01 December 2014

Liverpool at Leicester 12.02.14

2:45pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 03.28.04
2-1 Liverpool (h) 09.20.03
1-0 Liverpool (h) 01.30.02
4-1 Liverpool (a) 10.20.01

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Stoke (h); 2-2 Ludogorets (a); 1-3 Palace (a)
Leicester: 2-3 QPR (a); 0-0 Sunderland (h); 0-2 Southampton (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Own Goal, Sterling 3; Gerrard 2; Can, Coutinho, Henderson, Johnson, Lallana, Lambert, Moreno, Sturridge 1
Leicester: Ulloa 5; Cambiasso, Schlupp 2; Mahrez, Nugent, Vardy, Wood 1

Referee: Lee Mason (sigh)

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Can Allen
Lallana Gerrard Sterling

Will Rodgers leave Gerrard on the bench for the second-straight match?

I doubt it.

Are Lambert, Lucas, and Toure fit enough to start four matches in nine days in the case of Lambert, and three matches in six days in the case of Lucas and Toure?

I doubt it.

So we'll almost certainly see a different XI based around those changes.

Sterling and Johnson are also candidates to be rested. But Johnson's coming off a match where he wasn't awful and actually scored the winner, while Sterling's played more minutes than any other outfield player, so I suspect both will keep their places.

Lucas has played well enough as Liverpool's deepest midfielder, but Allen's been the linchpin. Ideally, he stays in the side, paired with Henderson or Can if Liverpool retain the 4-2-3-1 formation used in the last two matches. And since Liverpool have looked marginally better in these last two matches, I suspect they will.

Which again begs the question of what to do with Steven Gerrard. Even though Liverpool already have a surplus of options at the position (Sterling, Coutinho, Lallana), it seems as if he has to play as the #10, since sole defensive midfielder should be and seemingly is out of the equation, especially in a match where Liverpool expect to dominate possession and will be exposed to counter-attacks. But maybe he's given a trial run alongside another at the base of midfield in the 4-2-3-1 formation, whether it's Allen, Henderson, or Can. Especially since Leicester isn't known for their attacking prowess through the middle.

But if Gerrard's the #10, I think Liverpool need more creatively from the role Henderson's filled in the last two matches, whether it's from Lallana, Sterling, Coutinho, or Markovic. But maybe Lallana takes Sterling's spot on the left because the latter needs a match off, with Henderson remaining in the side.

With Balotelli and Sakho still injured (as are Flanagan, Sturridge, and Suso), Liverpool have few options at striker and center-back. I suspect Borini has to play because Lambert won't be fit enough to start again, and similar goes for Lovren rather than Toure, although it's easier for center-backs to play consecutive matches.

But I also wouldn't be surprised to see Lambert, Lucas, Toure, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, etc all start again, pretty much the same XI as against Ludogorets, because Liverpool have looked marginally better and marginally better is a dramatic improvement and why ruin it now. Guessing Liverpool's XIs has become infinitely harder this season. Which, I guess, is to be expected when no one knows Liverpool's best XI.

Prior to Saturday's 2-3 loss at QPR, Leicester hadn't scored in five games. They haven't won since September 21, that hilarious 5-3 comeback win over Manchester United, losing six and drawing two during that span.

So it's little surprise that Leicester are currently propping up the table. But Liverpool, in their infinite charity, can be just as awful against the division's worst sides.

Leicester play a 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 hybrid; the two midfielders sit deep, the two wingers play high up the pitch, and both Ulloa and Vardy are out and out strikers but the former frequently drops deeper. With few options, I suspect their XI will look the same as against QPR on Saturday, which was Schmeichel; De Laet, Wasilewski, Morgan, Konchesky; Mahrez, James, Cambiasso, Schlupp; Ulloa, Vardy. Nugent is back from a minor injury (Hammond and Upson are Leicester's only absentees), but I suspect Ulloa and Vardy will continue to be preferred. Ulloa, with five of Leicester's 13 goals, is clearly the danger man. James has been Cambiasso's midfield partner for the last few matches, but both King and Drinkwater are options as well.

Ideally, Liverpool will continue to build on the positives against Ludogorets and Stoke, especially the second half against Stoke, but matches like Palace, QPR, and West Ham away from Anfield remain at the forefront of the mind. Liverpool have been fairly dire when traveling to lesser sides, especially lesser sides who like to play direct football.

For Schlupp and Mahrez, read Bolasie and Puncheon. For Ulloa and Vardy, read Chamakh and Gayle. Leicester have kept just two clean sheets all season, but they've still conceded fewer goals than Palace have. Like Palace, they're playing with house money; if they lose, well, it's Liverpool and we're supposed to lose, even considering Liverpool's current state of affairs. If they win, it's another scalp on the scale of Manchester United for a side likely to be back in the Championship next season.

Given how Liverpool performed against Palace, QPR, and West Ham – among others – this is the exactly the type of match they need to prove they're capable of winning before we can start talking about actual, concrete turning point improvements.


Anonymous said...

Would love to see Gerrard reserved for the last half hour, and to see Lambert and Borini on the pitch at the same time at some point. We need to rely on a mix of playmakers and runs from all positions. For me this was the biggest improvement against Palace - we've been too stationary in attack. Give Coutinho something to work with!

Anonymous said...

Awesome match preview. Highlight of my workday.

Serious thought: what about Gerrard at center back? I know he'd get beat for pace, but the positives would be we'd have a passing center back, could still take the set plays etc. So often he comes back to take the ball off the center back and then pass long ball, if he did this as a center back it'd be like we have an extra player.

Just a thought.

Last thought; I've been crying out for more Markovic lately; am I alone in this? I really hope he is at least on the bench tomorrow.