When Liverpool line up against Leicester City on Sunday afternoon Jurgen Klopp will be without Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk.
Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rhys Williams and Thiago Alcantara all could feature according to Jurgen Klopp but none are guaranteed a return to first-team action just yet.
The Reds are reeling. Losing Van Dijk for the season was a hammer blow and they’ve suffered injury after injury so far this year. Yet despite that they remain just a point off the league leaders, which are Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes, and that is a testament to Klopp and his players.
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Yet should they slip up against a very well-organised and dangerous Leicester side, you can already imagine the reactions from fans and the media. The victory would be delegitimised because of the players who are missing for Liverpool. That is unfair to Leicester. A win against the champions is a win. Even with all those players missing, Liverpool still have Alisson Becker, Andrew Robertson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane to call upon.
Jurgen Klopp (L) and Mohamed Salah (R)
Image credit: Getty Images
Furthermore it’s not as if Leicester are completely injury free, Caglar Soyuncu and Wilfred Ndidi are both out and there are doubts over Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana, and Ricardo Pereira, with the trio only just having returned to training.
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Make no mistake about it, if Leicester win it will be a statement, and it would be a sign that we should be taking them seriously. Yes Leicester have lost twice this season (more than Liverpool, Tottenham Htospur and Chelsea) and one of them was a hugely disappointing 3-0 defeat at home to West Ham. That was just a bad day at the office, it can happen, look at Liverpool against Aston Villa. Then when you look at Leicester’s own loss to Villa that might be explained away by the absence of Jamie Vardy, still going strong at the ripe old age of 33. Obviously both of those games tend to not happen if you’re a potential Premier League champion, but having said that this is not an ordinary season, so perhaps we throw out the usual rules when we talk about teams who are in with a title chance.
Since Leicester last won the league in 2016 (with a points tally of 81) every single Premier League champion has secured above 90 points. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that whoever is champion this season will probably dip back below that 90-point threshold, that means there are more potential winners.
So why not Leicester? Let’s look at the numbers. Gracenote have examined their matches so far this season and compared them to the corresponding fixtures in the 2019-20 campaign. Comparatively Leicester are scoring more goals (18 v 14) and creating more chances (13.91 xG v 12.37 xG). What’s particularly interesting is that although they have allowed one more shot than last season they’ve conceded two fewer goals and their xG against is noticeable lower (8.22 v 10.97).
Leicester City v same (or equivalent) opponents
|Season||Pts||Goals||Goals Against||xG||xG Against||Shots||Shot Against||Big Chances||Big Chances Against|
Source: Nielsen's Gracenote
As Simon Gleave, the head of sports analysis at Gracenote says, "On the evidence of their first eight matches, Leicester City have improved on last season.
“Goal attempts by the Foxes have more chance of being scored and they have also forced their opponents to shoot from worse positions. Leicester City should be more serious contenders for at least a top four spot this season."
A victory against Liverpool on Sunday would certainly go a long way to legitimising Leicester this season. Liverpool have actually been pretty good thus far in their title defence except the aberration at Villa. Yes some of their games have been closer than Klopp would like but is that surprising given the players they have had missing? The encouraging thing is that they keep on winning. Aside from Villa they’ve only dropped points away at Manchester City and in the Merseyside derby. Don’t forget that on top of those two tricky trips they’ve also had to go to Stamford Bridge as well as hosting Arsenal, this has been a tough start to the season for Klopp's team.
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To be where they are, with the injuries they’ve had, is worthy of praise. And by that logic if we’re going to praise Liverpool we should bestow the same kudos to Leicester should they win on Sunday. Using the same comparison points as earlier Gracenote examined Liverpool’s matches thus far against the same opponents last season (swapping Bournemouth in for Aston Villa) and whilst they are letting in more goals Liverpool are scoring more and creating more chances.
Liverpool v same (or equivalent) opponents
|Season||Pts||Goals||Goals Against||xG||xG Against||Shots||Shots Against||Big Chances||Big Chances Against|
Source: Nielsen's Gracenote
Of course missing Salah on Sunday is going to be tough but Mane and Jota are both playing excellently. If Thiago can start as well then suddenly there are a lot of potential headaches for this Leicester defence. It's very rare that Liverpool are out of games, against Villa aside, and that's because of their excellent attacking unit. People need to stop acting like Leicester are going to be playing Liverpool U23s.
Injuries were inevitable this season, particularly when you consider the shortened off-season and English football’s decision not to keep the five substitutes rule. The condensed calendar has put the teams in Europe under even more pressure than usual. It doesn’t matter who Liverpool are missing, a Leicester win will send a big message to the rest of the league.
Top four has to be the bare minimum, and Leicester should have designs on a second title. This is a club that has ambitions on breaking apart the ‘Big Six’ that currently dominates English football. Alongside Everton, Leicester have acted like a club that believes they belong in the upper echelons of English football. They want to prove that what they achieved in 2016 was not a fluke and that they are serious about being a big player. They’ve done this consistently for the past couple of seasons, but always tend to tail off. A win on Sunday would be huge, and it could be the start of something special, but the proof will be in the pudding after 25, 30 and 35 matches.
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