Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City are looking to stay on top of the Premier League table as they face Champions League-chasing Liverpool at the King Power Stadium this midweek (7.45pm, Tuesday).
It has been a remarkable campaign so far for the Foxes, who were widely tipped for relegation but instead sit at the summit of the standings with just 15 matches to go. They are now 10 points clear of Manchester United in fifth place – making qualification for the Champions League likely – and three ahead of Arsenal and Manchester City, who have now started to feel the pressure as the two title favourites. The lack of expectation surrounding Leicester could work to their advantage, although Ranieri (pictured) and the club’s fans will still be desperate to take full advantage of their unexpectedly lofty position by making history this term.
A 1-0 defeat to Liverpool on Boxing Day began a run of seven games that contained just a single victory in all competitions for Leicester, who recorded another win with a 3-0 triumph over Stoke City last time out. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were both back to their best in that encounter, with N’Golo Kante continuing to excel in midfielder and centre-backs Wes Morgan and Robert Huth playing a big part in the East Midlanders’ new-found defensive solidity. They have recorded four clean sheets in their last five Premier League outings, conceding just one goal in the process. If Leicester can manage another shut-out against Liverpool – who have been strong going forward but weak at the back in recent weeks –they will have an excellent chance of registering their 14th league victory in 2015/16.
The Reds will also be targeting maximum points as they seek to keep their slim hopes of a top-four finish alive. Jurgen Klopp’s men are currently eight points adrift of Tottenham Hotspur, the side occupying the final Champions League spot. While that margin is a hefty one, there is still a chance that Liverpool could overhaul it between now and May.
As previously mentioned, they will need to tighten up at the back if they are to achieve that objective this term. Their last Premier League match was a thrilling yet flawed 5-4 victory over Norwich City, with no clean sheets recorded in their first four league games of 2016 (in that time, incidentally, Liverpool have scored eight and conceded 10). Such shakiness in defence puts more pressure on the team’s attacking players, with the likes of Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana relied upon for goals in the last few weeks.
Leicester will be unable to call upon the services of Jeff Schlupp on Tuesday, although Ranieri has no other injury concerns after their third round exit from the FA Cup afforded his players an extra weekend off. They could therefore be fresher than their opponents, with Liverpool labouring to a 0-0 draw against West Ham United in the pair’s fourth round clash on Saturday.
Having said that, Klopp is likely to make numerous changes to his side for this encounter, with Lallana, Firmino, Jordan Henderson, Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno, James Milner, Kolo Toure and Emre Can all rested at the weekend. Henderson could miss out with an ankle knock, however, with Philippe Coutinho, Martin Skrtel, Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi, Jordan Rossiter and Joe Gomez still sidelined.
Given their inconsistent displays of late, it is difficult to predict which Liverpool will turn up at the King Power Stadium. Leicester’s strength at home – they have lost only once at their own ground, a 5-2 defeat to Arsenal in September – means the visitors will find it difficult to leave with all three points, though, so a draw is perhaps the most likely outcome.