PL Preview: Leicester City v. Liverpool

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Among the Boxing Day fixture list, one game stands above all the rest. Leicester City v. Liverpool, live Thursday at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

While it doesn’t present the potentially enormous stakes it could have had the Foxes downed Manchester City last weekend, it still looms largest among the festive fixtures and could still be one of the final true tests for the Reds as they march towards not just a Premier League crown but also a potentially unbeaten league campaign. With a ten point lead and a game in hand, Liverpool could give itself a nearly insurmountable advantage atop the table should they emerge victorious, but defeat will procure doubt among the supporters with half the season still to go.

Leicester City will consider themselves very much in the title race despite the mountain to climb, given their narrow defeat at Anfield in the last meeting, a game that required a James Milner penalty in the dying seconds to secure victory for the Reds. The Foxes will be buoyed by the home crowd, unbeaten at King Power Stadium this year while conceding just five goals and keeping four clean sheets.

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The Reds have a tougher task than anticipated given the litany of injuries across the squad. Alongside long-term absentees Joel Matip, Fabinho, Dejan Lovren, and Nathaniel Clyne, they are also missing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who picked up an ankle problem at the Club World Cup. Jurgen Klopp was forced to move Jordan Henderson into the defensive unit during the semifinal in Qatar last week, and any other potential issues in the squad through the festive period could force a similar emergency shift for the Reds.

Leicester City is in much better shape health-wise, but will be monitoring the status of Harvey Barnes who also finds himself saddled with an ankle injury after the Man City loss, while Matty James is still out for a while longer as he builds up his fitness from a long-term Achilles injury.

Brendan Rodgers has prior history with Jurgen Klopp, beating the German handily while managing Liverpool in a pre-season game against Borussia Dortmund in 2014.

Injuries/suspensions

Leicester City: OUT – Matty James (Achilles). QUESTIONABLE – Harvey Barnes (ankle).

Liverpool: OUT – Dejan Lovren (hamstring), Fabinho (hamstring), Joel Matip (knee), Nathaniel Clyne (ACL), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (ankle). QUESTIONABLE


Projected lineups

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Chilwell, Evans, Soyuncu, Pereira; Ndidi, Tielemans, Maddison; Barnes, Vardy, Perez.

Liverpool: Alisson; Robertson, Gomez, van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Keita; Mane, Firmino, Salah.


What they’re saying

Leicester City boss Rodgers on long-term Liverpool domination: “I think that’s pretty difficult now in this modern time. But it doesn’t take away that they’re a fantastic team. And now they have that feeling of winning which gives that hunger to win even more. For us, they and Manchester City are a great benchmark for a lot of the teams at this level. We always have to fight and improve and get as close as we possibly can to that level.”

Liverpool manager Klopp on Jamie Vardy“He is a massive threat obviously. He’s an exceptional striker what can you say? Since I’m in England he’s one of the top three. He’s always scoring, he’s difficult to defend, always on your shoulder running at your back playing the offside line. Really, really dangerous. The only thing you can do in football is try and avoid as many passes as you can to him and that’s what we’ll try. Leicester is not only Jamie Vardy. Brendan has done an excellent job there.”


Key stats

  • Leicester City is winless in its last five PL meetings against Liverpool, losing four and drawing one (last win: Feb 2017)
  • Neither side has kept a clean sheet in any of the last 7 PL meetings against one another
  • Liverpool has won its last 4 Boxing Day fixtures by a combined 11-0 score
  • Jamie Vardy has scored 29 goals in 2019, the most in the league – he has scored in each of his last three home games against Liverpool (5 goals)
  • Liverpool is unbeaten in its last 34 Premier League fixtures, and are the only PL side to have scored in every game so far this season

Prediction

The Reds are banged up, but in all other respects are the better side. Leicester City showed weaknesses against Manchester City, and they are ones Jurgen Klopp could exploit. Still, Jamie Vardy is on an undeniable tear, and his presence alone gives the Foxes a chance. An exciting 2-2 draw should give both sides a coveted point and keep Liverpool as clear favorites to win the league.