Alex Keble looks at how Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers will try to outfox Jurgen Klopp, the man who replaced him as Liverpool manager, at Anfield on Sunday.
It’s easy to forget just how close Brendan Rodgers came to winning the Premier League title. Had Steven Gerrard not slipped against Chelsea then Rodgers would be a Liverpool legend. He might still be in charge. Certainly Jurgen Klopp would never have arrived at Anfield, and the last three years – among the most iconic in Liverpool’s history – would never have happened.
That is the history, the baggage, that faces Rodgers whenever he takes a team up to Anfield. But this weekend is a little different. The painful nostalgia is softened somewhat for the Leicester City manager, who arrives in Liverpool as the league leaders and two points clear of Klopp’s men.
By Sunday evening, we will know definitively whether or not Leicester are genuine title contenders. On paper, it promises to be a hugely entertaining game as two injury-hit defences come up against attackers in free-flowing form.
Leicester’s 3-4-2-1 could stump Liverpool
Rodgers has deployed a 3-4-2-1 formation throughout this season, a tactic that Liverpool generally don’t enjoy playing against. A system with a back three allows the defenders to go man-for-man against Klopp’s narrow front three, while the wing-backs have licence to step out of the back line and close down those dangerous Liverpool full-backs.
Consequently, the most immediately plausible pattern of this game is one of relatively stale Liverpool possession. Rodgers will be happy to concede more of the ball than usual and will cautiously disengage his press, leaving the hosts with the difficult task of breaking down a well-drilled back five. That Leicester have so many defensive injuries - Wilfried Ndidi, Calgar Soyuncu, and Wesley Fofana all miss out – only adds to the sense the Leicester manager will preach caution.
In a formation that often drops into a 5-4-1, Leicester may manage to sit off Liverpool and kill the game. However, what will start as a cagey match is unlikely to stay that way.
Leicester’s vertical attacks suggest an open game
The most important tactical element of Rodgers’ Leicester is their ability to explosively lift the tempo from calm possession football to incisive vertical attacks. The aim is to lull the opposition with careful passing (and with Liverpool’s defensive injuries, the hosts will not press as aggressively as usual) before suddenly hitting a direct ball between the lines into James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, or Youri Tielemans.
These three players pick up the ball on the half-turn and look to play Jamie Vardy in behind, and it is easy to envisage this tactic pushing Liverpool back on the counter-attack. Once this pattern is established, the game should start to open up as Liverpool launch counter-counters.
Leicester tried to keep it tight against Manchester City earlier in the season and managed to win 5-2 in a chaotic contest. Similarly their 4-1 defeat of Leeds United was end-to-end; there is something about the verticality in Leicester’s 3-4-2-1 that makes for very entertaining games. Back over 3.5 goals at 6/4.
Liverpool v Leicester betting preview
- 19:30 GMT kick-off on Sky Sports
- Match odds: Home 19/20 | Draw 11/4 | Away 13/5
As you'd expect for pretty much any Liverpool game at Anfield, they're odds-on. Avoid defeat, and the Reds will set a new club record of 64 home league matches unbeaten.
Not since Foxes old boy Riyad Mahrez stood over a penalty in the dying moments of Manchester City's goalless draw at Anfield in October 2018 has a team had a better chance of ending that run.
Leicester, who entered the international break top of the table, have seen their price shorten slightly over the past few days but they can still be taken at 14/5 with plenty of bookies. The Foxes might be heading to the Premier League champions, but the Reds' squad has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks.
Look at this fixture in recent seasons - it's been tight. James Milner's stoppage-time penalty gave Liverpool a 2-1 win last term, it was 1-1 in 2018/19, and the season before that Salah scored late on to complete a Reds turnaround and pinch another 2-1 victory. I am plumping for the draw at 3/1 and a score prediction of 1-1 at 8/1.
What is very difficult to know is just how many Reds' players have recovered from injury. If when the team sheets come out, it is a truly threadbare XI then I would urge you to be brave. Leicester to win 1-0 (16/1), 2-1 (14/1) and 3-1 (30/1) are mouthwatering prices, but right now I think the draw is the smartest play.
Score prediction: Liverpool 1-1 Leicester (Sky Bet odds: 15/2)
Liverpool’s defensive injuries help Vardy
And if that happens, Vardy should be the star player. His ability to find weak spots in the opposition defence and make well-timed runs in behind has already got him eight league goals in 2020/21. Worryingly for Liverpool, his most effective performance was in that Man City win, when he managed to get between Eric Garcia and Nathan Ake courtesy of those bursts of vertical passing from the midfield.
Without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and perhaps even Andrew Robertson, Liverpool’s back four will be highly vulnerable to those Vardy runs. A key battle is likely to develop between Harvey Barnes, dropping between the lines from the left inside forward position, and Liverpool’s right-back James Milner. Back Vardy to score any time at 23/20.
Liverpool relying on Jota for Leicester’s weak side
Mohamed Salah is also likely to miss out after testing positive for Covid-19, which forces Klopp’s hand and suggests he will feature Diogo Jota on the right of a front three, rather than keep the aggressive 4-2-4 deployed in the 1-1 draw with Man City. Jota, with seven goals in nine games in all competitions, has enjoyed a brilliant start to life at Anfield – but nevertheless Liverpool will be disappointed to lose Salah, the perfect player to exploit Leicester’s weaknesses on that side.
Without Alexander-Arnold to stretch the play, Jota could get isolated out on the right as he squares up to left wing-back Luke Thomas and left centre-back Christian Fuchs. These two players have performed admirably so far for Rodgers, but they are the two weakest players in Leicester’s first 11 and could have been attacked directly by Salah. Jota will drift off the flank, potentially helping the Foxes escape scrutiny on their left.
Liverpool really could struggle to create chances here. They haven’t been prolific for some time, and without so many of their key players Klopp’s side will be lopsided and disjointed. They haven’t lost at home in 63 league matches, and are just one result away from a new club record. But pretty much everything that could have got in the way has. Back Leicester to win at 13/5.
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