When the Premier League champion side plays any of the primary title challengers, it is a significant occasion, which has the potential to decide how the title race plays out eventually. When the challenger is already ahead of the Champion, the game gains even more significance. This Sunday evening, when Liverpool host Leicester City it is fair to assume that it will be a game that will have far-reaching consequences into how the fates of these two teams and other challengers play out eventually.
Liverpool have rebounded well from their loss to Aston Villa in early October. Since then they have drawn twice away (Everton and Manchester City), while beating Sheffield United and West Ham at home. In their last game, the Reds drew against Man City who are the favourites for this season’s title. That draw left Liverpool third in the table, behind Tottenham (tied on 17 points) and Leicester (18 points). If it were not for his team’s depleted resources due to myriad injuries, Klopp would have been happy with where his team sits currently. While the 7-2 loss to Aston Villa would have been infuriating to any manager, getting 7 points from the possible 9 against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City would be pleasing. However, Klopp’s side comes into this game with just one first-choice defender fit in Andy Robertson. Klopp will hope that Liverpool’s decision to not reinforce the defence, either on the right-back or in central areas does not come to haunt him in this game or in the rest of the season.
Leicester’s visit to Anfield has a sense of destiny about it. Brendan Rodgers would love to beat his old side and make a point to the management who replaced him with Klopp. It was also the Foxes who ended the Reds record unbeaten run in the past. It could again be them. They come into this game having beaten Wolves, Leeds and Arsenal in their last three league games. Earlier in the season, they did lose to West Ham and Aston Villa (both at home), but they also beat Manchester City 5-2 at the Etihad. With more top-eight games to play than their hosts in the first half of the season, and with a more demanding schedule of games on Thursday (Europa League) and Sunday, it will be arguably difficult for Leicester to keep their place at the top of the table for long. However, when Brendan Rodgers brings his side to Merseyside on Sunday for a reunion with his old club, his side might still be at the top of the table or will be looking to get back up by beating Liverpool at Anfield. A feat that no other side has been able to achieve in more than three and half years.
- Like with most other teams, Liverpool rarely lose to Leicester, especially at home. The Reds are unbeaten in their last nine home Premier League games against the Foxes. But they did lose their previous three (between 1997 and 2000) at Anfield. In fact, Leicester have struggled to beat the Reds in the Premier League in general. They have registered only two victories against their hosts on Sunday in 16 games (D3 L11). Their last win was a 3-1 win at the King Power Stadium in February 2017.
- But it was the Foxes that ended the Reds’ previous 63-match unbeaten run at home. Jurgen Klopp’s side are currently matched with Bob Paisley’s side that went unbeaten at Anfield between February 1978 and December 1980. Leicester ended that run in January 1981. Will history repeat itself on Sunday?
- It would not be too surprising if it did, given that Liverpool are leaking goals like a sieve. They have kept just one clean sheet in their last 13 Premier League games, conceding in each of their last six at home. They are only behind Leeds and West Brom (17 each) in terms of goals conceded, having conceded 16.
- Prior to this Leicester have started only one game week at the top the league table – the final game week of their title-winning 2015-16 season. They have won six of their eight games in the League this season (L2), as many as they had in their last 22 games last season (W6 L6 D10).
- Brendan Rodgers has lost both of his Premier League games against his former side. Indeed, Liverpool have historically proven themselves to be difficult to be beaten by ex-managers. Only on 4 occasions out of 29 have the Reds been beaten by their former managers.
In the absence of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane will be the key attacking outlet for Jurgen Klopp. Even when the Egyptian is on the pitch, Mane sometimes eclipses his brilliance. Although he has only scored 4 times so far in 7 appearances, his xG90 of 0.58 and xA90 of 0.19 imply more than 75% chance of him contributing a goal if he stays on the pitch for 90 minutes. He also likes to score and assist against Leicester City. In 5 appearances for Liverpool against the Foxes, Mane has scored and assisted 4 goals each. In every one of those 5 appearances, he has at least scored or assisted one goal and has never lost or drawn the game. Klopp will be hoping that goal contribution and winning streak continues for Mane and Liverpool.
Even if Liverpool were not Jamie Vardy’s favourite opponents, he would be a favourite to score a goal or two on Sunday. He has scored eight goals in seven Premier League appearances this season. Although he is not alone at the top of the goal-scoring charts, none of the other three players who have scored 8 goals so far (Salah, Calvert-Lewin, Son Hueng-Min) relish playing against the Reds as much as Vardy does. Vardy has scored seven times against the Reds and is highly likely to match or overcome Thierry Henry’s 8 goals against Liverpool. Only Andy Cole (11) has more. At this stage, Vardy is leading the xG90 charts in the League with 1.17 xG per 90 minutes. He really is key to the result on Sunday.
Klopp does not relish international breaks and this last break of 2020 has vindicated him. From a defence that had already lost van Dijk and Trent Alexander Arnold, this break has deducted Joe Gomez and almost took out Andy Robertson as well. Even the youngsters were not spared as Rhys William was withdrawn from the England Under-21 side earlier in the break with a minor hip injury. The injuries were not limited to the defence. Captain Jordan Henderson was substituted on 15th November against Belgium due to “muscle tightness”. Mohammed Salah tested positive for COVID-19 and will not feature against Leicester, just like his captain. With so many first-team players out, Jurgen Klopp will need to rush back Fabinho and/or Thiago to face Leicester. Youngsters such as Neco Williams and Nate Phillips will also get an opportunity in the first XI. The expected line up: Alisson; Neco Williams, Nate Phillips, Joel Matip, Robertson: Keita, Milner, Wijnaldum: Jota, Firmino, Mane.
The international break has been more of a mixed-bag for Leicester. Brendan Rodgers will be desperate for Wesley Fofana to be back after the centre-back withdrew from France Under 21 squad with a knee problem. But the break did allow Timothy Castagne, Ricardo Pereira and Wilfred Ndidi to recover and all three could feature on Sunday. James Maddison will also have benefited from the break and will hope to start. The expected line up: Schmeichel; Fofana, Evans, Fuchs; Castagne, Tielmans, Mendy, Justin; Maddison, Barnes; Vardy.
Brendan Rodgers and Leicester City are unlikely to get a better opportunity to defeat Liverpool at Anfield. A heavily weakened defence makes the Reds very vulnerable. However, they might not feel Salah’s absence as strongly. Diogo Jota has given ample notice of his talent and intent. Klopp might want his team to compensate through heavy attacking and pressing but Vardy and Maddison will prove a handful. It is likely that the teams share the spoils at the end of the game.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Leicester City