The big worry for Leicester City is over Jamie Vardy who was withdrawn late in the win over Everton last week with a hamstring tweak, Claudio Ranieri has said it’s “not serious” but there must be a doubt not only about his involvement at Anfield but about his effectiveness and how long he’ll be able to last. Danny Drinkwater will miss out with his hamstring injury with Andy King probably continuing to deputise, while Jeffrey Schlupp is another absentee. Robert Huth should return from suspension.
Liverpool have a raft of injuries. As well as the long-term absentees, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez, and the perennially injured Daniel Sturridge, they could be without Simon Mignolet, James Milner, Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel. Lucas ended up playing at centre-back in the defeat to Watford on Sunday, when Adam Bogdan looked distinctly shaky as a replacement for Mignolet.
Leicester’s incredible start to the season simply doesn’t stop. The fixture list gave them a relatively gentle start but it looked as though the four-game run they’re currently in the middle of might find them out: Chelsea at home, Everton and Liverpool away, Manchester City at home. As it is, they’ve taken six points from the first two of those, have still lost only once all season and top the table by two points.
The early boost Liverpool enjoyed under Jurgen Klopp seems to have dissipated and they’re without a win in four games. Sunday’s 3-0 defeat at Watford was as bad as anything they’ve produced all season.
Last season, Liverpool were slightly fortunate to win 3-1 at the King Power Stadium – a game Wes Morgan would probably rather forget – before a 2-2 draw at Anfield on New Year’s Day. Both sides are so different now, it’s hard to know what relevance last year’s fixture have to this.
There was a concern when Klopp arrived that he would drive his players too hard too soon. Without a pre-season under him, would they be able to match up to the physical demands he was making on them? The answer perhaps came at Watford where Liverpool ran only 107.5km, 10km less than they had in the wins at Manchester City and Southampton.
Perhaps it was a one off, but given the way Lucas and Martin Skrtel were outmuscled in the build-up to the second goal, there’s reason for serious concern, particularly entering the most hectic phase of the season.
Leicester’s strengths aren’t exactly hard to discern. They sit deep, break quickly, get the ball wide to Riyad Mahrez or Marc Albrighton and then try to use the pace and near post runs of Vardy.
Mahrez, with 13 goals and seven assists this season, is the main creative threat, which puts great defensive onus on Alberto Moreno. Given his forward surges have been such a key part of Liverpool’s recent play, that is an immediate disruption for Liverpool. Nor is it clear who can realistically play on the left side of the Liverpool attack who can be relied upon to track back and help Moreno.
Leicester’s set up seems almost designed to play against Liverpool. Under Klopp, Liverpool have been far more effective against teams who seek to dominate the ball. Faced with sides who sit off – as Leicester will – they have struggled creatively.
More than that, Philippe Coutinho, the creative hub of this Liverpool team, will, if he plays centrally, find himself up against the real heart of Leicester – N’Golo Kante and (probably) King. It may be that Liverpool, as they did in the first half at Watford, opt for a 4-3-3, but even then Coutinho tends to drift infield.
As so often this season, the market seems to follow reputation rather than reality. With Liverpool stuttering of late and Leicester still rampant, Leicester look long at 3.95 (particularly when you consider that over the past decade there have been 8% fewer home wins on Boxing Day than on a ‘normal’ matchday.
Mahrez is 3.00 to score at any time, which may be a way to inflate the odds, but perhaps the most sensible way to go is to back Leicester +0.5 at 1.94.