It’s easy to mock Jurgen Klopp and his horror at the intensity of the English timetable, but in three-and-a-half months in charge, he has already overseen 26 matches; Saturday’s 0-0 draw against West Ham in the FA Cup and the need for a replay is only going to make matters worse.
Klopp played a half-and-half team on Saturday featuring a mix of regular first-teamers and youth prospects, which should offer some relief to a side still racked by injuries. Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Marin Skrtel and Divock Origi are all out, while Danny Ings and Joe Gomez are long-term absentees.
One of the main reasons for Leicester’s success this season, meanwhile, has been how few injures they have suffered. Only Jeffrey Schlupp of players who might reasonably expect to be near the first team is definitely out, although Shinji Okazaki is a major doubt.
On the one hand, Leicester have won only two of their last eight games, which could be taken as evidence of their bubble slowly deflating. On the other, they’ve only lost two of those games and, although they went out of the FA Cup in the third round after a tight tie against Tottenham that went to a replay, they find themselves three points clear at the top of the table. Their last game was a highly impressive 3-0 win over Stoke, and their early exit from the FA Cup means they’ve had a week off to re-energise.
Liverpool did win the meeting at Anfield 1-0, making them one of only two sides to beat Leicester in the league this season, but their recent form has been very up and down with two wins and two defeats in their last seven games, although they have reached the Capital One Cup final in that time.
VARDY AND MAHREZ
Leicester’s obvious strength this season has been the interaction of Riyad Mahrez cutting in from the right and the pace of Jamie Vardy. Teams can’t let Mahrez go because of his shooting capabilities but as soon as they push out to him, he is prone to slipping passes through for Vardy, who is as good a timer and angler of a run as any striker in the Premier League at the moment.
That presents a particular problem for Liverpool because Alberto Moreno, who should naturally occupy Mahrez’s space, is such an attacking full-back. Even if he starts with defensive intentions, there will be times when he is caught upfield. There’s then a question over whether Mamadou Sakho is partnered by Kolo Toure or by Dejan Lovren who has returned to fitness. Toure has performed well but as his pace has deserted him as he’s got older, he’s become susceptible to being caught on the turn. That means extra responsibility on the holding midfielder, presumably Lucas Leiva.
LIVERPOOL’S ATTACKING OPTIONS
It was Christian Benteke who came off the bench to score Liverpool’s winner against Leicester on Boxing Day, but the fact he started against West Ham on Saturday says everything about his declining status. He’s likely to be on the bench again on Tuesday, not only because Roberto Firmino seems to be finding form – two doubles in his last four games – but also because the Wes Morgan-Robert Huth pairing is ideally suited to repelling aerial attacks.
If Liverpool are to break Leicester down, it’s likely to be through Adam Lallana or Emre Can finding pockets of space and playing passes through to Firmino. Given how Leicester like to sit deep, though, and the effectiveness of N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater at screening the back four, that space may not be forthcoming.
THE MILNER FACTOR
Nobody has set up more league goals for Liverpool this season than James Milner. He may not enjoy playing on the right, but he’s undeniably effective at it and his battle with one of the unsung heroes of Leicester’s season, the German full-back Christian Fuchs, could be key, especially if the middle gets congested.
Fuchs is the third most prolific crosser in the Leicester side and has two assists this season; Milner must guard against his counters.
Liverpool went in a week from winning 5-4 at Norwich in game in which it felt either side could score at any second to drawing 0-0 against West Ham in a game in which it felt as though neither side would ever score.
Trying to derive a pattern from that feels futile, which makes the 2.10 available on over 2.5 goals tempting. Leicester’s recent solidity, though – just one goal conceded in their last five league games – cautions against that. It may feel like Leicester are on the decline – and that is the narrative most people anticipate – but on the other hand they played well in their last game, they’re at home and they’re top of the league against a highly inconsistent side.
Looked at like that, 2.62 for them to win can’t be turned down.