Liverpool open their home Premier League season in their fourth fixture of the year, welcoming champions Leicester City to the renovated Anfield. Jürgen Klopp’s men are one of only two sides to have beaten Leicester in their against-all-odds march to the Premier League trophy, and the home fans will be hoping for more of the same come Saturday. Liverpool have started their season in a rollercoaster fashion, which follows the trend from their form last season, and Jürgen Klopp will be desperate to add consistency to the side. They tore through a depleted Arsenal side 4-3 at the Emirates before reality came crashing down on them in the form of a dour 2-0 loss away to Burnley. A positive performance only merited a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, completing three weeks of emotional disparity for Liverpool fans.
For Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes, the 2016/17 season hasn’t started with the explosiveness of last year. Their results are currently parallel with Liverpool, unlike their Champions League campaign which will begin midweek following this fixture. The presence of European competition will surely force the Italian manager to revert back to his ‘tinkering’ ways that he was known for years ago. He clearly understands that, evidence coming from his actions in the transfer market to bolster quality and depth in key positions. Their deadline day signing of Algerian striker Islam Slimani for 28 million pounds from Sporting Lisbon is a signal of intent, with Leicester now possessing five strikers in their squad. Just how Ranieri will balance out playing time and the consistency he is now known for in selecting sides, time will tell.
Team News – Liverpool
Sadio Mane took the accolades for Liverpool’s August Player of the Month; his absence notable in their miserable performance away at Burnley. He suffered an injury scare in Senegal’s 2-0 win over Namibia, but Mane has insisted that he is fit and available for selection against Leicester. He is a runner from midfield positions, the type of player that Liverpool have lacked for a long time. Although he can be used as an auxiliary striker, as seen during his Southampton days, his change of pace from deep, wide positions adds a finishing touch to a Liverpool midfield built on finesse with small technicians like Phillipe Coutinho and Adam Lallana. Liverpool got a glimpse of that on the opening day when Mane picked up the ball out wide, glided past Calum Chambers and cut inside Nacho Monreal before unleashing a violent left-foot strike into the top corner of Petr Cech’s net.
On the international break there were many other Liverpool players in action, most notably Adam Lallana for his stoppage time winner against Slovakia to get Sam Allardyce’s reign as England manager off to a winning start. Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge also featured in the same game, with a unanimous sigh of relief coming from Liverpool as fans hear that Sturridge returns to Melwood unscathed. Georginio Wijnaldum scored against Greece and Phillipe Coutinho laid on an assist for Neymar, while Divock Origi, Ragnar Klavan and Marko Grujic featured for their respective nations. Estonian centre half Klavan experienced multiple discomforts, first when his national side was thrashed 5-0 by Bosnia and then from a knee injury. It appears he aggravated an injury that kept him out of the squad for Tottenham and will miss this week, meaning a Lovren-Matip centre back partnership is all but confirmed.
Loris Karius is back in training following surgery on his broken hand, but will not feature on Saturday. German midfielder Emre Can appears doubtful, the midfielder remained in Liverpool during the international break in hope of recovering from a foot injury that ruled him out of their squad against Tottenham. It means Klopp is likely to persist with an unusual midfield trio of Lallana, Henderson and Wijnaldum, which could be worrying in terms of the midfielders offering protection to the centre halves. This is a serious threat to Liverpool due to Leicester’s style of play, and while Vardy only recently got back on the score sheet in Leicester’s game against Swansea, there will be acres of space for the likes of Vardy and Mahrez to exploit if Liverpool’s midfielders aren’t tactically switched on.
Predicted XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Mane, Firmino
Team News – Leicester City
Leicester City maverick Riyad Mahrez took the headlines for their players on international duty, scoring a brace in Algeria’s final qualification game for the 2017 African Cup of Nations. The match also saw his new club teammate Slimani pick up an assist, while other players to feature for their countries were Wes Morgan, Shinji Okazaki, Ahmed Musa, Daniel Amartey, Demarai Gray and Andy King. Indeed, an impressive list of international players for a side who was plying their trade in the third tier just six years ago.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel underwent a hernia operation just over a week ago, but was back in the gym after two days working on his recovery. He hopes to be fit for the Anfield clash, but at the very least, looks to be doing well and shouldn’t be on the sideline for too long. Nampalys Mendy and Jeffrey Schlupp are the only other players injured, the former still recovering from an ankle injury picked up against Arsenal. Claudio Ranieri has a deep squad to fill the positions of the trusty 4-4-2 formation, one that will test Liverpool’s concentration as The Foxes will try to exploit the space offered to them when their opponents press high when in possession. Joel Matip’s home debut for The Reds will be a tricky one, he comes up against one of the most confident strikers in the Premier League right now: Jamie Vardy.
How will Ranieri arrange his strike partnership with all the new signings? Will he keep Vardy and Okazaki for the Premier League, and then rotate Musa and Slimani in for the Champions League? What’s for sure is Okazaki and Musa are listed as midfielders in Leicester City’s Champions League squad, perhaps hinting at deeper roles for them. Leonardo Ulloa can’t be forgotten either, the towering Argentine striker scored some crucial goals last season.
Predicted XI: Zieler, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Albrighton, Drinkwater, King, Mahrez; Vardy, Okazaki