Five key battles that will decide Leicester City vs Liverpool

With the FA Cup and Capital One Cup out of the way, we’re set for a double-bill of Premier League action this week – starting off with Liverpool’s visit to Leicester City on Tuesday night.

The Reds haven’t lost to the Foxes during their last seven encounters across all competitions and are one of just two sides to actually beat them in the Premier League this season, along with Arsenal, recording a 1-0 win at Anfield in December.

Bizarrely, however, it’s the table-topping Midlands outfit who are the favourites for this one. They’re three points ahead of the pack at the Premier League’s summit, boast the home advantage and have enjoyed a ten-day rest since their last fixture, having already been eliminated from both cup competitions.

But Liverpool are a high quality side with a high quality manager, so this one looks set to go down to the wire. Perhaps a look at the key individual battles can give us an insight into the potential outcome.

RIYAD MAHREZ VS ALBERTO MORENO

Riyad Mahrez
Alberto Moreno endured a troubled afternoon against Norwich City two weekends ago, ineffective as Steven Naismith drifted in from the left to score a debut goal before conceding a penalty for two incredibly rash challenges on the Scotland international not long after, and unless the Spain international finds a significantly higher level of performance, he’ll be set for another tough 90 minutes upon facing Leicester City.

Indeed, the form of the Foxes’ resident right winger Riyad Mahrez has been one of the stories of the season in the Premier League, involved in the most goals of any player throughout the division through his return of 13 goals and eight assists in 22 appearances. He’s also averaged 3.2 successful dribbles per match this term, ranking him joint-third with Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez throughout the top flight.

Admittedly, the Algeria international’s influence has waned somewhat in recent weeks, failing to find the net since a 3-2 win over Everton in mid-December. But his quality is evident for all to see and considering Moreno isn’t the most natural of defenders, Mahrez could run riot down the right flank – especially with the full backing of the King Power Stadium faithful.

But the 24-year-old has his work cut out as well. Moreno likes to venture forward and Jurgen Klopp encourages his full-backs to push on, so Mahrez must ensure he’s doing his fair share of tracking back.

JAMIE VARDY VS DEJAN LOVREN

VardyLCFC
The King Power Stadium affair sees the Premier League’s top scorer, Jamie Vardy, take on the leakiest defence in the division’s top eleven, conceding 32 times in just 23 games so far this season, but if there’s one Liverpool defender who could hold him at bay, it’s probably Mamadou Sakho.

Jurgen Klopp now has a few options at the heart of defence compared to his centre-half drought a few weeks ago, having deployed loan signing Steven Caulker and Dejan Lovren against West Ham last weekend following the latter’s lengthy injury lay-off, but the France international still seems the likeliest to start.

Defensively, and especially at set pieces, the former PSG man falls asleep at times. But he’s a phenomenal athlete in terms of pace, strength and leap and that could be just enough to nullify Vardy’s notorious threat on the counter-attack as a fellow power-runner.

That being said, no Premier League striker has matched the 29-year-old’s lethality this season, bagging 16 goals in 23 appearances, and following a recent dry spell found the net in a 3-0 thumping of Stoke City last weekend. Vardy’s in the kind of form where a slither of goal is all he needs, so Sakho and whoever partners him at the back will have to be on top of their games.

ROBERTO FIRMINO VS ROBERT HUTH

Firmino1
The likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have dominated the headlines this season but in my opinion, the understated yet integral influence of centre-back Robert Huth has been equally important in Leicester City’s miraculous rise to the top of the Premier League table.

The German veteran has never been a top-class defender and the Foxes don’t exactly boast a top-class defensive record, conceding the most goals of any side in the Premier League’s top six. But one statistic sums it up for me; from their 36 league games with Huth in the side since signing in January 2014, Leicester have lost just six and won 19.

Perhaps it can be labelled a coincidence, but the 31-year-old’s experience and leadership is clearly having a positive effect on this Leicester side. That being said, Huth’s game still contains significant weaknesses, which will create an incredibly curious mismatch when facing Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino on Tuesday night.

Whilst Huth is your typical old-fashioned centre-back, Firmino is a rather unusual centre-forward. He’s more of a false nine than anything else, having most commonly been utilised as a No.10 by Brazil and former club Hoffenheim, and uses that unconventional style to great effect, either stretching defences by running the channels or peeling off to find space just in front of them – most commonly before launching a curling piledriver.

The 24-year-old struggled to impact against Stoke City in the Capital One Cup last week but has claimed four goals and one assist in his last three Premier League appearances, bagging braces against Arsenal and Norwich City. He’s quickly becoming Liverpool’s talismanic entity in the final third and will be keen to sustain his impressive form upon facing Leicester.

N’GOLO KANTE VS JORDAN HENDERSON

kante
Summer signing N’Golo Kante has been another stand-out star of Leicester City’s season, providing them with a new sense of tenacity and dynamism from the middle of the pitch to play an important role in some huge wins for the King Power Stadium outfit – particularly against Stoke City two weekends ago where he picked up the Man of the Match award.

The Frenchman is first and foremost a defensive midfielder and has completed more ball-winning actions than any Premier League player this term, averaging a formidable four tackles and four interceptions per match. But Leicester’s counter-attacking style and two-man engine room has allowed him to venture forward with great effect as well, regularly carving up space on the break before releasing the ball to one of the Foxes’ lethal attacking outlets.

That being said, Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson is a similar kind of player and watching the two go toe-to-toe will be a very interesting 90 minutes. The England international is perhaps a little stockier and less mobile whilst offering greater output, but he’ll be looking to match what Kante provides in terms of energy and dynamism.

If there’s one factor working in Kante’s favour, however, it’s that the Reds skipper has only just returned from injury after missing the weekend’s FA Cup action and could take a while to get back up to speed.

SIMON MIGNOLET VS KASPER SCHMEICHEL

Simon Mignolet
Both of these sides like to create chances, Liverpool ranking second throughout the Premier League in that regard and Leicester ranking ninth (although far more proficient in the art of converting), so both goalkeepers are set for a relatively busy evening on Tuesday.

Leicester No.1 Kasper Schmeichel has been in superb form this season, recording 53 saves and seven clean sheets in 23 appearances, and despite being rather short for a goalkeeper at 6 foot 1, shares his father’s authoritative presence when it comes to marshalling his own penalty box.

Simon Mignolet, on the other hand, despite recently picking up a new five-year contract, is widely viewed as one of the most suspect goalkeepers in the Premier League. His inability to command the box is seen as one of the underlying factors behind the Reds’ woeful defensive record at set pieces and the Belgium international also has a knack for individual howlers.

But this battle is made so interesting purely by all the recent reports claiming Liverpool are targeting Schmeichel as a potential upgrade on their current No.1. That will likely have a bigger effect on Mignolet than his counterpart on Tuesday night, potentially inspiring a higher level of performance, but both will resultantly be desperate to outshine the other.