The big change in Brendan Rodgers – and how injuries will define Liverpool vs. Leicester

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Leicester go into their weekend clash with Liverpool as Premier League leaders, but do Foxes fans believe they can make a huge statement at Anfield?

It has been almost two weeks since the Reds drew 1-1 away to Man City, before the final international break of 2020 got in the way.

On Sunday night, Liverpool host a Leicester side brimming with confidence, as former Anfield boss Brendan Rodgers continues to impress as Foxes manager.

Jurgen Klopp is having to deal with a host of injury problems, so this could be a big test as the champions aim to make it a club-record 64 home league games unbeaten.

With the Anfield clash fast approaching, we spoke to the Mail on Sunday’s James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) to hear all about Leicester’s season and who will come out on top this weekend.

 

How would you assess Leicester’s start to the season?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 26, 2019: Leicester City's Harvey Barnes during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

An unexpected flyer.

The velocity at which Leicester chucked away their Champions League place last season, combined with what looked a quiet transfer window, left a sense of apprehension heading into the new campaign.

We do apprehension well in Leicester.

Yet here we are, eight games in and top of the table and Leicester’s best start to a top-flight season ever – better even than, whisper it, 2015/16.

The new signings have all made an impact and there have been wins against Man City and Arsenal (and a couple of dismal defeats to West Ham and Aston Villa), so all in all, I could not really have asked for more.

 

Has anything changed stylistically compared to last season?

Leicester press a little differently now. Last season, it was all in your face, looking to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible.

They had the lowest passes per defensive action in the Premier League, allowing their opponents the fewest passes outside of their own third before trying to win it back.

They are more selective now. In the wins against City and Arsenal they sat deep, frustrated and punished them.

Pep Guardiola moaned that Leicester had 11 men behind the ball, Rodri accused Leicester of ‘doing nothing’ (on their way to scoring five goals) and Mikel Arteta had similar complaints.

Yet against Burnley, Leicester had nearly 70 percent possession and were more aggressive in their press.

It will be interesting to see which approach Rodgers takes against Liverpool.

 

How happy are you with the job Rodgers is doing?

Brendan Rodgers, Leicester ((Mike Egerton/PA))

Rodgers is doing a grand job, turning Leicester into a genuine top-six outfit in two years.

Since his first game in charge, only Liverpool and Man City have won more league games – only them and Chelsea have scored more goals.

I know people find him irritating, with all his Brendanisms and slippery charm, but the Leicester players think he is great.

He is just what Leicester needed: a guy with too much personality after stagnating under Claude Puel, who was someone many felt did not have one at all.

Rodgers faced necessary criticism during Leicester’s capitulation last season, where a few pointed to his time at Liverpool and how they had fallen away in the title race.

It felt like he was unwilling to divert from his philosophy even when it wasn’t working.

He has come through this season, though, with Leicester finding more than one way to win games. They can win with the ball and without it.

The players have improved under him and every one of them knows exactly what their role is. That is testament to his coaching.

 

Who have been Leicester’s three best players so far?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 1, 2019: Leicester City's Jamie Vardy during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Everton FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jamie Vardy. Who else! Golden Boot winner aged 33 and joint-top scorer this season – he shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, his all-round game has improved and he is dropping deeper to bring the likes of Harvey Barnes into play. He hasn’t scored in three games against Liverpool, following seven in his first eight, so he is due one.

Then there’s Youri Tielemans. Rodgers has asked him to sit a little deeper in midfield this season, but the Belgian has still dominated games from there.

His vision and range of passing is sublime and he is Leicester’s quarterback. It is easy to forget he is only 23.

And finally, Timothy Castagne – Tielemans’ international teammate and one of Rodgers’ summer signings.

Rodgers tried to sign the full-back at Celtic and he is strong, fast, direct and built for the Premier League.

Nobody has created more chances or provided more assists in the league for Leicester this season and he has missed the last two games with injury.

Unfortunately, he is likely to be missing this weekend too.

