Liverpool travel to Leicester looking to the double over Brendan Rodgers’ side, as well as look to build on last week’s triumph at the Club World Cup, but with the fixtures and travel coming thick and fast for Jurgen Klopp’s side, could fatigue finally play a factor?
The Premier League’s top two come head to head on Boxing Day, and with Liverpool sat ten points clear at the top with a game in hand, just simply avoiding a defeat will constitute a strong result for Klopp’s side, and this could have a bearing upon how they game plays out.
Leicester will be looking to bounce back from a defeat against Champions Manchester City last week, and whilst they competed for long periods at the Etihad, the in-form Kevin De Bruyne proved too hot to handle, with the quick, flowing City attacks easing through the Foxes defence.
It should be an enthralling encounter, but may see some interesting tactics from both managers in a hectic period.
The context of the game makes this a particularly interesting match from a tactical point of view regarding Liverpool. With their fixture congestion, handful of injuries and clear lead at the top, Klopp may be tempted to approach this game with caution, and look to utilise their counter attacking power, as they did against Manchester City themselves earlier this season.
Although they are not usually renowned for their defensive work, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino could be utilised out wide by Klopp, like in the second half against City, to help alleviate the threat of Leicester’s flying full backs Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell, allowing Mohamed Salah a freer role down the middle, looking to trouble Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans with his pace and movement in behind, much like Gabriel Jesus was able to against the Foxes on Saturday.
It was the counter attack that caused Leicester problems when they were forced to come out and chase the game, and the danger for Brendan Rodgers’ side is their midfield being overrun once again, although arguably Liverpool don’t have the creative talents such as De Bruyne in those central areas to unpick Leicester with such ease. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be a huge miss in a game like this for the Reds, as his pace and willingness to drive on the ball is often game-changing, although Naby Keita has been stepping up in recent weeks and could provide that box-to-box dynamism required to open up Leicester.
Both sides will look to utilise their full backs in attacking areas, and Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold will look to get beyond their wingers and provide these outlets. It sets up an interesting battle, and balancing act, for Leicester manager Rodgers, as many sides have highlighted that these avenues are where Liverpool are most vulnerable on the break. However, if Leicester’s wingers are caught too high up the pitch, as well as they full backs, it leaves them highly exposed and Liverpool themselves have shown that if these gaps are left in behind, it can lead to devastating attacking moves and results.
The other main area where Leicester can look to target Liverpool is through utilising Jamie Vardy’s pace and ability to run in behind, much like he did for a trademark opener against City. Highlighting the worries of pressing this Leicester side high, they showed excellent calmness on the ball to play through the press, before releasing Vardy in behind the City defence as he slotted home excellently. Whilst Virgil Van Dijk is well suited to covering this movement, Vardy will try and isolate the other centre back, most likely Joe Gomez, and if the high line is employed, this is certainly a worry.
As ever with Leicester, the issue with sitting deeper to guard against this is that they possess the creative talents of the likes of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans in behind, who are more than capable of picking off any side’s defence in the Premier League. Although, as touched on before, allowing Leicester to play on the front foot and take the game to Liverpool could play into their hands on the counter attack, there are defensive worries across the midfield, with no Fabinho to hold in front of the defence. Whilst Jordan Henderson and Georgino Wijnaldum are more than capable of fulfilling the defensive role, to what extent they are able to in a game where they’re asked to sit in for long periods, potentially not seeing much of the ball, awaits to be seen, and Maddison and Tielemans will relish the prospect of coming up against this defensive unit.
If passed fit, Harvey Barnes is well equipped to give Alexander-Arnold a torrid time with his movement, and with Chilwell willing to move beyond the winger, it could see Leicester target this flank, particularly if Salah does start on the wing, and thus leave his full back exposed. Although there is a lack of height in the box, Leicester love to work the ball into the box and target opposition through low crosses and pull backs, and Maddison and Tielemans are certainly worth keeping an eye on with their late, on-rushing runs.
Another excellent, tactical battle awaits on Boxing Day evening, and how Klopp’s side adapt to this challenge awaits to be seen.
With the counter attack potentially playing such a high importance in this match, and both sides possessing the quick players on the break to trouble one another, the card markets take appeal. Michael Oliver takes charge, and has seen 83 yellow cards dished out in his 20 games this season, highlighting he isn’t on the more lenient side. Available at 2.87 (Bet365), over 1.5 cards for each side takes appeal, especially when factoring a potentially tiring Liverpool side, and the top of the table nature of the clash.
A particularly tough game to call, especially figuring out how each manager will opt to set up, it makes a number of markets tight to call. The wide attack of both sides, and a willingness to try get runners in behind, does make the corner market appealing, and for each side to have over 3.5 corners at 1.80 on Bet365 does take a fancy, and would be well suited to adding to bet builders.