31 August 2018

Liverpool at Leicester 09.01.18

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 12.30.17
3-2 Liverpool (a) 09.23.17
0-2 Leicester (a; League Cup) 09.19.17
1-3 Leicester (a) 02.27.17

Last matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Brighton (h); 2-0 Crystal Palace (a); 4-0 West Ham (h)
Leicester: 4-0 Fleetwood (h); 2-1 Southampton (a); 2-0 Wolves (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 3; Salah 2; Milner, Sturridge 1
Leicester: Gray, Maguire, Maddison, Vardy 1

Referee: Paul Tierney (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Gomez van Dijk Robertson
Milner Henderson Keïta
Salah Firmino Mané

After three consecutive matches with the same XI, we've been promised changes. And I've little idea what they'll be. Or if there will really be that many.

Back five should be the same. Most importantly, you don't want to mess with what's been Liverpool's best unit so far in this short season. But also, Lovren's still injured, Gomez has played well, neither Alisson nor van Dijk are coming out. Maybe one of the full-backs is replaced; both have defended well, as the team's defended well, but neither's been at their best in attack – especially Alexander-Arnold.

You'd expect Henderson would come into midfield, but I said that prior to the last match. It could be for any of the three. We've got 32-year-old Milner already racking up the minutes, the Wijnaldum Away From Home axiom, and Keïta nowhere near his best against Brighton. Once again, it's still probably too soon for Fabinho, although he may finally make the bench.

And then there's that front three. Firmino, left out of the squad in just two of last season's 56 matches; Salah only missing a couple with a minor injury; and Mané, almost ever-present after last season's early hamstring injury and suspension. They were almost always available last season, and almost always played when available. And they were the main reason why Liverpool accomplished what Liverpool accomplished.

But this season might be different. There's at least more depth, with a frighteningly resurgent (for now) Sturridge as well as Xherdan Shaqiri, not to mention maybe Adam Lallana is a thing that exists. You'd think the former two will get starts, and probably sooner rather than later. You'd think Liverpool could play 4-4-2 with both Firmino and Sturridge up front, or 4-2-3-1 with Shaqiri in the hole behind that front three. Maybe we'll see it tomorrow.

But I dunno. And we won't know until we get examples of how Klopp's gonna rotate and what other formations are possible. Until then, it's a guessing game, and it remains easier to guess what we've seen before. Not to mention that this is the last match before the first annoying international break of the season, so it's not as if Liverpool necessarily need to rest players for what's to come. Not for a couple of weeks, at least.

Meanwhile, Leicester. Perpetually a problem. Puel's done well in settling the side after an unsurprising fall back to earth following that unlikely league title, a more proactive and pressing side than that under Rainieri. More potent full-backs, more of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Still the proclivity for counter-attacks and set plays. Still Gray's pace and Albrighton's dead balls and Harry Maguire's massive head and two defensive destroying midfielders.

But Leicester will be without Jamie Vardy, scorer of seven goals in eight games against Liverpool. Not that Kelechi Iheanacho – who will absolutely benefit from increased playing time; he's still only 21 – is that much of a downgrade.

Tomorrow's XI seems likely to be Schmeichel; Ricardo, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell; Ndidi, Mendy; Albrighton, Maddison, Gray; Iheanacho. Nearly the same as at Southampton last week. Ricardo Pereira played on the right wing at Southampton, with Amartey at full-back, but I'd expect Pereira to return to his more familiar position tomorrow. Maybe Jonny Evans starts instead of Wes Morgan. Maybe Adrien Silva comes in for one of the two midfielders, or – less likely – Maddison for a more solid midfield.

As with the last three matches, this is a fixture that Liverpool won last season. For all the good and promising we've seen so far, and all the room for further improvement, and all the delight at the three wins from three start, we're solely on pace with last season's comparable fixtures.

At the same time, Liverpool haven't won their first four league matches since 1990-91, before the formation of the Premier League.

It's only the fourth match of a 38-game campaign, but we're already at the point where every one feels important, more important than the last. Strap in for 35 more of these, and that's only one of the four competitions Liverpool are in this season.

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