After three consecutive away trips in the Premier League, Liverpool finally return to Anfield this weekend with a visit of champions Leicester City.
They were supposed to welcome newly-promoted Burnley in the second game week of the season but were forced to request them to play the fixture at Turf Moor instead due to the construction of the Main Stand at Anfield, a multi-million-pound project extending the stadium’s capacity by eight thousand seats. The supporters will be desperate to return to the place they call home, given they spent an entire month away from it and will be prepared for Ranieri’s world beaters.
Both teams have collected four points from their three outings and will hope to ignite their season with a win this Saturday. The hosts will be without German midfielder Emre Can and Estonian centre-half Ragnar Klavan while Nampalys Mendy will not travel to Merseyside due to an ankle injury. Record signing Islam Slimani could feature for the champions though, following a deadline day move from Sporting Lisbon and that will provide Ranieri a useful option to complement the pace and power of Jamie Vardy.
One of Leicester’s three league defeats last season came at this ground on Boxing Day with Christian Benteke scoring the only goal of the game. They will hope to start positively this weekend though as they prepare for their first taste of European football with a trip to Club Brugge in the Champions League. Liverpool have no such commitment and will seek to inaugurate their new stand with a win.
Several players have been labelled key for this clash and in that light, here is how the combined XI looks like (Formation: 4-1-4-1):
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
The Danish shot-stopper was one of City’s indispensable men last season and will want to retain that status with a clean sheet at Anfield. Having picked up only one of those in four games so far, Schmeichel will be eager to add to an impressive tally this Saturday, an accomplishment that will require him to be at his best, both physically and vocally.
Right-Back: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool)
Clyne has been guilty of making errors for his side, some of which have led to goals in his side’s outings against Arsenal, Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur. He has looked a lot better going forward though and will seek to reinvigorate his old form against the likes of Ahmed Musa and Jamie Vardy.
Centre-halves: Wes Morgan and Robert Huth (Leicester City)
The two man-mountains of the champions were instrumental in their title march last season and will be expected to battle Liverpool’s speedy attackers. Morgan had a few harrowing moments at the beginning of the season but managed to redeem himself against Arsenal and Swansea City while Huth will hope to rediscover the form that made him a threat in both boxes more often than not.
Left-Back: Christian Fuchs (Leicester City)
Interestingly, Liverpool monitored the situation of Fuchs late in the transfer window after it was reported that the Austrian had refused to sign a new deal with Leicester. Things never came to fruition though and Ranieri will hope his set piece delivery and inch-perfect crosses cause all sorts of problems for Liverpool’s vulnerable backline.
Holding Midfield: Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City)
The Englishman established a formidable partnership last season with now Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante and was one of several shining lights for the Foxes. Often deployed as a regulator, Drinkwater will aim to shut out the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane by intercepting play and feeding Jamie Vardy upfront.
Right-Wing: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
Last season’s PFA Player of the Year has made a relatively quiet start to proceedings this year and will seek to add goals and assists to his tally soon. He will aim to exploit James Milner, who is expected to begin at left-back with his trickery and pace.
Right Central Midfielder: Phillipe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Having begun the season in explosive fashion against Arsenal, Coutinho’s influence has waned a bit for Liverpool. Poor performances against Burnley and Tottenham did no favours for the Brazilian and his side and his first home appearance of the season will be an important one. He remains indispensable for his team, though.
Left Central Midfielder: Adam Lallana (Liverpool)
Arguably Liverpool’s most consistent player in all three league games thus far, Lallana made a favourable impression on Sam Allardyce by scoring the winner in England’s 1-0 win over Slovakia in the World Cup qualifiers. The Anfield faithful will hope he continues his rich vein of form this Saturday.
Left-Wing: Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Former Southampton hitman Mane has made a strong start to life at his new club and will be greeted by the home support for the first time as a Liverpool player this weekend. Having scored an absolute scorcher against Arsenal and troubled Tottenham extensively at White Hart Lane, the Senegalese forward will be the player to watch at Anfield.
Centre-Forward: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Vardy exemplified the rags-to-riches story with a fine campaign last year and opened his account for the new season against Swansea City right before the international break. The mercurial striker scored a brace against Klopp’s side at the King Power Stadium last season, the first of those two goals being a belter. His pace will be problematic for Liverpool’s stuttering backline and Ranieri will hope he comes good this weekend.