Alex Keble looks ahead to the 24th round of Premier League matches, arguing that Liverpool's issues at right-back give Leicester a chance to score goals at Anfield...
"Milner's suspension for this one means Fabinho at right-back - an even weaker, slower option for Klopp. That is promising news for a Leicester team that function best when sitting deep and hitting on the counter."
Wolves v West Ham
West Ham have lost their last three away matches in all competitions by an aggregate score of 8-2 thanks to shambolic defending caused, at least in part, by Manuel Pellegrini's structure favouring a deep-lying approach. The Hammers held the majority of possession all three matches - and in all three conceded chances and goals after being caught on the ball and countered.
Playing 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 (with Samir Nasri in the hole) leaves far too much for Mark Noble and Declan Rice to do in midfield, because West Ham's forwards don't work hard enough to track back. Compounded by individual errors in recent weeks from Issa Diop, Pedro Obiang, and Noble, home teams have found time and space to pick out longer passes into the penalty area. It speaks to the overworked, disorganised midfield that Noble made a grand total of one interception across these three games combined.
Wolves enjoy allowing their opponent to hold the majority of possession, pouncing with a sudden press to capitalise on an expansive formation with long through balls from Ruben Neves. With Wolves' pace on the flanks, travelling to Molineux will feel like a combination of the 2-0 defeat at Burnley (constant searching passes into the final third) and 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth (quick breakaways down the wings).
Man Utd v Burnley
Burnley may appear to have rediscovered some of their old resilience in recent weeks but they are yet to play a top side in 2019 (excluding the 5-0 defeat to Man City, in which Sean Dyche rested several key players). Burnley consistently lose heavily to top six sides, largely because their 4-4-2 is no longer strong enough in central midfield; they are frequently overwhelmed in the middle, leading directly or indirectly to goals.
In a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal it was Unai Emery's narrow diamond midfield that led to a flurry of early chances for the hosts and a 14th minute lead. Spurs may only have won 1-0, but 12 of their 15 chances created came in central areas, and they improved significantly once Christian Eriksen was brought onto the pitch. Two of Liverpool's three goals in a 3-1 win were created through the centre, and in the 5-0 defeat to Man City in October David Silva ran amok.
Man Utd's focus on narrow forwards under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer means this should be a simple home win. Paul Pogba is revelling in a free role and he won't have to work hard to find space either side of Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood, while Jesse Lingard's movement alongside Pogba will seriously trouble an understocked Burnley midfield. The energy and purposefulness of the United attack will be too much for Dyche's side.
Liverpool v Leicester
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The 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace was a stark reminder that Jurgen Klopp's high-pressing, intense attacking football requires speed and diligence across the back four. James Milner was at fault for two of Palace's goals, first being turned by Wilfried Zaha ahead of the opener, and second by lunging into a tackle (knowing he didn't have the pace to keep up with play) that led to the corner from which Palace scored their second goal.
Milner's suspension for this one means Fabinho at right-back - an even weaker, slower option for Klopp. That is promising news for a Leicester team that function best when sitting deep and hitting on the counter; across their last seven games Leicester have won every game in which they've held less than 50% possession, and lost every game in which they've held more than 50%. A return to the smash-and-grab, Jamie Vardy-centric Leicester in midweek could highlight how much Liverpool have regressed without Trent Alexander-Arnold or Joe Gomez at the back.
Vardy's speed is one issue, but Demarai Gray - on a high after scoring against Wolves, and averaging five dribbles per game in his last two - will also prove dangerous from the left wing. His head-to-head against Fabinho could be problematic for the hosts.
Tottenham v Watford
Watford's defensive record looks good on paper, but invariably they struggle when faced with quick wingers willing to run directly at the full-backs; Javi Gracia's complex 4-2-2-2 formation consistently leaves space on the flanks, which the likes of Man City, Everton, Chelsea, and Bournemouth have all exploited over the last six weeks. Doubling up on the wings and a simple overlap is often all it takes.
The most recent example, a 3-3 draw with Bournemouth, saw Ryan Fraser and David Brooks dominate, with Fraser bagging a goal and an assist. Eden Hazard scored a brace for Chelsea on Boxing Day, while Riyad Mahrez scored a goal and assisted another at the beginning of December. Good teams find the gaps.
Spurs welcome Heung-Min Son back after South Korea's surprise early exist from the Asian Cup. He and Lucas Moura will split either side of Fernando Llorente in a 3-4-3 formation on Wednesday, and their respective inclinations to stretch wide should help Spurs overcome their goalscoring problems.