By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome Leicester City to Anfield on Wednesday, with both clubs coming into this match on the back of dramatic 4-3 scorelines.
The fixtures favour Liverpool over the next couple of weeks – second place Manchester City face Newcastle, Chelsea and Arsenal in the next three fixtures.
Liverpool have returned to winning way recently winning two consecutive games after losing two in a row, both victories showcased the two sides of Liverpool’s game and arguably the two sides of a title winning team. Manchester City play before Liverpool for the next four weeks so over that time period we will see how Liverpool fail to deal with pressure.
Leicester who finished ninth place last season, have been in horrendous form as of late. Losing four of their last five including a defeat to Newport County in the FA Cup. Their last game saw them concede four goals in a defeat to Wolves, a match in which their defence was all over the place.
Both Liverpool and Leicester were involved in a goal-fest in their respective matches. Liverpool won 4-3 against an efficient Crystal Palace side – the visitors only had three shots on target, none of which were clear cut chances. Luckily Liverpool’s attack bailed our defence out, Salah Firmino and Mane all finding the back of the net.
After showing their resolute side in the victory by a single goal, the match at Anfield against Roy Hodgsons outfit saw the return of the Liverpool of recent years, trying to outscore their opponents rather than be comfortable with such a narrow lead.
Jurgen Klopp will be pleased to see how his side reacted, having come from a goal down and going ahead twice in the space of 30 minutes will certainly please the manager, conceding a third after going 4-2 up will not.
As mentioned before, Leicester City are in a horrible vain of form, only picking up three points from their last four league games, a defeat in the FA Cup against League Two outfit Newport County only added insult to injury.
Losses against Cardiff and Southampton has put manager Claude Puel under immense pressure to deliver a result and a heavy loss against the Reds may be the final straw for the former Southampton boss.
Some of this pressure is unjustified however, before the poor run of form Leicester City beat both Manchester City and Chelsea in consecutive matches, this shows despite their form they can still cause an upset, let’s just hope their next upset comes at the Etihad rather than Anfield.
Harry Maguire is reported to be fit and free for selection after picking up a knock in their defeat to Wolves, other than that Claude Puel has no other new injury news with only Daniel Amartey the only player unavailable for Leicester.
In their victories over Chelsea and Manchester City, Claude Puel utilised a 4-3-3 formation which transitioned to a 4-5-1 when not in possession.
Kasper Schmeichel will start in goal. Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira, both of whom have impressed hugely since the start of the season will start at full back.
Harry Maguire should keep his place in the centre of defence after shrugging off that injury. Wes Morgan could make way for Jonny Evans after the former had a disastrous game at Wolves.
In a midfield three, Ndidi and Mendy will likely form a pivot just in front of the defence allowing 21-year-old Hamza Choudhury, who can’t be missed thanks to his hairstyle to join the attack when need and could be the one to man mark Firmino throughout the game.
Jamie Vardy will start up front for Leicester, the Englishman has a fine record against the reds, finding the back of the net against them in each of his last five games. Supporting him from wide positions will be Demarai Gray and James Maddison.
After a warm-weather training break in Dubai, the whole Reds squad should be refreshed and raring to go ahead of a very important month.
Liverpool still are without Joe Gomez and Trent Alex-Arnold, who’s injuries are both feared to be worse than first expected. Luckily for Klopp, Fabinho should be available for selection of shrugging off a hamstring injury. Gini Wijnaldum and Dejan Lovren has also returned to full training after both picked up muscle injuries in recent games.
Without a recognized right back available, Fabinho is likely to be the player to start at right back – James Milner is suspended – though Rafa Camacho may potentially be called-upon.
Despite suffering from illness, Virgil van Dijk should be able to play having played through illness and two broken ribs earlier on in the season. The Dutchman should be joined in defence by Robertson, Lovren and Fabinho, a back four which could revert to a back three in possession allowing Andy Robertson a free role in attack.
Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson will form a double pivot in midfield meaning its likely Xherdan Shaqiri will start in a three alongside Firmino and Mane with Salah competing the XI as a lone striker.
Danger man: Jamie Vardy
Jamie Vardy has often been a problem for Liverpool’s defence since Leicester gained promotion to the Premier League, the striker has found the net seven times in eight appearances against the Reds – two of these goals have come at Anfield, both scored in his last two visits.
Not only has he done well against Liverpool, he has also performed to a high standard against the rest of the top six clubs in his career – he has scored against the top six more than any other club, which is quite the statistic for someone who had just celebrated his 32nd birthday.
The Englishman scored 22 times last season, all of which came from within the 18-yard box showcasing his excellent poaching abilities.
Most of his goals come after being found in the box following a ball delivered from a wide position, so the way to stop him being a danger is to stop deliveries coming in from wide areas, luckily for Liverpool we have two very capable full backs in dealing with such situations in Robertson and Fabinho.
He also converted five penalties last season, scoring all but one of the penalties he had took, the one missed being against Liverpool with Simon Mignolet guessing correctly and saving.
Alisson has only faced one penalty this season, which is a testament to Liverpool’s defence. If they can continue their performances on Wednesday then we will have an excellent chance of reopening a four point lead over Pep Guardiola’s team, that if they are successful in a tricky visit to Newcastle.
Last five results
Premier League, 27/02/17 – Leicester City 3-1 Liverpool
League Cup, 19/09/17 – Leicester City 2-0 Liverpool
Premier League, 23/09/17 – Leicester City 2-3 Liverpool
Premier League, 30/12/17 – Liverpool 2-1 Leicester City
Premier League, 01/09/18 – Leicester City 1-2 Liverpool
We will still need to take Leicester seriously despite their recent poor from, they still have players of quality to cause problems. Players that can cause problems for even the strongest teams as proven against Chelsea and Manchester City.
The front three of Gray, Vardy and Maddison will certainly cause a Liverpool defence missing two starters some problems, so it will be up to van Dijk and co. to try and minimize the risk of conceding.
One concern might be the strength in midfield, Leicester have immense physicality in the midfield three, something that might be a problem for Wijnaldum and Henderson. If this battle becomes a problem Henderson may well swap positions with Fabinho to bulk up our midfield.
We could be in for a very comfortable victory if the opposition defended in the way they did last week. It’s important we keep on winning for as long as we possibly can, and upcoming fixtures should allow Liverpool build up real steam for the end of the season.
Salah scored three times against Leicester last season and he should continue his streak, and I think Bobby Firmino will join him on the score sheet in a comfortable victory for the Reds.
Final score: Liverpool 3 (Salah x2, Firmino) – 0 Leicester City