If the trip to Watford was Liverpool’s nightmare before Christmas, then what’s coming on Boxing Day could be an extension of someone else’s dream.
Descending from Cloud Nine, Leicester City bounce into Anfield on the 26th sitting 14 points and eight places higher than their hosts at the very top of the Premier League table. That is a sentence which still makes absolutely no sense, but then neither have most of the Foxes’ results this season.
They have been utterly brilliant in beguiling the rest of the division, with their latest victory over Stanley Park at Everton last weekend arguably their most impressive of the lot.
Manager Claudio Ranieri was billed as ‘The Tinkerman’ when he returned to English football at the King Power Stadium in the summer, but whilst that lazy nickname might still be doing the rounds in places, the Italian’s success has been based largely on continuity.
If you disregard the fact that Robert Huth was signed on a permanent deal following last season’s loan spell, only one summer addition – the Japanese international Shinji Okazaki – started Ranieri’s first game in charge against Sunderland.
With the forward in and out of the team ever since, only two other Ranieri signings – the full-back Christian Fuchs and midfielder N’Golo Kante – have come to the fore. The rest of the team is still more or less the one which battled against relegation last season.
And as all of the praise has rightly gone to the riotous Riyad Mahrez and joyous Jamie Vardy, Huth, Fuchs and Kante have served as the real leaders of Ranieri’s team.
Kante, in particular, has been exceptional and is probably the best central midfielder in the division this season, whilst Huth has been a man-mountain at the back, and as they go to Liverpool on Saturday they should serve as an example to follow for the hosts.
With Jurgen Klopp’s honeymoon period having been replaced by the ‘we need to talk’ one, Reds fans are once again demanding a complete overhaul of the club’s squad and yet another beginning from Year Zero.
This player isn’t good enough, that one was too expensive, the other one doesn’t fit the style of play. You just have to change the names, years and price tags and you’ll have heard it all before.
But doesn’t Leicester’s success story show that slight tweaks rather than ripping things up and starting again is the better option? Klopp has been at pains to point out that he wants to trust in the squad at his disposal since arriving at Anfield, and whether that’s the truth or a motivational technique it has to be considered a welcome opinion.
It is clear that Liverpool’s squad requires some surgery – and you wouldn’t find many fans complaining if the current spine of Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel and Lucas Leiva was replaced by Kasper Schmeichel, Huth and Kante before Saturday – but those alterations have to take place over a period of time.
Never mind new playing staff, the investment that the club made in Klopp has be Liverpool’s priority at the moment.
They shocked many in the football world by convincing the German to take the Anfield job when more riches, more glamour and probably more trophies lay elsewhere, so they can’t afford to infect him with their special kind of madness now.
Leicester City should serve as an example of what is possible when a group is allowed to evolve and develop together, as well as one which thrived when the right tweaks were made in the right places.
Whatever happens at Anfield on Boxing Day, that shouldn’t be allowed to be forgotten.
The Foxes used to be considered Liverpool’s bogey team, but now they are one that they should aspire to emulate.
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