How can Liverpool’s patch-work defence stop league leaders Leicester?
Liverpool ended thirty years of suffering last July as they won their first Premier League title. But just five months after that great triumph, their hopes of retaining the trophy have been dealt a major blow.
The bedrock of Liverpool’s title-winning side – the defence – has been decimated over the last month, the domino effect beginning with injury to Virgil van Dijk against Everton in October.
Since then, his defensive replacement Fabinho was crocked against FC Midtjylland, then right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, and now Andy Robertson could be unavailable.
Next up is top-of-the-table Leicester City and a meeting with former boss Brendan Rodgers on Sunday. How does Jurgen Klopp keep Jamie Vardy, Cengiz Ünder and co. under control?
What are the options?
Joel Matip is currently the only fit senior centre-back in the squad. However his workload will have to be managed too. Matip will surely start on Sunday night but who will join him?
The 19-year-old defender Rhys Williams, who’s excelled in the Champions League this campaign, would have been in contention but he had to pull out of England’s U21 squad with a hip injury.
Fabinho faces a race to recover from his hamstring injury that’s kept him out for three weeks. If the Brazilian doesn’t return, Klopp could turn to Nathaniel Phillips once again.
Phillips was on loan at VfB Stuttgart in 2. Bundesliga last season but was thrown into Premier League action against West Ham in October and impressed.
The full-back positions could be filled by the versatile James Milner, with youngster Neco Williams waiting in the wings. We could also see a Premier League debut at left-back for Kostas Tsimikas.
Klopp could even drop captain Jordan Henderson back into a three-man defence to help solidify the inexperienced backline.
What are the match odds?
The Foxes are in the mood again and with away victories at Man City and Arsenal, they’ll feel confident at 13/5 of upsetting the apple cart once more. Liverpool are at 19/20 to win, with the draw also 13/5.
But Leicester fans won’t forgive us for not mentioning their injury woes too. Wilfried Ndidi, Ricardo Pereira, Timothy Castagne, Caglar Soyuncu and Daniel Amartey are those who come to mind.
Kasper Schmeichel’s concussion in midweek could give a Premier League debut to ex-Liverpool keeper Danny Ward, over two years after signing for Leicester.
However, they do have the evergreen Jamie Vardy (5/1 to finish top goalscorer) running riot. The 33-year-old is enjoying a renaissance and still giving Premier League defenders sleepless nights.
The sparkling form of Youri Tielemans, plus the return of James Maddison and speedster Ünder, could be too much for Liverpool’s depleted defence.
Liverpool are just a point behind Leicester but this feels like a game they must not lose already.
25/1 says the Foxes win the league for a second time in their history. Still outsiders but it’s not quite 5000/1 is it?!…
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication