09 September 2016

Liverpool v Leicester 09.10.16

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-2 Leicester (a) 02.02.16
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.26.15
2-2 (h) 01.01.15
3-1 Liverpool (a) 12.02.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Tottenham (a); 5-0 Burton Albion (a); 0-2 Burnley (a)
Leicester: 2-1 Swansea (h); 0-0 Arsenal (h); 1-2 Hull (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Coutinho 2; Lallana, Mané, Milner 1
Leicester: Mahrez, Morgan, Vardy 1

Referee: Craig Pawson

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Mané Firmino Coutinho

The international break could've been worse. Emre Can remains absent with the ankle problem that's been bothering him for months, and Klavan picked up a knee injury, but otherwise, everyone's back and available. Even Loris Karius is available, returning sooner than expected, although highly unlikely to start. That's better than usual.

So, a nearly full complement of players and the first match at a redeveloped Anfield. Against the defending champions. What could possibly go wrong?

Wait. Don't answer that.

There seems a small chance that Liverpool switch to a 4-2-3-1 for this. Mainly because it worked well when these sides met at Anfield last season – although Liverpool's 4-2-3-1 then looked more like a 4-4-2 than it did in any other fixture. And Liverpool controlled Leicester like no other side had done. Liverpool out-shot Leicester 26-7, holding the eventual league winners scoreless for the first time all season. It was the first time all season that Leicester didn't have a single clear-cut chance as well. Leicester were held far below their season-long averages in goals, shots, shots on-target. Danger Zone shots, passes, and possession. Of course, Liverpool barely won, 1-0 thanks to Benteke converting Firmino's low cross, but "barely won" is still winning, especially when the team you beat lost just three times all season.

That day, Liverpool's XI was Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno; Henderson, Can; Lallana, Firmino, Coutinho; Origi, with Benteke coming on for Origi before halftime. Most of those players are available tomorrow, and it's not hard to imagine something like Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner (or Moreno); Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mané, Firmino, Coutinho; Sturridge.

The other question is over Coutinho's availability. I've often mentioned my dislike of early season international breaks (or any international breaks for that matter), and that Coutinho had to travel halfway around the world for two matches, only returning to Merseyside yesterday morning, isn't helpful. Which maybe means we get the usual 4-3-3, but with Firmino on the left and Sturridge or Origi upfront. Still, given Coutinho's importance, if Klopp's feels he's anywhere close to fit enough to start, he'll start.

I can't help but suspect Liverpool will continue to dance with what brung them. Last season's formation switch against the champions came midway through the season, three months into Klopp's tenure. Liverpool pretty much knew who Liverpool were, and definitely knew who Leicester were. This time, Liverpool are still figuring out who Liverpool are, and will probably want to stick with what's appeared to be the preferred formation and style going forward.

It's still insanely early, but Leicester have found defending their title far harder than winning it so far. Like Liverpool, they've won one, drawn one, and lost one: a reasonably encouraging win, an expected and acceptable draw, and a baffling, surprising loss. A 2-1 win over Swansea two weeks ago was closer than Leicester would like, but still deserved and rarely in doubt. A 0-0 against Arsenal saw two strong sides cancel each other out. The shock remains the opening day defeat, at promoted Hull, where Hull played like Leicester wanted to play, soaking up pressure before twice taking the lead, two quick counters, with one aided by awful defending. And Leicester were lucky to get their goal, awarded a penalty for a foul outside the box.

To be fair, crazy things can happen on Opening Day, for better or for worse, as Liverpool fans remember. And Leicester's defense looked desperately different with Hernandez starting ahead of the suspended Huth. Since then, they've held Arsenal scoreless and conceded a late consolation when already 2-0 up against Swansea.

There seems only two line-up questions for Leicester: either record signing Slimani or Okazaki partnering Vardy; Musa, Albrighton, or Gray on the left. Mendy and Schlupp are out injured, while Schmeichel's likely to play despite a minor hernia operation during the international break. So it'll be a very familiar opponent. Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Ruth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, King, Albrighton; Slimani, Vardy.

And as has become all-too-familiar, it'll be up to Liverpool to break down a resilient defense and defend against what's arguably the best counter-attacking side in the league. Liverpool certainly won't have 80% possession, but – even at Anfield and despite the opposition's impressive record last season – this could be a lot more like facing Burnley than facing Arsenal or Tottenham.

So, as against Burnley – and Watford, West Ham, etc. last season – it starts with Liverpool not doing anything stupid in defense. It starts with Liverpool being Good Liverpool from the opening whistle. Don't give the ball away building from the back, don't make unnecessary errors. Don't concede early, which requires Liverpool to push push push and leaves Liverpool exposed at the back, allowing a team that likes to sit deep and counter to sit deep and counter. Liverpool did these good things when these sides met last season, and Liverpool were eventually rewarded with a winner.

Conversely, Liverpool would get a massive boost by scoring early. Sure, Liverpool have struggled to retain a lead at times (*glares at Liverpool's last match*), but it'd force Leicester to come out. It'd allow Liverpool to press and counter, something they're quite good at when actually given the opportunity.

Set a marker. And open the new Anfield the way you mean to continue.

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