Ian Wright believes Liverpool fans could be in for a ‘painful’ watch this weekend if Jurgen Klopp’s side fail to win the midfield battle at home to top-of-the-table Leicester and Jamie Vardy is able to run riot at Anfield.
The Premier League champions have been decimated by injuries to several of their regular first-team players, particularly in defence where they have lost Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Fabinho, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Rhys Williams and Jordan Henderson – potential emergency options at centre-back – are also doubts for the clash and Brendan Rodgers will be licking his lips, no doubt keen to prove a point against his former club on Merseyside.
Former Arsenal and England star Wright feels keeping Vardy quiet will be key to Liverpool’s chances, with the striker scoring in each of his last four games heading into Sunday’s match.
‘This is a real test for Liverpool simply because of who is missing. They haven’t got any of their back-four playing,’ Wright said on Ringer FC’s ‘Wrighty’s House’ podcast.
‘But what I love about Liverpool is they’re not looking to buy anybody in January and the way they don’t panic.
We know Mohamed Salah isn’t playing but they’ve got Diogo Jota there who can play in any of those three places up front.
‘If they can beat this Leicester team – which I think is going to be very tough simply because of what Leicester do, who they have, Vardy scoring against the top teams, [James] Maddison didn’t get picked for England, [Youri] Tielemans… – the Liverpool midfield are going to have to be right on it.
‘If Liverpool don’t close down that midfield and Vardy’s able to penetrate a high line that doesn’t have the main guys in it, we’re talking about something that could be quite painful.
‘If Liverpool can get through this test with that back-four, and then maybe Jota coming up with the goods, you have to say that they are elite, mentally and physically.’
According to Wright, a victory for Klopp’s depleted Liverpool side would set them apart from the rest as a ‘team for the ages’.
‘If Liverpool can win this game, with the injuries they’ve got, then you have to say: “Listen, we’re talking about a team for the ages now”,’ he added.
‘Because that means we’re talking about players like Williams, like Nat Phillips, Milner – how long can this guy go on, plugging gaps and doing great work?
‘Players like that doing stuff, then Jota coming in. Can they keep it together against this Leicester team?
‘Nobody can tell me that Brendan Rodgers does not think he’s got a chance of winning the league this year, with the team he’s got and the calibre of coach that he is.
‘It’s a massive one, just like Tottenham and Manchester City (also this weekend).’