The Premier League’s pacesetters arrive in the East Midlands to face Claude Puel’s Leicester this Saturday lunchtime with bookies expecting them to register a fourth straight win. Standing in their way is a Leicester side which has had a decent but not stunning start to the season, but which will be without talismanic striker Jamie Vardy for a third game in a row due to suspension.
There is a sense that Liverpool have been playing with the brakes on up to this point, which makes their record of three wins from three games played, seven goals scored and none conceded all the more impressive. Faced with an away game at a side with a little more attacking thrust, we may even see newly-acquired defensive midfielder Fabinho make his debut for the Reds.
In the absence of Vardy, Leicester have been selecting Nigerian international Kelechi Iheanacho as their starting centre-forward, which we can expect to continue this afternoon. The former Manchester City man scored in midweek against Fleetwood and was instrumental in his side’s equaliser during a 2-1 win against Southampton last Saturday. Another strong performance here could see him become the first player to score past Liverpool’s £67million goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
With this being both sides’ last game before breaking for the international weekend, both managers will want to complete an encouraging opening to their season with the three points. Of the two clubs, City would be the happier with a draw, not least considering the form of their opponents’ fearsome three-man strike force of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. If that trident can hit its stride here, England star Harry Maguire could be in for a long day in the heart of the home defence.
Leicester City vs Liverpool Prediction: Leicester City 1-2 Liverpool
Liverpool’s record of three clean sheets – giving them the only unbreached defence in the top flight this season – is impressive, but questions can be asked about how seriously it has been tested given the fact that they’ve faced West Ham, Crystal Palace and Brighton. Leicester should give it a more thorough test here and, even when they don’t play well, Puel’s men have a tendency to find a goal from somewhere. Sometimes it’s too late in the game to matter, but that’s a side issue.
This will be the most searching examination Liverpool have faced so far this season, but it’s difficult to build a case for Leicester emerging with the points. Their defence still has the feel of an unfinished project, with Puel seemingly unsure of Maguire’s best partner in the centre, and unaware of Daniel Amartey’s unsuitability at right-back. Against a forward line like the one they’ll be facing today, that lack of certainty is liable to be the home side’s downfall.
Our recommended tip: Mane First Goal
The goalscoring exploits of Mo Salah are well-known, the Egyptian having scored at will throughout his first season in a Liverpool shirt, and showing no signs of stopping at the beginning of his sophomore spell. However, this always means he is at short odds to open the scoring. Instead of trying to scratch together some value on that eventuality, you should focus your gaze elsewhere.
Senegalese striker Sadio Mane – Liverpool’s Player of the Season in 2016/17 but nominally overshadowed by his fellow African since then – is a perpetual threat, a handful to defend against and (perhaps crucially) not likely to be as tightly marked as Salah. At 19/4 with Unibet, he’s well worth your attention, and he’s leading Salah in goals scored this season anyway.
The meeting that home fans will want to remember in advance of this game came in early 2016, when Liverpool were visitors to a Leicester side that sat in first place in the Premier League. Two goals from Jamie Vardy kept the Foxes three points clear of second-placed Manchester City, who they faced the following weekend. They won that one 3-1, and the rest is history.
More recently, Liverpool have had the upper hand over Leicester. Of the four league games the sides have contested, Liverpool have won three. The most recent meeting at the King Power Stadium, early last season, saw Liverpool race into a 2-0 lead, before Okazaki pulled one back for the hosts. Salah made it 3-1 to Liverpool on 68 minutes, a goal which was immediately followed by Vardy grabbing a second for Leicester. The Foxes then won a penalty, and with it the chance to level matters. It was taken by Vardy, but saved by Simon Mignolet, and Liverpool held out to win 3-2.
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Players to watch: Harry Maguire & Naby Keita
Harry Maguire looks like the archetypal English centre-half. He’s tall, broad, excellent in the air and commanding in the tackle. Team-mates call him “Slabhead”, due to his powerful headers, and for an example of what they’re talking about, check out his first international goal for England against Sweden. He’ll be a clear and present threat to Liverpool from corners and free-kicks here.
However, Maguire shouldn’t be typecast as just a “big lump”. He can also play a bit, as his 25-yard shot to grab three points at Southampton last week shows. If he can add another goal to his highlight reel here, City fans won’t care how it comes.
Secured early last season for a fee in the region of £60million, Keita stayed in Leipzig for the 2017/18 campaign before officially completing his move this summer. He has hit the ground running at Anfield, demonstrating a complete midfielder’s array of talents.
Although the Guinean is yet to score his first goal for the Reds, it can’t be long in coming – his powerful runs from midfield are well-timed and he’s got a decent shot on him. At present, he’s keeping club captain Jordan Henderson out of the side, and nobody could deny that it’s on merit.