 

As it stands, who do you see as the title front-runners?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 26, 2019: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (R) shakes hands with Leicester City's manager Brendan Rodgers after the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. Liverpool won 4-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Leicester, of course! I’m joking. Well, half-joking. They have been there before, after all, and this season feels crazy enough to throw up another surprise winner.

They, like Liverpool, have done it with a raft of injuries to key players. Their five best defensive players are all out, Vardy has missed a game and James Maddison has only started two in the league all season. Get all them back and, goodness me, who knows.

But having followed Leicester, you come to realise it is much better to sit on the side of apprehension about these things.

Focus on not ballsing up the top four this time and let the rest take care of itself. A trip to Anfield will soon put this excellent start into perspective.

Tottenham have impressed me. For all the talk about Jose Mourinho being past it, they have looked phenomenal. That understanding between Harry Kane and Heung-min Son has become near-telepathic.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 16, 2018: Manchester United's manager Jose Mourinho goes to shake hands with Liverpool's manager J¸rgen Klopp after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

They have won games in different ways, too, which is always a good sign. They have Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Leicester in their next six games. That’s the real quiz.

Liverpool’s position strikes me as ominous. Nowhere near their best and, like Leicester, have a host of injuries to key players. But there they are. One point off the top. That’s what the best teams do.

I realise I’ve just listed the current top three. How original.

 

Looking ahead to Sunday, who do you fear most?

BERGAMO, ITALY - Tuesday, November 3, 2020: Liverpool's Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Atalanta BC and Liverpool FC at the Stadio di Bergamo. (Pic by Simone Arveda/Propaganda)

Sadio Mane has caused Leicester severe problems in their last two trips to Anfield, scoring in both and then winning the last-minute penalty for James Milner to snatch it last season.

Best not to say anything else about that one.

A Liverpool side without Mohamed Salah is always less fearsome than one with the Egyptian in it, but Diogo Jota scored a hat-trick for Wolves in their 4-3 win over Leicester in January last year.

Such an astute signing.

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 31, 2020: Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (L) and West Ham United's Angelo Ogbonna during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Both teams have had their defences ravaged by injury. While Liverpool will be missing their key men at the back, Leicester have been without Castagne, Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Caglar Soyuncu and Wilfred Ndidi for much of the season.

It is likely to be battle of who can exploit it best.

Vardy against Liverpool’s centre-backs will be crucial. Will they be able to track his movement and runs in behind?

He doesn’t always have the most touches in games, but lose him for a moment and he can punish you.

If Barnes starts, he will hope to expose Neco Williams, if it is the youngster who starts at right-back in place of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Mane against Leicester’s new signing Wesley Fofana could be gladiatorial. Fofana is only 19 but has been immense since being thrust into the starting lineup.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 5, 2019: Liverpool's Sadio Mane during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He will get some much-needed support from Marc Albrighton at wing-back, but if Mane can isolate him, that could be a huge battle.

Even Fofana is a doubt after withdrawing from France’s under-21s during the break, however, so if he is out too, Mane could be up against makeshift centre-back James Justin. Good luck.

Roberto Firmino vs. Papy Mendy is another big one. We know how great Firmino is at dropping into the spaces to bring in the wide players.

If there’s no Ndidi, it will be Mendy’s job to keep tabs on him. He looked likely to leave the club this summer but has enjoyed a renaissance and has been superb in front of Leicester’s back four.

Similarly, Jordan Henderson, if fit, trying to stop Tielemans from dictating play for the visitors will be key.

 

Finally, hit us with your prediction…

LONDON, ENGLAND - Friday, August 11, 2017: Leicester City's Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Leicester haven’t won at Anfield in 20 years. It feels like about that long since Liverpool lost there.

The team to end the Reds’ previous 63-game unbeaten streak at Anfield in January 1981? Leicester. It’s fate, clearly.

It was 2-1 that day and I will go for the same again this time, with Vardy at the double.

We can but hope.

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