November 25, 2020

Liverpool star Thiago key to unlocking Leicester and will be top of Klopps tactics book – Liverpool Echo

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/liverpool-leicester-thiago-alcantara-tactics-19288733

With the Liverpool squad ravaged by injuries, there’s certainly fixtures they would prefer to be facing than having to host league leaders Leicester City.

The Foxes are on fire on the road this season, having won all four league matches they’ve played away from the King Power Stadium. They haven’t achieved this solely by playing weaker sides either, as they’ve taken three points at Manchester City and Arsenal.

This is a marked turn in their form from the end of 2019/20. Brendan Rodgers’ side beat Newcastle at St James’ Park on New Year’s Day but then had the second-worst away record in the Premier League for the rest of the season, drawing three and losing five of their eight games.

And their upturn in form on the road has been aided by the officials and clumsy opposition defending. Leicester have scored six penalties away from home this season, which is a third of the total for the whole division, with no other side netting more than one. You have to go back to January 2019 and across 31 away matches to find Liverpool’s last six league penalties which weren’t at Anfield.

So if the Reds defend smartly in their box – and perhaps keep their arms behind their backs – then they can dampen Leicester’s attacking threat. Rodgers’ team have the fourth best expected goal difference in the top flight overall, but exclude penalties and they then have the joint-sixth worst. It’s a huge part of their arsenal.

They haven’t scored any goals from counter attacks or set pieces yet this season either (per WhoScored), and the Reds can look to the latter as a way to hurt them in the opposite direction.

The Foxes have conceded the joint-most goals from set plays in 2020/21, and they account for all three which they’ve let in away from home. This is traditionally a strong area for Liverpool, though their threat is markedly diminished by Virgil van Dijk’s absence of course.

Leicester also look weak from crosses – Burnley, Manchester City and West Ham have all scored against them that way – but with Trent Alexander-Arnold injured and Andy Robertson currently a doubt, Liverpool may have to find a different way to beat them.

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Enter Thiago Alcantara. He has yet to appear at Anfield for his new club and hasn’t been seen since Richarlison’s horrendous challenge on him in the Merseyside derby. His incisive passing could prove vital to breaking down what will probably be a deep-lying Leicester backline.

It’s important to remember that he is unlikely to replace the direct assist potential which the Reds’ first-choice full-backs would normally provide. He set up 13 goals across his final four seasons in the Bundesliga (per WhoScored) which is as many as Alexander-Arnold created in 2019/20 alone.

But Thiago is a master of playing the pass which forces open a defence and enables a teammate to create a great goal scoring opportunity. His ball to Sadio Mané in stoppage time at Goodison Park was a fabulous example of this, even if the most marginal of offside calls then denied Jordan Henderson a derby winner.

Statsbomb have a statistic which accounts for this, as their shot creating actions look beyond the pass which creates a chance. Thiago directly set up 85 chances over the previous three seasons (per FBRef), but made 193 shot creating actions.

In other words, there were over 100 important creative actions he made which were not reflected in the more traditional stats.

So how do Liverpool get the best out of him on Sunday? West Ham have had the largest victory against Leicester so far this season, but Klopp won’t be emulating David Moyes’ 5-4-1 formation any time soon.

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Aston Villa have also inflicted defeat upon the Foxes though, and their 4-2-3-1 set up is right up both Klopp and Thiago’s street. Dean Smith’s side limited Leicester to only six shots in their box, and it was the one game this season in which the Foxes failed to have a clear-cut chance.

Liverpool’s new number six could play in the double pivot at the base of the midfield (alongside whoever else is left standing) and could pull the strings from there for the front four players to wreak havoc in-and-around the penalty box.

The Spaniard could easily prove to be the key which unlocks the league leaders’ defence in his Anfield debut.