01 February 2016

Liverpool at Leicester 02.02.16

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

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.26.15
2-2 (h) 01.01.15
3-1 Liverpool (a) 12.02.14
0-0 (a) 03.28.04

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 West Ham (h); 0-1 Stoke aet (h); 5-4 Norwich (a)
Leicester: 3-0 Stoke (h); 0-2 Tottenham (h); 1-1 Villa (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke 6; Coutinho, Firmino 5; Milner 3; Henderson, Ings, Milner, Sturridge 2; Allen, Lallana, Origi, Skrtel 1
Leicester: Vardy 16; Mahrez 13; Okazaki 4; Ulloa 2; Albrighton, Drinkwater, Dyer, Huth, Kante, Schlupp, Wasilewski 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Sakho Moreno
Henderson Lucas Can
Milner Firmino Lallana

On Boxing Day, Liverpool almost wholly negated Leicester, and eventually eked out a 1-0 victory, mainly by matching Leicester’s formation 4-4-1-1 v 4-4-1-1 and matching Leicester’s notorious work-rate. But Liverpool are still missing two players crucial to that formation: Coutinho and Origi, even though Benteke replaced the latter after 37 minute due to – what else? – a hamstring injury.

Klopp says that Coutinho, Origi, Skrtel, and (even) Sturridge are close to returning, likely to join training by the end of the week, but none will be available tomorrow. Which makes it harder to repeat the tactics which led to all three points five weeks ago.

Liverpool can get close – Benteke up front, either Milner or Ibe on the flank – but the "usual" XI seems more likely, basically the same XI we saw against both Stoke and Norwich. Liverpool’s very, very different results in those two matches demonstrates the inconsistency in this side and in this squad, as well as the strength of their respective opponents. Of course, Leicester is even better, both in defense and attack, than either Stoke or Norwich.

Maybe Henderson’s out with his recurring foot injury; either Milner drops into midfield, Allen keeps his place, or Liverpool change to the above 4-4-1-1 formation. Maybe Lovren’s still not ready to start two matches in three days after recently returning, and Toure (or Caulker) start instead. Otherwise, Liverpool still don’t have a ton of options, but this is nothing new.

As usual, Liverpool will succeed by running a lot and not doing anything stupid in defense – as they did when these sides last met, as they’ve done against Stoke, Sunderland, and Swansea in recent weeks. Because matches like 5-4 at Norwich, or even 3-3 against Arsenal, have been much more the exception rather than the rule.

And as when these sides met on Boxing Day, Leicester are still the league leaders. They’re 13 points ahead of Liverpool, a gap that’s decreased by just a single point since these sides last season. They’ve scored 12 more goals than Liverpool, they’ve conceded six fewer.

Unlike when these sides last met, Leicester have had 10 days since their last match; I doubt I need remain that Liverpool have had just three. Unlike last time, both Vardy and Mahrez will be rested and fully fit. Vardy and Mahrez have the same amount of league goals scored as every Liverpool player combined, a solitary own goal at Manchester City the only difference between Liverpool’s 30 and Vardy and Mahrez’s 29.

Which is good news for Leicester, both in the short- and medium-term. Because the next three matches – against Liverpool, then at both City and Arsenal – will go a long way in determining their final place. Win all three, and Leicester have almost certainly secured a top four spot and will remain in pole position for the title. Drop points, in any or in all, and questions begin to arise.

As has become usual, and is a big reason for Leicester’s still-shocking form, they’ve no injuries to worry about. Schlepp’s probably still out, but also probably wouldn’t play anyway, and that’s it. Ranieri’s had a full-strength squad to choose from almost all season. So it’s likely that tomorrow’s XI will be quite familiar: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Ruth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Kante, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy. It's the same XI that Liverpool faced little more than a month ago.

Leicester have added winger Demarai Grey and midfielder Daniel Amartey during the transfer window, and are still looking to add a striker (whether Remy or Ahmed Musa or Dwight Gayle), but the former will probably be limited to substitute appearances at most and the latter wouldn’t be signed in time to feature tomorrow.

Maybe Grey starts in place of Albrighton, maybe Ulloa in place of Okazaki, but that’s it. Leicester is Leicester, have been Leicester all season. They will work as hard as any side in the league, deny space in their half, and counter-attack at pace, with Vardy and Mahrez perpetually dangerous. They know what they do and they’re very good at what they do. And they’ve lost just twice in 23 league matches.

But one of those losses was against Liverpool. It was at Liverpool. Liverpool had a couple more players available, Leicester were more fatigued. It was one of Liverpool’s best defensive performances of the season, it was one of Leicester’s worst attacking performances of the season, both almost equally out of character. Tomorrow’s match will be even more difficult, for exactly those reasons.

Still, Liverpool have done it before, and Liverpool have the potential to do it again.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

When you consider the goals scored by Leicester, don't forget that Mahrez has 4 penalty goals and Vardy has 3 penalty goals. So 7 of Leicerster's goals are from pens. If Mahrez hadn't missed the 2 recent pens against Villa and Bournemouth, Leicester would have another 4 points and be running away with the league by 7 points. 17% of Leicester's 42 goals are from pens.