea and Sunderland and the other fixtures are not pretty with trips to Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool as well as home dates with Arsenal and Tottenham.

Hull 18th 20pts 10-11
It's amazing to think Hull have been in the relegation zone for four months and are a bigger price to go down now than they were ante-post.

That's the positive impact impressive boss Marco Silva has had on the squad who are playing their best football of the season. If they beat Burnley the Tigers will believe the great escape is on.

Leicester 17th 21pts 7-4
The champions are a difficult side to weigh up until the managerial vacancy is sorted but in fairness the squad have performed excellently under pressure in the past two Premier League campaigns. Others make more appeal to go down even if it would serve the owners right for sacking Ranieri.

Middlesbrough 16th 22pts 6-4 
Middlesbrough's methodical approach often sees them control matches and their goal difference of minus nine is better than tenth-placed West Ham's. But 19 goals scored tells the story as to why it's turning into a struggle for Aitor Karanka's side.

Defensively Boro are decent and they have lost only once against the other sides in the bottom seven. Expect them to grind a way to safety but don't expect it to be pretty.

Swansea 15th 24pts 7-2
Paul Clement's side had played better than results suggested before he arrived and now the results are matching performances. They will probably lose at Chelsea but still have more than enough to survive.

Bournemouth 14th 26pts 8-1
The Cherries could be a value relegation pick after collecting two points from six league games in 2017 with 18 goals conceded. Nathan Ake's departure to Chelsea was a monster blow, as was the season-ending injury to influential forward Callum Wilson.

Watford 13th 30pts 33-1
The Hornets are over their Christmas injury crisis and should have enough to survive.

Burnley 12th 30pts 20-1
Only one of Burnley's 30 points have come away from Turf Moor and their next four matches are all on the road, while all five remaining home games are against current top-half teams.

It may take only five or six more points for them to guarantee staying up but if there is to be one side sucked into the battle of the bigger-priced teams it could be Burnley.

The fact that bet365 rate the Foxes 4-9 to accumulate no more than 37 points highlights the grave danger Leicester find themselves in
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