After being handed a mixed bag of results to start their Premier League campaign, Liverpool will be looking to get their season started in earnest when they host defending champions Leicester City on Saturday night in what will be the first match at a newly redeveloped Anfield.
The new Main Stand will be something to see, but suffice it to say that getting three-points against Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes would be just as exciting. History, of course, is on our side; it’s been over sixteen years since they last beat us away from home. The Reds were one of the few teams to get one over on the East Midlands club side en-route to their shock table topping performance last year and no one would be complaining if they did the same one more time — least of all Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.
“Leicester is still good, still lively, still aggressive, well organised,” said the German manager, speaking to the press ahead of Leicester visiting Merseyside on Saturday. “Their one big strength is the counter-attack, they’re very direct. You have to prepare for this, it’s not about pressing in their build-up because they don’t give you that opportunity but they don’t defend that deep,” explained Klopp, knowing full well that his side are vulnerable to fast breaks. “They played last year here like this. One of their biggest qualities is that they stick to their plan. It’s not their only plan because they really can play football – give [Riyad] Mahrez the ball and it’s not a counter-attack then,” mused the Reds boss. “We’re the only team to have three away Premier League games [to start the season] so now we start with a home game. After this first international break, this [four points] is our base and I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us.”
Klopp will have Senegalese attacker Sadio Mane available to him after reports of the former Southampton man picking up a knock on international duty turned out to be just a bit of tabloid tattle and talisman Philippe Coutinho should be good to go after special arrangements with the Brazilian national team saw him return to Merseyside on Thursday morning. Loris Karius, who is back in contention after recovering from a broken hand quicker than expected, could usurp starting ‘keeper Simon Mignolet’s spot between the sticks, but an injury to Ragnar Klavan while captaining Estonia means the veteran defender won’t be vying to break up the budding defensive partnership of Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip.
Those two will have to be sharp on Saturday — we’ve all seen what the Foxes can do when they’re in the mood. One only needs to think back on Jamie Vardy’s wonder goal at the King Power Stadium last season to see that they’ve got something special going on they’ll be looking to get their mojo workin’ after slow start to the campaign. Boasting exactly the same record as us with a win, a loss and a draw out of their first three matches, Ranieri remains cool as you’d like despite having one or two injury worries going in to the weekend.
“Nampalys needs more or less one week. Schlupp is very, very close to coming back,” said the Italian, giving an update on the defensive midfielder and the winger. “[Kasper] Schmeichel is ready to play,” added Ranieri. “Nobody was injured [during the international break]. Everybody is in good condition,” he added with a smile. “A lot of my players go around the world without playing but it’s good. They recover a little more. Slimani arrives this evening or tomorrow. I didn’t see him yet, but he’s available for Saturday,” continued the veteran manager, touching on the Foxes record signing who is yet to feature or even train with the squad following a big money move from Portuguese outfit Sporting Lisbon. “He could play. We bought him because we believe in his ability. It’s important he understand the Premier League. He cost a lot of money but if you see the market it’s a crazy market.”
To be fair, it’s a crazy league with even crazier expectations; after only three matches, the hyperbole in the press and on social media has been laughable at best and cringe worthy at worst, but as we slide in to September, the pressure is going to be on to start churning out results. Liverpool remain very much a work in progress and though there’d be little surprise if they run out winners on Saturday, there’d be about the same should they come up short; at this stage of the season and as the team evolves under Klopp, our inconsistency might be the reality of the situation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves along the way. Now quit grumbling — we’ve got a new stand a meeting with the champs to look forward to…