Leicester's result vs. Hull will reveal false dawn or bring relegation relief
Leicester City's home Premier League match with Hull City will reveal whether the Foxes have truly turned a corner.
The post-Claudio Ranieri era got underway in quite some style with a sensational 3-1 victory over Liverpool last Monday. The visitors looked bedraggled, but City nonetheless put in one of their best 45 minutes of the season in the first half.
Leicester looked like Premier League champions once again, but Ranieri will probably be the first to point out that exactly the same thing happened back in December, when his side trounced Manchester City 4-2. Jamie Vardy found his touch that day, too, but then proceeded to go on a nine-game scoring drought.
Hull will reveal if the Liverpool result was just a familiar false dawn or whether the Foxes can finally put some distance between themselves and the relegation zone.
The match will also prove pivotal for caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare. Back-to-back victories could see him land the role until the end of the season, although if that's a realistic possibility he'll be hoping Roy Hodgson isn't watching from the stands. The former England boss has emerged as the favourite to permanently replace Ranieri after holding talks with the owners.
Most Leicester fans would prefer to see Shakespeare keep the role until the summer before a younger manager, like Garry Monk, comes in. The Leeds boss remains coy on his future at Elland Road and should he fail to gain promotion and Leicester stay up, he would suddenly become a very strong and gettable candidate.
Leicester must not get ahead of themselves. They surprisingly lost 2-1 to Hull on opening day, somewhat foreshadowing the indifferent campaign to follow. It would be all too easy to assume that the hard work was done against Liverpool and that the Tigers will be more of a formality.
Yet Hull showed in February that they are no pushovers, grinding out a superb 0-0 draw at Manchester United (a game they really deserved to win) before beating Liverpool 2-0 at home.
Shakespeare would be wise to pick the same XI that so confidently saw off Jurgen Klopp's side. That means Shinji Okazaki would again partner Vardy. Whatever side Leicester's caretaker boss picks, though, the key will be maintaining the energy levels from last time out and ensuring Vardy is given quick service, allowing him to utilise his pace and run into more threatening areas.
Who will win?
Riyad Mahrez also needs a big performance. This is exactly the type of match he should relish controlling, but the Algeria international has been poor again so-called lesser opposition for most of the season. Mahrez has managed three goals in his last four outings against Hull and if he can continue his hot streak against the Tigers, City should win the game comfortably.
Shakespeare will also want a clean sheet, which he almost managed against Liverpool. Leicester's back four looked a lot more solid against the Reds and Christian Fuchs was also able to push forwards and cause havoc with his long throw.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel again has a key role to play in not only shutting Hull out, but leading from the back. The Denmark international was commendably vocal against Liverpool and got the crowd involved as well. Leicester have been short of leaders all season, but Schmeichel can't be faulted in this (or really any) department. He's been City's most valuable asset all campaign.
The atmosphere should be a little less strange at the King Power Stadium on Saturday. The owners got a mixed reception before kickoff after sacking Ranieri and a "vigil" was held for him during the 65th minute, an appropriate time given the coach is 65. The same thing may well happen again against Hull, but there's a much wider acceptance now that it was the right move to replace Ranieri.
Leicester are on a mini-high and will look to take momentum into a 10-day break before the second leg against Sevilla in the Champions League. If the season pans out as before Hull may bring the Foxes back down to earth with a bump, but if City can win -- and they are very much favourites to do so -- everyone at the club will breathe a little bit easier.
Ben Jacobs is ESPN FC's Leicester City blogger. Follow him on Twitter @JacobsBen.