Leicester City are still sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League table and Claudio Ranieri will look to take revenge for their Boxing day defeat, when the Foxes take on Liverpool FC at the King Power stadium on Tuesday.
No Premier League team in recent memory has defied expectations to this level and for this sustained a period of time as Leicester City, and the Foxes’ fairy-tale run still has no end in sight as we enter the business end of the season. February could be a season-defining month for Ranieri’s men, however, with away games against Manchester City and Arsenal FC following Tuesday’s clash against Liverpool FC at the King Power stadium.
Meanwhile, Jürgen Klopp’s men share Leicester’s top-four ambitions, but the Reds have yet to put together a truly convincing, sustained run of positive results to be considered worthy of a finish in the Champions League spots. Beating the league leaders on their home turf could be a great way to begin that run, and with several key players set to return in the coming weeks, as well as a domestic cup final to look forward to, the momentum could help carry Liverpool FC forward.
Claudio Ranieri v Jürgen Klopp
The only meeting between the two managers in their current roles came earlier in the season at Anfield, where Liverpool FC downed the Foxes 1-0 in an entertaining game.
Overall, Ranieri has a fairly even record against the Reds in the Premier League, with 4 wins and 4 losses — most of these results coming in his time as manager of Chelsea FC between 2000 and 2004.
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Ranieri could look for a more direct, aerial approach
The Foxes’ success this season has largely been down to the fact that Ranieri has stuck to a certain way of playing, and has created an identity for the team consistent with the key attributes of the best players in the Leicester City squad. This clarity of approach is what opposition manager Klopp alluded to in his pre-match press conference, praising his Italian counterpart while also hinting that it makes it easier to prepare for the game on Tuesday.
The German certainly got the better of the former Chelsea FC boss the first time around, and Ranieri’s key takeaway was probably the fact that he needs to tweak his approach when coming up against the high-intensity counter-press of Klopp’s side. Leicester City rely on fast attacking transitions, but often found themselves unable to launch a counter-attack because of the efficacy of the Reds’ press.
Although he is unlikely to change his 4-4-2 line-up, Ranieri could well adopt a more direct, aerial approach on Tuesday in order to bypass the Liverpool couter-press, similar to what Pep Guardiola has done against Borussia Dortmund in the past — albeit with a significantly more talented squad. The aim will be to get in behind that first line of opposition defence and then take advantage of the disrupted organisation to create chances for the likes of Jamie Vardy.
Klopp will look to be on the front foot against an uncomfortable Leicester City
Liverpool FC are among the teams in the Premier League that Leicester City do not match up well against, given the Reds are similar in terms of their intensity and high work-rate, but also because Klopp is not particularly fussed with keeping possession of the ball.
That could force Ranieri’s men to be more proactive when on the ball in front of their home crowd, and breaking down teams in that manner hasn’t necessarily been the Foxes’ strength this season. Klopp will look to take advantage of that uncertainty by pressing high up the pitch and looking for turnovers in possession to create chances for the likes of Roberto Firmino.
4-3-3 has been the German’s set formation in his time at Anfield thus far, and that is unlikely to change at the King Power. However, the more mobile Joe Allen might be used in place of Lucas Leiva in defensive midfield, which could also act as insurance if the Foxes do get beyond the counter-press at any point in the game.
Riyad Mahrez v Alberto Moreno
Alberto Moreno hasn’t been particularly convincing for Liverpool FC this season, and his suspect positioning and decision-making has often made him a target for the opposition. Leicester City talisman Riyad Mahrez will likely come up against the Spaniard, and the Algerian’s trickery and pace will cause the left-back all sorts of problems.
Apart from any instances where Moreno may have to deal with Mahrez directly running at him, the Foxes’ playmaker’s freedom of movement within Ranieri’s system also makes him an extremely dangerous opponent. The 24-year-old has the tendency to drift towards central areas, and this could pose a dilemma for Alberto Moreno in terms of whether or not the defender should go with Mahrez and leave space on the Reds’ left-flank.
Emre Can v N’golo Kanté
Although this individual match-up is not necessarily a ‘direct’ battle on the pitch as Mahrez against Moreno, it could have a big role in determining the outcome of the game. Kanté has done an exceptional job for Leicester City this season and has dominated the midfield area in several games, including against the big boys in the league like Chelsea FC.
Emre Can’s firebrand-style game at the centre of the pitch has allowed him to do the same for Liverpool FC, and although he has been found wanting in certain aspects of his game, the Germany international will undoubtedly relish a physical battle in the centre of the park.
With both sides relying on the work-rate of their respective players and the intensity required to win possession back and transition quickly into attacking the opposition, the midfield battle could be of great importance for either side. Winning it could mean dictating the tempo of the game, and more likely than not, that will decide who comes out on top.
Jamie Vardy v Mamadou Sakho
As the league’s top scorer this season with 16 goals, Jamie Vardy is Leicester City’s biggest goal threat, and denying him the chance to run into space behind the defence — or indeed to run at the defence — could be a deal-breaker for Liverpool FC.
Preventing him from springing the offside trap and having an effort on goal will be more of a collective responsibility for the Reds, but Vardy has also scored many of his goals this seasons due to his clever moment in the box, by escaping the attention of the opposition central defenders.
Mamadou Sakho will need to be particularly wary of the Englishman in the penalty area (no other players had had more touches in the opposition penalty box than Vardy’s 146), but will also have to keep an eye out for him when attempting to play out from the back, given how good the 29-year-old is at closing down defenders.
Blast from the past
Liverpool FC beat Leicester City 2-0 in this Division One meeting in April 1986 with goals from Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan, and the importance of the victory cannot be underestimated. It was the penultimate fixture of an extremely tense title-run in, and the victory gave the Reds confidence to wrap up the league with a win in the final game against Chelsea FC.
Only 2 points separated the Reds from Merseyside rivals Everton who finished second that term, and the iconic Ian Rush — who scored the opener against Leicester — ended as the top goalscorer with 22 league goals and 31 in all competitions. Here is a glimpse of the Reds’ win nearly 30 years ago:
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