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Battle of ‘quarterbacks’ & Liverpool’s “natural comedown” – Leicester View

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Liverpool face Leicester in a vital top-four clash on Saturday lunchtime, but are Foxes supporters confident of rubbing more salt into Reds wounds?

Jurgen Klopp‘s men suffered a harrowing 4-1 defeat at home to Man City last weekend, as their Premier League title hopes arguably ended.

There is no time for this Liverpool team to feel sorry for itself, however, with Leicester a huge threat this weekend.

Rodgers’ side sit one place and three points ahead of the Reds in third, so victory for them would be a huge boost to their Champions League qualification hopes.

Ahead of the game, we spoke to Mail on Sunday reporter James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) to discuss the season to date and how Saturday’s match could play out at the King Power Stadium.

 

Leicester sit third in the Premier League – how would you assess their season so far?

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

Excellent. After last season’s collapse, there were concerns that Leicester might have missed the boat, but they have been superb.

Their summer recruitment was astute, as usual, and the new signings have made an impact.

They have done it while battling lots of injuries, too. At one stage, Leicester’s first-choice back-four, as well as Wilfred Ndidi, were all out.

Jamie Vardy has also missed games, as has James Maddison.

Wins against Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea have been massive. Results against the bigger teams has been one of the noticeable improvements and shows they are ready to mix it with the big boys for real this time.

There have been a few damp squibs — losing to Fulham, for example — but in this most chaotic of seasons, Leicester are the only team to have been in the top four at the end of every week.

I think that speaks the loudest.

 

Do you think lessons have been learned from last season’s top-four collapse?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 22, 2020: Liverpool’s Diogo Jota during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City 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 David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Oh, very much so. The wins against the bigger sides has shown that, as mentioned.

The back-to-back defeats to Liverpool and City around Christmas last season put Leicester in their place and they never really regained confidence from that.

They’ve had another year of experience and development under Brendan Rodgers, too.

The injury situation is also different this time. The previous collapse was compounded by issues to big players during the run-in – Maddison, Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira all missed the end of the season.

They were Leicester’s most creative players, and without them, they struggled.

This time, key players are coming back. Maddison is fully fit and purring and Pereira — the best full-back in the league after Liverpool’s pair, in my opinion — is back on the pitch.

Caglar Soyuncu is available, Ndidi is fit again after tweaking his hamstring recently and Vardy has returned from an operation.

If Rodgers has all of them at his disposal for the remainder of the campaign, it will end much better than 12 months ago.

 

How happy are you with the job Rodgers is doing?

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

He’s the perfect fit. He has a bunch of young, talented, driven players who he can shape and mould, and he has done that brilliantly. Every player has improved under him.

Vardy is 34 now but is the most complete he’s ever been.

The two things that most impress are his coaching — the players say his training sessions are on a different level — and his communication.

I know he gets plenty of stick for being David Brent’s long-lost brother, but his man-management of the squad, keeping everyone content even if they are not playing and getting them all to understand his philosophy is excellent.

You can see how much the players are enjoying their football and everyone knows their role and what is expected of them.

He’s a dream for the media, too.

 

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

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

James Justin. My Player of the Season so far. It’s only 18 months since he joined from Luton and now he’s one of the best full-backs in the Premier League.

He’s played all across the back-line and excelled in every position, is fast and direct going forward and has got the defence out of lots of trouble. We all know how much Gareth Southgate loves right-backs – well, he’s got another to consider.

Justin was stretchered off in the FA Cup on Wednesday night, so Rodgers will hope it’s not too serious.

Youri Tielemans comes a close second. The Belgian midfielder is only 23 but he’s a natural leader. Rodgers calls him his “coach on the pitch”.

He controls Leicester’s tempo in possession and his ability to play passes through the lines from deep is crucial when they come up against deep defences.

We saw Tom Brady conquer in the Super Bowl over the weekend and Tielemans is Leicester’s quarterback.

Last but not least, Kasper Schmeichel. It’s 10 years this summer since he joined Leicester from Leeds, with the message from Simon Grayson at the time being that he wasn’t good enough.

Now, he’s a title winner, Champions League quarter-finalist, Denmark international and Leicester’s on-field captain.

He wins the Foxes points with big saves in big moments and his long-range passing kick-starts Leicester’s counter-attacks.

The biggest thing you can say about him, despite his surname, is that he has now forged a reputation and fine career in his own right.

 

Switching our attention to Liverpool, what has gone wrong for them in 2020/21?

2EA3A92 Liverpool's Mohamed Salah reacts during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Sunday February 7, 2021. PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Good question! It’s been a surprise to see after being so ruthless in recent seasons.

Injuries are huge, of course. Losing the likes of Virgil van Dijk and others is always going to have a huge impact and Liverpool have endured more than their fair share.

I also think they need a refresh.

They have been through so much: finishing second on 97 points and the intensity of that race, and winning the Champions League and Club World Cup, too.

Then coming back even better to achieve what the club has waited so long for last season – all of that takes its toll.

We found something similar with Leicester when they won the title. After achieving something so great, there was always going to be a natural comedown.

Liverpool have achieved incredible things. It’s so tough to keep going and going.

 

Who are you backing to finish in the top four?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Man City will run away with it, unfortunately, but the rest is up for grabs. I think Leicester have a real shot at finishing second. So, yeah, let’s go with that.

I will go for Man United in third, even if Bruno Fernandes does it all on his own, and if Chelsea still had Frank Lampard in charge, I would have said Liverpool in fourth.

They look a different prospect under Thomas Tuchel, though, and the form of them compared to Liverpool is drastic right now. Sorry.

I’ll get my tin hat ready.

 

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, who do you fear most for the Reds?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 27, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Bromwich Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Any of that front three.

Mo Salah is the mainstay in my fantasy team, but it’s Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are the ones who always seem to score against Leicester.

In the last five meetings, Firmino has four and Mane has five. Any time the former gets into the box, everything starts to clench, as it usually ends in a penalty.

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 30, 2020: Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara during the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Liverpool FC at St. James’ Park. The game ended in a goal-less draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Those wide areas will be huge. Considering how much joy Mane has had, whoever starts at right-back will have a test.

It will either be Timothy Castagne or Pereira, who are either just coming back from injury or still not up to full speed. Good luck.

Vardy and Harvey Barnes against the injury-hit Liverpool back-line will also be key.

Vardy’s only just returning from a hernia operation so is not quite fully firing, but if Tielemans can thread a ball through to him, you’ll back him to finish it.

Barnes, though, has taken his game to another level this season. He’s rapid, direct but has now added a composure to his finishing. He will be dangerous.

Tielemans vs. Thiago fascinates me, too. Two players who like to control the tempo and dictate play. It will be interesting to see who gets their grip on the game best.

 

Finally, hit us with your prediction…

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’s recent record against Liverpool is shocking, but if there’s ever been a time to take advantage, it’s now.

It will be an open game featuring two teams who love to attack – I’m going to play it safe-ish and say a 2-2 draw.

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