Liverpool might find that their lead at the top of the Premier League down to just a solitary point when they kick off against Leicester on Wednesday evening.
That is because Manchester City, for the first time in a while, have the advantage of playing before their title rivals. Pep Guardiola’s side will be expected to beat Newcastle, so the pressure will be on Liverpool to respond.
Anfield, though, is a fortress for the Reds this season. They are yet to lose a game at home and have beaten all but one of the teams – Manchester City – to have made the trip so far.
It is a daunting prospect for Leicester, then, who go into the game with fragile confidence and talk of mounting pressure on manager Claude Puel.
Here, we take a look at Wednesday night’s game.
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Liverpool have responded well following the minor blip that saw them lose to Manchester City in the Premier League and exit the FA Cup at the first hurdle against Wolves.
Jurgen Klopp’s side came through games against Brighton and Crystal Palace with narrow victories, maintaining their four-point lead at the top of the Premier League standings.
Leicester, meanwhile, are not in good form. The Foxes have lost three games in a row in all competitions, conceding an injury-time goal in a 4-3 thriller at Wolves and falling to an embarrassing defeat at Newport County.
Last month’s wins against Chelsea and Manchester City seem like a lifetime ago, although those results should give Leicester some semblance of hope at Anfield. So, too, should their away record: only Spurs, Liverpool, City, Chelsea and United have recorded more points on the road than Leicester this season.
The formbook, though, points only to one outcome. Liverpool will be strong favourites and anything other than a home victory would be a major surprise.
Liverpool had 71 per cent of the ball against Crystal Palace but they might not be so dominant against Puel’s Leicester. The Frenchman has transformed the Foxes from a counter-attacking outfit to a more patient, possession-based side: only seven teams in the Premier League average more than Leicester’s 50.4 per cent of the ball per game.
Still, the home side will expect to dictate the tempo of the game and Leicester will inevitably spend much of it defending around their own box. Klopp has, in recent weeks, regularly fielded a front four, with Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri terrorising opposition defences.
Leicester know all too well the damage Liverpool’s forwards can do. Mane and Firmino were on the scoresheet when Klopp’s side won 2-1 at the King Power back in September, a game made memorable by Alisson’s horrendous mistake, which gifted the home side a goal.
Barring any repeats, Leicester may again find chances difficult to come by. The key for the visitors on Wednesday evening will be in restricting Liverpool’s forwards.
It is easier said than done, though.
Virgil van Dijk
Liverpool, by their usual standards, were uncharacteristically leaky at the back against Palace. They had conceded only three at home all season prior to the visit of Roy Hodgson’s side. It was a surprise, then, to see them ship the same number in one game.
On Wednesday night, Liverpool will be hoping to return to the defensive solidity that has helped them reach the strong position they are in. They have kept 13 clean sheets so far this season, and another against Leicester would give them the foundation from which to win the game.
Virgil van Dijk, who has been imperious at the back throughout the campaign, will be key. The Dutchman, at his best, is more than capable of nullifying Leicester’s attacking threat.
Though Leicester were poor defensively against Wolves, they were a constant threat when going forward and might have scored more than three.
At the heart of the Foxes’ verve in attack was Demarai Gray, who played in a more central role and excelled. The 22-year-old was direct and purposeful on the ball, driving at defenders and scoring Leicester’s first with a cool finish into the bottom corner.
If he repeats that performance at Anfield, Gray will cause problems for Liverpool’s defence.
A trip to Anfield could not really have come at a worse time for Leicester. The late defeat at Wolves will have been another blow to morale, and the way they defended in that game does not suggest they will be able to keep Liverpool out.
The league leaders should have too much firepower for Leicester, although Puel’s side, in beating Chelsea and Manchester City, have already shown they are capable of upsets.
But another shock result seems likely to be a step too far for the Foxes this time.
* odds subject to change