One of the classic football cliches is that you can tell the quality of a football team by the way they respond to defeat.
Before Leicester City were schooled 3-1 at the Etihad by the current Premier League champions Manchester City, they’d waited a long time for the taste of defeat.
The Foxes had won eight consecutive top-flight matches (and a certain Jamie Vardy had scored in all eight) until they unexpectedly drew 1-1 with relegation-threatened Norwich. Vardy thought he had scored in his ninth game in a row until it was (cruelly) awarded to Norwich’s keeper, Tim Krul as an own-goal.
Despite having taken the lead against Pep Guardiola’s men, Vardy netting once again to extend his lead at the top of the goalscoring charts, Leicester were eventually picked off with City scoring three of their own. Leicester’s excellent defensive record, the best in the Premier League before kick-off, was taken apart by the skill and trickery of their former star, Riyad Mahrez.
And it does not get easier for Brendan Rodgers’ side – they welcome recently-crowned World Club Cup champions and Premier League leaders Liverpool to the King Power on Boxing Day.
Leading online bookmaker Eaglebet make Jurgen Klopp’s side favourites at 2.10 compared to Leicester at 3.30 – the draw is currently priced at 3.75.
But how can Leicester upset the odds and close the gap on the league leaders?
Klopp’s side travelled to Qatar ten days ago to play two matches in the FIFA Club World Cup, beating Monterrey of Mexico with a late winner before beating Copa Libertadores holders Flamengo of Brazil 1-0 in extra time on Saturday night. Roberto Firmino scored the late goal to see Liverpool crowned champions.
Although more silverware is accepted with delight at Anfield, the toll of such a trip cannot be overlooked – Liverpool rotated their side heavily for the semi-final but also saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leave the final on crutches with another ligament injury. With the final going to extra time, extra energy has been expended and, surely, recovery when flying halfway around the world is not going to be at its peak.
Liverpool do play a very high energy game, as we know – will they be fresh to be completely on it against Leicester?
Up until the City game, Rodgers had been experimenting with a diamond in midfield, moving away from his preferred 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 shape. The theory was sound for City, looking to exploit their shaky defence – but it also led to the midfield being too open and City able to overload centrally and out wide at will. We saw Kyle Walker play very narrow, meaning at times Leicester were completely outnumbered.
To prevent this happening against Liverpool, Rodgers has to consider going back to the 4D2. Doing this will mean Vardy and one other, possibly Harvey Barnes, would be able to split and potentially exploit the gaps left by Liverpool’s marauding full-backs – but by having the diamond in midfield, theoretically, have enough players in there to counteract Liverpool trying to dominate centrally before getting the ball wide.
Liverpool have been known to play quite direct at times this season, and why not when you have the quality in the front three that they have? Ben Chilwell and Pereira will need to be tighter to their men against Liverpool than they were against City where Mahrez and Raheem Sterling dictated the game from wide areas. If Chilwell and Pereira do start tighter and wider, the onus will be on Wilfried Ndidi to support and protect Soyuncu and Evans and the space down the sides of them – Tielemens and Praet will also have to be defensively aware.
For Liverpool to live up to their tag of favourites not only for this fixture, but the title, they just have to play the game they have been playing against sides who try and take the game to them. Leicester will look to win which will leave space for Liverpool to exploit – and we all know how they will look to score their goals.