Liverpool may not have won the league for 29 years, but this is not their first title challenge in that period. However, they have usually been the hunter rather than the hunted; according to Stats Zone, this will be the Reds’ 10th Premier League game where they’ve started top of the table this season, more than they’ve played in every other individual campaign since 1992.
And in the next few weeks they will be very much the hunted. Liverpool haven’t played after Manchester City in any of the last six match weeks, yet will do so twice within the next week, and a further two times later in February. At the time of writing, it seems safe to assume the Reds will kick off just one point clear at the top of the table (unless Newcastle pull off a miracle result – which they did! – Ed). Will the pressure start to tell on Liverpool?
There’s no real reason it should in this fixture. Liverpool vs Leicester has ended in a home win in six of the last seven matches at Anfield, since the Foxes won there back in May 2000. Even when Claudio Ranieri’s team broke from all sense of logic and won the league in 2015/16, one of their three defeats came in the Red half of Merseyside. This isn’t a ground where Leicester do well.
It’s also hard to know which version of Claude Puel’s side will turn up. You would think a team which has beaten Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton within the last six match weeks would be near the top of the form guide. Yet defeats to Cardiff, Southampton and Wolves in that period has left them midtable for the last six games and for the season as a whole.
It’s not as if the underlying statistics make Leicester any easier to read either. Their results in their last six league matches (oldest first) read win, win, loss, win, loss, loss. Look at the expected goals for each game and assign a win to any side who registers an xG advantage of at least 0.6, and you get loss, draw, win, draw, draw, loss.
In other words, only their most recent league result matched what they theoretically deserved from the game, and that was a 4-3 loss between two teams who rank in the Premier League’s bottom six for fewest total goals per game.
But while Leicester are hard to make much sense of, for Liverpool the picture is far clearer, especially at home. They uncharacteristically conceded three times against Crystal Palace last time out, but even allowing for that they’ve only let in nine goals in their 18 league matches on home turf within the last year.
In that period they’ve scored 51 goals themselves, only drawing a blank in a very tight match against Manchester City, and against Stoke in a game which fell between the two legs of their Champions League semi-final with Roma.
Mohamed Salah has scored 39 goals in his 42 appearances at Anfield. Within that stunning record, the Egyptian king has 22 in 22 league games against sides from outside the top six. When looking at Twelve’s rating of players from both teams over the past six matches, it’s safe to assume Leicester’s sole representative in the top five is going to be a busy boy in this one.
An expected goals-powered prediction suggests this will be a 2-0 home win, and it’s impossible to argue with that being a very likely outcome. Manchester City may have to wait at least one more match week for the pressure to begin to tell upon Liverpool.