Liverpool face off against Leicester in a top of the table clash
Foxes are solitary hunters. Although they form groups called ‘skulks’ when required, they fend for themselves individually.
This self-reliance ensures the survival of the fittest, building a formidable hunter that can run amok in the wild.
Brendan Rodgers has taken a pack of foxes, formidable in their own rights, and formed a pack out of them. One that runs and fights together. One that could well redeem him this Thursday against Liverpool.
Since taking over at Leicester, Rodgers has given both shape and an identity to a promising team that hadn’t quite reached anywhere close to the levels they set in 2015-16.
Leicester City are second in the League table and find themselves in the unlikely position of being Liverpool’s closest challengers for the title. It would take a fool to dismiss them from doing the impossible once again.
In Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Jonny Evans and Jamie Vardy, the Foxes have a Championship-winning spine that has been supplemented by a young, dynamic midfield led by the sublime Youri Tielemens and the magnificent James Maddison.
Smart recruitment in both the playing and managerial departments have led to this confluence, with the Foxes enjoying a resurgence once again.
Rodger’s Liverpool team of 2013-14 is remembered for its swashbuckling attack in the Premier League.
It was, however, a team that relied on the individual brilliance of a core of players who seemed to carry the rest of the team at times. A wolf pack, of sorts, where the strong protected the weak.
This Leicester team may not have the individual brilliance of a Luis Suarez or a Steven Gerrard but it is just as prolific and better balanced.
The trip away to Leicester will be one of the toughest challenges for Klopp’s world champions. We take a look at 3 players most likely to put a dent into Liverpool’s title charge.
A multi-league winning player, seasoned defender Jonny Evans has been a revelation since his move to the King Power Stadium.
The Former Manchester United youth product was part of three United squads that won the league, knocking Liverpool off their perch, and will have an extra incentive to stop the Reds.
Cağlar Söyüncü is a promising player in his own right but also prone to the rush of overselling himself and getting caught out. The way that Evans marshals his younger partner – and his ability to cover for him – makes him the shield of this Leicester backline.
How the tie turns out will depend a lot on how the Liverpool attack fares. In Evans, the Reds will have an unspectacular yet formidable opponent who isn’t just dependable but also someone who can marshall a whole defensive line.
With Leicester preferring a 4-1-4-1 formation, Ndidi plays just ahead of the back four and is one of the best defensive midfielders in the business.
Averaging 4.4 tackles and 2.9 interceptions per game, Ndidi is a dominant force in the Leicester midfield – one that the Reds cannot afford to ignore. (h/t Whoscored)
The calibre of Ndidi’s performances can be appreciated when one compares him to Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Liverpool’s Fabinho. Not only does Ndidi have better stats in terms of clearances, interceptions and tackles, but he has also won almost twice as many aerial battles this season as Kante (h/t Premier League) and Fabinho (h/t Premier League) combined.
Ndidi’s ability to dominate the midfield also frees up Youri Tielemans and James Maddison in pushing up the field to swarm the opposition defence.
Ndidi isn’t just adept at the defensive side of things. He is often the player who collects the ball from the backline and begins an attack. Closing him down will go a long way in dominating Leicester.
With a passing success of 83.9% and his ability to play an average of 2.7 long balls per game, Ndidi is also capable of switching possession and opening up new avenues in the attack. (h/t Whoscored)
The 23-year-old has made 17 appearances for the Foxes this season and scored 2 goals.
The main goal threat from Leicester comes from English striker Jamie Vardy.
Possessing both pace and power, Vardy’s ability to get past the last man will prove a constant hindrance to the Liverpool defence.
Leicester love pinging beyond the opposition backline for Vardy to chase. This coupled with his good finishing often sees him come out on top.
The Leicester midfield of Ndidi, Tielemans and Maddison average 2.7,3.2 and 2.2 long balls per game (h/t Whoscored), mostly directed towards Vardy and cutting off these avenues will prove critical for Liverpool.
Liverpool will need to win the aerial battles as Vardy flicking the ball onto Ayoze Perez or Maddison to run behind the Liverpool defence can open us up. With Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool have a reasonable chance in winning this aspect of the matchup.
Man-marking Vardy with his pace isn’t the easiest of tasks and Liverpool will be better served trying to catch the striker offside by cutting off passing avenues.
Vardy has scored 17 goals and provided 3 assists in 18 matches this season and comfortably leads the race for the Golden Boot.
Maddison and Tielemans have averaged 2.6 and 1.6 key passes per 90 minutes for Leicester this season. Maddison is also adept at taking free-kicks and Liverpool should avoid giving away cheap fouls in dangerous positions.
How Liverpool will perform in the game depends a lot on the midfield. Liverpool’s task would have been easier had Fabinho been fit.
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Liverpool won all 3 points in the reverse fixture at Anfield with a last-gasp James Milner penalty. Neither Perez nor Robertson would have forgotten their spat at full time and the game promises to be an entertainer.