Can Liverpool end the Premier League title race at Leicester?

The Reds can move 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a victory at the King Power Stadium on Thursday

What do you get for the team that has everything? Well, three points on Boxing Day would be a start.

At Liverpool the most important game is always the next one, and that is certainly the case here. The Premier League title isn’t won in December, but Jurgen Klopp’s side can take a giant stride towards it at the King Power Stadium. 

Victory over Leicester would extend the Reds’ lead at the top of the table to 13 points. At the halfway stage of the season, Klopp’s men would also boast a game in hand on their closest rivals.

It would be game over then, surely?

“Not quite!” laughs Emile Heskey, the former Liverpool and Leicester striker, speaking to Goal on behalf of GentingBet.

“It won’t be finished if Liverpool win, but they look so strong right now. They are so consistent, so mentally tough. They handle everything that comes their way. They’re going to take some stopping.”

He’s not wrong. Liverpool arrive with a record of 17 wins from 18 league games, and are unbeaten in their last 34. Only Manchester United have taken points off them this season.

On Saturday, they became world champions for the first time in their history, beating Flamengo in Doha to lift the FIFA Club World Cup – their third trophy of the year.

“They just find a way, don’t they?” says Heskey, who made 223 appearances for the Reds between 2000 and 2004. 

“They’re not always great, performance-wise, but they have such belief in themselves that they never feel like it isn’t their day. And that’s a massive quality for a team to have.”

Perhaps that belief, that ability to “find a way”, was best illustrated when Leicester visited Anfield back in October. If Liverpool do go on to win the Premier League, they will look back on that game as a significant one. 

That day, the Reds led through Sadio Mane’s first-half goal but left the back door open, allowing James Maddison to seemingly steal a point for the Foxes 10 minutes from time.

Lesser teams, lesser characters might have settled. Not our day, move on. 

Not Liverpool.

In stoppage time, Mane’s persistence forced an error. Marc Albrighton tripped him, and James Milner kept his nerve to convert from the penalty spot.

“A super game,” Klopp said afterwards. “We needed some luck, but we deserved the win.”

“The improvement in the team has been massive,” says Heskey. “Two, three years ago, they’d have drawn that game, or even lost it. 

“But even when it gets tight, when players are missing or it’s not happening for them, they can still find a way. They don’t panic, they don’t worry about what-ifs, they just keep playing, keep working. They’re such a good team.”

So are Leicester, of course. Brendan Rodgers’ side may have been beaten at Manchester City last time out, but they are enjoying an impressive campaign and will pose a significant threat to the league leaders.

“They are a proper class team,” Klopp said at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. Top scorer Jamie Vardy, he said, is “in the top three strikers in England since I have been here.”

Heskey agrees. “He’s in the form of his life,” he says. “You look at strikers when they get to 30, and the expectation is that they start to slow down and adjust their game, but he seems to be getting quicker!

“He’s been fantastic. I think Brendan has been good for him, and he’s helped unlock another level for him. He knows what’s expected of him, and he knows how to affect games. It doesn’t matter who he’s up against, he backs himself.”

Vardy’s record against Liverpool is good. The 32-year-old has scored seven times in 10 appearances, though has none in his last three. 

“You won’t see many teams defend Vardy the way we did today,” said Klopp after October’s meeting, but the German knows his team will need to be similarly concentrated this time.

“He is always difficult to defend,” he said. “We just try to avoid the passes to him. That is all you can do.”

Liverpool will be without a host of first-teamers. Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Fabinho are all out, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain damaged ankle ligaments in the Club World Cup final and faces a lay-off. Gini Wijnaldum may return after a hamstring issue.

There will be no excuses, though. The Reds trained at Melwood on Christmas morning, and flew to Leicestershire early on Boxing Day. Their focus, as ever, will be absolute.

“It’s massive,” captain Jordan Henderson said. “In this position, you don’t really think about Christmas at all, to be honest. It’s such a crucial period.”

With back-to-back home games against Wolves and Sheffield United to follow, Liverpool know that the chance is there to strengthen their grip heading into the New Year.

Not that they’ll be thinking about that at Leicester, mind.

“We are not in this situation we are in because we thought things are over before they are over,” Klopp said. “We are not in the situation we are in because we didn’t take each game we played so far 100 per cent serious. 

“The boys were always 100 per cent focused and that’s what we will be at Leicester.”

As for Heskey, he’ll be watching the game from Stockley Park, where he will be part of the Premier League’s official match coverage.

“I can’t wait, to be honest,” he says. “It’s two good teams, two teams who will back themselves, and the atmosphere at the King Power will be great. 

“It’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it?”

Visit GentingBet for all the latest Premier League odds and insight. 18+ begambleaware.org 

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