26 February 2017

Liverpool at Leicester 02.27.17

3:00pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
4-1 Liverpool (h) 09.10.16
0-2 Leicester (a) 02.02.16
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.26.15
2-2 (h) 01.01.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Tottenham (h); 0-2 Hull (a); 1-1 Chelsea (h)
Leicester: 1-2 Sevilla (a); 0-1 Millwall (a); 0-2 Swansea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 11; Firmino 8; Lallana 7; Milner 6; Coutinho 5; Origi 4; Can, Wijnaldum 3; Lovren, Sturridge 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Leicester: Slimani, Vardy 5; Mahrez 3; Musa 2; Amartey, Fuchs, Gray, King, Morgan, Ulloa 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

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

That was a nice little midseason vacation. Something like an international break but without the trouble of international matches. Everybody rested and recovered from the winter of our discontent? Excellent.

Well, mostly recovered. Lovren's still dealing with his lingering knee issue. Sturridge is still sick. Neither trained yesterday, both may have trained today, neither will be ready to start tomorrow. And Jordan Henderson wasn't shown in yesterday's training pictures either, but really we're ruling players out because of that now?

If Henderson's available – and I'm still guessing he is – the only lineup question is the only lineup question we've had for the last month or so: Wijnaldum or Can in midfield. And, even though Liverpool are away from home and Wijnaldum truly has been vastly better at Anfield, Wijnaldum's also in much better form. Or at least was before this two-week layoff. If, somehow, the Training Pictures Theory is correct, it'll be Wijnaldum and Can in midfield, with the German at the base and hopefully remembering that he has more defensive and positional responsibilities when playing there.

Otherwise, we know what we're getting from the XI. Lucas probably in place of Lovren, frightening at times but then he pockets Harry Kane for 80-something minutes so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Lallana, back in midfield where he belongs. And, usually most importantly, Mané, Firmino, and Coutinho up front, for just the third consecutive match since Mané returned from the African Cup of Nations. But we don't necessarily know what we'll actually get from that XI.

In theory, it's a hell of a time to be playing Leicester.

Last season's champions just dropped into the relegation zone. And are winless in the league in 2017. A 0-0 draw at Boro on January 2nd has been followed by five consecutive losses. Which have been followed by losses to Millwall in the FA Cup and Sevilla in the Champions League. Leicester's only wins in 2017 were in the FA Cup: 2-1 at Everton and 3-1 after extra time against Derby.

Oh, and they just fired the manager who led them to the league title nine months ago. Led. Leicester. To. The. Title. And now he's been sacked. What a world we live in.

You want to know why Leicester are winless in 2017? Because Leicester have not scored a league goal in 2017. 0-0 Boro, 0-3 Chelsea, 0-3 Southampton, 0-1 Burnley, 0-3 United, 0-2 Swansea.

Everyone wants to blame Kante's sale to Chelsea. And don't get me wrong, Leicester really miss him. Any team would. There's also Morgan and Huth's regression into lumbering oafs who aren't clearing everything in reach, horrific set play defending, and Leicester getting hit hard by the African Cup of Nations.

But Leicester's biggest issue is goals. They've scored 24 goals so far this campaign; only Boro and Hull have fewer. They'd scored 47 at this point in 2015-16, joint-top scorers in the league. Vardy has five goals and two assists, Mahrez has three goals and two assists. After 25 games last season, Vardy had 18 goals and five assists, Mahrez had 14 goals and nine assists.

Variance is a bitch.

So it's probably not surprising that Leicester's only injury concerns are up front. Both Slimani and Ulloa are slight doubts, but Leicester's line-up is also still not all that dissimilar from last year's. Chances are it'll be Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Ndidi, Gray; Okazaki, Vardy. Maybe caretaker manager Craig Shakespeare runs something more like a 4-5-1, with Albrighton coming in for Okazaki and Gray floating around centrally behind Vardy, but that seems the only other possibility.

Leicester – this winless slide not withstanding – have at least been better at home this season. Last season, the King Power stadium was a fortress, losing just once there all season. This season it's at least an almost sturdy motte and bailey. They've won five, drawn three, and lost four at home. They've won none, drawn three, and lost 10 away. It's a bit of a discrepancy.

So yes, Leicester have been very bad lately. Very. Bad. And Liverpool should be able to take advantage, especially when on 15 days rest.

But there's still the lingering issue of Liverpool against bottom sides. Liverpool against sides who pack the defense and only look to counter. Liverpool away from home against those sides. Liverpool's recent results in every single one of those types of matches, with the only decent performances in 2017 against their peers rather than their lessers.

It's not hard to see Liverpool running riot, as so many have done against Leicester in the last few months, but it's also not hard to see Liverpool running into a brick wall over and over and over before Vardy scores on a counter and/or a defensive error.

It has been a restful 15 days, and it almost seems like the start of a new season. A blank slate, with 13 games to achieve whatever's possible. That's how Liverpool need to approach this.

We go again.

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