In previous years, hosting Leicester City on Boxing Day would have been considered a wonderful gift for the holidays for Liverpool fans.
Instead this matchup could be a nightmare for supporters as table toppers Leicester are flying as they steamroll ahead to Anfield, while their opponents are reeling after losses at Newcastle and Watford along with a home draw against West Brom.
Jurgen Klopp has a lot to do if he wants to challenge Claudio Ranieri’s side, the darling of the Premier League thus far in this campaign. Here are five things to look forward to in this intriguing fixture on Boxing Day.
1. The result could reshape the race at the top of the table
There are many possible outcomes for this match, but certain ones could mean changes atop the Premier League table.
For instance, a Liverpool victory could not only end their skid and propel them toward a top four finish, but it could stunt Leicester’s red hot run, having only lost to Arsenal this entire season.
As Leicester piles victory after victory on, their doubters are fewer and farther between, but a loss at Anfield could propel a downward spiral that a club with inexperience in the winning department might have trouble coping with. On the other hand, a convincing victory over Liverpool could only further their case for escaping with the “fluke” title.
Whatever the result ends up being, look for it to be an indicator of what’s to come in 2016 for each club. The game can be followed with Premier League Scores.
2. Riyad Mahrez vs. Alberto Moreno
Perhaps slightly overshadowed by teammate Jamie Vardy’s goalscoring run, Riyad Mahrez has put together a phenomenal season himself, with his goals and assists already nearing the totals put together by last season’s PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard.
Hazard 2014/15: 38 Games 14 Goals 9 Assists (Wins POTY) Mahrez 2015/16: 16 Games 13 Goals 7 Assists pic.twitter.com/l3BiFwPkDg
— BreatheSport (@BreatheSport) December 23, 2015
The Algerian right winger blends pace with incredible skill, both in distribution and in front of goal. On Saturday, he’ll come face-to-face with Liverpool left back Alberto Moreno. Considering both players’ recent form, it’s easy to envision Mahrez terrorizing the Spaniard.
Still, it’s an interesting matchup that Moreno can come away victorious in if he sacrifices getting forward at times. Moreno has the pace to keep up with Mahrez, but his defensive inefficiencies have shown, especially when it comes to positioning due to an attacking mindset. Mahrez has been a joy to watch this season so it will be interesting to see how Moreno handles him.
3. Who starts up front for Liverpool?
We’ve been through this before, but Liverpool continues to rotate their striker carousel, and it continues to backfire on Jurgen Klopp.
Roberto Firmino was invisible against Watford when playing in the same formation that saw him thrive at Manchester City. Klopp has stated that Christian Benteke doesn’t move enough, regardless of the poor service he’s getting from the flanks. Divock Origi is improving but is still raw, while we’re only left to guess what kind of injury Daniel Sturridge will pick up this week.
Based on current form, one would have to guess Klopp will go with Origi as a lone front man, or possibly pair him with Benteke who can still provide a spark even when in poor form. After all, Firmino has shown no reason for Klopp to start him in the past month. Sturridge missed Sunday’s trip to Watford and it was rumored that the new target for return was Boxing Day, but as always, his status remains to be seen. Klopp has plenty of options, but who he picks is up for grabs, and is something to look for.
4. Goals galore?
Liverpool’s goalkeeping woes coupled with the fact that Leicester has scored in every Premier League game this season means one thing — the Foxes are going to score at least once.
So, who scores for Ranieri’s men? Does Mahrez terrorize Moreno enough to cut in on his left for a chance at goal? Perhaps he’ll do the same but set up Vardy or Shinji Okazaki? Regardless of who scores, there’s a large chance that Mahrez or Vardy is involved, as they have combined for 28 goals so far this season (Liverpool have only scored 19 as a whole).
However, it’s worth noting that Leicester have only kept three clean sheets all season, meaning Liverpool could have a better chance of scoring Saturday in comparison to past opponents who have been stronger in defense.
5. No Martin Skrtel for Liverpool means more shuffling defensively
As if Liverpool’s issues with their goalkeeping and their defending haven’t been trouble enough over the past few years, they’ve been hit with yet another injury this season. Martin Skrtel has confirmed a six week absence, which is the seventh injury setback suffered by a Liverpool center back (two minor ones for Kolo Toure, two for Dejan Lovren, a month out for Mamadou Sakho and an ACL tear for Joe Gomez).
Without their Slovakian defender, Liverpool have a possible issue in defense. Lovren is set to return from his second injury spell on Boxing Day, but a setback could spell trouble. Sakho showed rust against Watford in his return from injury, but will likely be ready for Leicester. And if Lovren can’t play, the rarely used Kolo Toure will likely get the nod.
Essentially, Liverpool will have a makeshift defense trying to contain the best attack in the Premier League along with a shaky goalkeeper at the back (whether it’s Simon Mignolet or Adam Bogdan). What could go wrong?
Liverpool fans know that their beloved club have their work cut out for them, but there’s still hope that they can expose Leicester City. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see that happening Saturday, and Liverpool look set to suffer a Boxing Day loss at Anfield.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-3 Leicester City