Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 3/4
The hectic post-Christmas schedule continues in the Premier League, and on Friday evening, Liverpool will be playing host to Leicester City. It will be the 16th game of the season for the home side; 17th for the visitors.
Having played well below their usual standards for a long period at the start, Liverpool have already lost all realistic chance of competing for the Premier League title this season and a top-four finish is all they’ll be hoping for. It is a big step down for last season’s runners’ up, but the good news for their supporters is that the Reds seem to getting back to their feet of late.
At the moment, Liverpool are sixth in the league with 25 points from their 15 matches so far. Brighton and Chelsea are breathing down their neck with 24 each, and looking above, Manchester United in fifth are four points ahead, Spurs are fourth with 30 and Newcastle third with 33, though the latter two have played a match more than the rest. Further up, the race for the throne will obviously remain between leaders Arsenal and current holders Manchester City.
Over in the Champions League, Liverpool finished second to Napoli in Group A, ahead of Ajax and Rangers, and they’ve been drawn to face Real Madrid in the round of 16. Manchester City, however, have knocked them out of the Carabao Cup which the Merseysiders won last season.
The big news involving Liverpool at the moment is that they’ve signed Cody Gakpo from PSV Eindhoven, and the arrival of the 23-year-old forward should somewhat ease their injury concerns in the attacking department in the coming months.
But a look at their last-six run of competitive matches is surely an encouraging one for Jurgen Klopp and his team. They beat Napoli 2-0 at Anfield, Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 in North London, drew 0-0 at home against Derby County in the Carabao Cup and won on penalties, beat Southampton 3-1 at home, and after the World Cup, they lost the Carabao Cup clash with City by 3-2 at the Etihad and beat Aston Villa away by 1-3. During the World Cup, they played friendly matches with Olympique Lyon (lost 1-3) and AC Milan (won 4-1).
The Villa clash will still feel very close for the Liverpool players, but not as close as the trip to Brentford on January 2nd. Klopp will obviously need to manage their minutes carefully to avoid further injuries, but he’ll also want to send out a team strong enough to book fresh three points.
Gakpo, of course, isn’t available yet, there is still paperwork to be completed and he wouldn’t be eligible anyway before the transfer window officially opens at the turn of the year. Roberto Firmino isn’t likely to play either due to a calf problem, and the forward line is weakened further by the long absences of Luis Diaz (knee) and Diogo Jota (calf). Midfielder Curtis Jones (calf) could be ready against Brentford but this match probably comes too soon, and the same goes for veteran James Milner (thigh). Fellow midfielder Arthur Melo is likely to miss another month.
The squad is boosted, on the other hand, by the return of defender Ibrahima Konate, who is now in full training after the rest he was given for his exploits with France at the World Cup, though it’s still probably reasonable to expect the duo of Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip in the heart of defence.
Leicester’s season hasn’t been any better than that of Liverpool, though that probably didn’t come as that much of a shock. There has been plenty of talk about manager Brendan Rodgers, incidentally the man Jurgen Klopp replaced at Liverpool in 2015, possibly losing his job over the last 12 months, but for the time being, the club hierarchy appears patient.
Be that as it may, Leicester are currently in 13th place with 17 points, significantly closer to the teams in the relegation zone than those with a genuine chance of making it into Europe at the end of the season. There is, of course, a long way to go yet and many things may change between now and May next year, but something definitely wasn’t right about this team and their performances until about the middle of October. They conceded six to Tottenham Hotspur, five to Brighton, and they remain one of just four teams beaten by Bournemouth this season.
But Leicester’s form has improved somewhat since. They entered their current last-six run with two wins, over Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and started it by losing 0-1 at home to Manchester City. They beat Everton away by 0-2, Newport County 3-0 at home in the Carabao Cup, West Ham away by 0-2, MK Dons away by 0-3 also in the Carabao Cup, and eventually lost 0-3 at home to Newcastle. Losing to the rampant Magpies and the defending Premier League champions right now certainly isn’t something to be ashamed of. During the World Cup, they played a friendly goalless draw against French side Troyes.
The name most frequently mentioned in the media over the last few months in relation with Leicester is James Maddison. The attacking midfielder was linked with Liverpool in the past, as well as Manchester United and other big clubs, and his fine performances this term earned him a place in the England squad at the World Cup, as well as fresh speculations about his future.
Maddison, however, won’t be traveling to Liverpool. The 26-year-old returned from Qatar with a mysterious knee problem and after visiting a specialist, he’s been ruled out for this clash.
Quite apart from Maddison, Rodgers has plenty of injury issues to work around. He won’t be able to call upon James Justin, who probably won’t play this season. Fellow right-back Ricardo Pereira will need another month to recover from his own calf issue, according to Rodgers. Left-back Ryan Bertrand is recovering from a knee injury, but he isn’t ready yet. Centre-back Jonny Evans is out with a calf problem and will remain out for a while. It is unknown how long midfielder Dennis Praet will be out for due to an abdominal problem, but he certainly won’t be playing on Friday.
Boubacar Soumare and Youri Tielemans started in the middle of the park against Newcastle, and that’s an area where Rodgers might seek to change things with Nampalys Mendy and Wilfred Ndidi representing high-quality options. Defender Jannik Vestergaard and midfielder Marc Albrighton will also be hoping to start, and veteran Jamie Vardy could replace Patson Daka as the man leading the attacking line after the Zambia international saw a lot of criticism fired his way for an uninspired performance against the Magpies.
Apart from Rodgers, goalkeeper Danny Ward is another man who will be returning to Anfield, having spent six years on the books at Liverpool.
Not that Leicester are without a chance of getting something from this game, but there can be no doubt that the pressure of being the favourites to win is on Liverpool. But with the odds on the six-time European champions as short as they are (2/7 with Unibet), it might be wiser to consider other options. Neither defence seems too sharp at the moment, and that might be something worth looking into.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 3/4
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!