Effectively, the second half of the 2019/20 English Premier League season kicks off on Boxing Day with second-placed Leicester City trying their best to be the team to at least halt runaway leaders, Liverpool, in their tracks for the first time this season.
It is first against second in the EPL on Boxing Day, and it is indeed a heavyweight contest. But who will land the knockout punch? Will Leicester pull closer or will Liverpool have created more distance?
In their first meeting this season in October, Liverpool needed a 95th minute penalty to see off the Foxes but have been travelling a lot in recent days, having just come back from Qatar where they won the FIFA Club World Cup.
Will fatigue be an issue for Jurgen Klopp’s side? Klopp cannot rotate his squad as he would have wanted because of the injury-enforced absences of Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Dejan Lovren.
He has however promised that his players won’t be complacent. “We don’t get carried away by anything, absolutely not. We are completely focused on the next step, that’s all I can say about it,” Klopp revealed on the Liverpool website.
Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers has urged his players to be the team to stop Liverpool. Speaking on the eve of the match, he said, “As a coach, you know the run is going to end at some time so why not be the team that tries to do it?
“That’s the whole idea. You want to be the team who can go out there and achieve that.”
But how will he stop this Liverpool team that have found ways to grab victories even when not in full flow?
Will Brendan Rodgers deploy a 3-4-3 formation to clip the wings of Liverpool’s flying fullbacks?
Will he play a midfield diamond to get around Henderson and Keita?
Rodgers has also asked for the fans to be ‘loud and proud’ on Thursday. Will the ruckus raised cause Liverpool to falter? So many questions to be answered.
The answers to these questions will likely determine the outcome of Thursday’s must-win encounter for Leicester and the rest of the chasing pack.
Leicester City [L-D-W-W-W]; Liverpool [W-W-L-W-W]
Head to head
Sat 05/10/19 PRL Liverpool 2 – 1 Leicester City
Wed 30/01/19 PRL Liverpool 1 – 1 Leicester City
Sat 01/09/18 PRL Leicester City 1 – 2 Liverpool
Sat 30/12/17 PRL Liverpool 2 – 1 Leicester City
Sat 23/09/17 PRL Leicester City 2 – 3 Liverpool
3 duels to watch
Ricardo Pereira v Andy Robertson
These are two fullbacks who love to attack, and Pereira and Robertson will look to curtail each other’s offensive output. One way to minimise Leicester’s fluidity is to restrict the attacking fervour of their right-back, as shown by Manchester City and in Liverpool’s only draw this season, away at Manchester United, who pushed Robertson back until the last 10 minutes of the game when his cross created Liverpool’s equaliser. Both will look to lead their team’s offensive charge on Thursday.
James Maddison v Jordan Henderson
The absences of Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum means Liverpool’s captain will screen the defence and he will have a lively and slick Maddison to contend with and track from wreaking havoc. Henderson has become Liverpool’s anchor, and he goes about his work in a business-like fashion – not elaborate but he gets the job done.
Wilfred Ndidi v Naby Keita
Manchester City isolated Ndidi on purpose at the Etihad and Leicester lost 3-1. But in Keita, the Nigerian, known for his tackling efficiency will have a more customary opponent, who will seek to run through the middle of the pitch. Keita has found form and is also scoring recently and will look to arrive in the Leicester box to wreak havoc, which means Ndidi must concentrate to stop and douse the threat of Keita’s runs.