If Liverpool are to maintain their strong position at the top of the Premier League this week, they will need to silence the man who has caused them more problems than most in recent years.
Jamie Vardy arrives at Anfield on Wednesday evening seeking to extend a remarkable personal record against the Reds. The Leicester striker has scored in each of his last five appearances against Jurgen Klopp’s side, home and away.
In fact, only two men, Andrew Cole and Thierry Henry, have scored more Premier League goals against Liverpool. Vardy has seven in eight appearances, and has scored seven of Leicester’s last 10 in the fixture. He can equal Henry's tally with a goal in this game.
The former England international was suspended when the sides met at the King Power Stadium back in September, a game Liverpool won 2-1. The 32-year-old will be back at Anfield, and will hope to cement his reputation as one of the best big-game forwards around.
The evidence is compelling. Since the start of Leicester’s miraculous title-winning season of 2015-16, Vardy has played 40 league games against ‘big six’ clubs, scoring 26 goals. He scored at the Emirates, the Etihad, Anfield and Wembley last term, and he has already netted at both Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge this time around. He is, as they say, no respecter of reputations.
His record compares to anyone. In the same period, for example, Harry Kane has scored 15 goals in 34 ‘big six’ league games, while Sergio Aguero has netted 13 times in 30. The likes of Romelu Lukaku fare even worse, while even the prolific Mohamed Salah couldn’t match Vardy’s total of 11 goals against the big boys last season. Salah managed seven, albeit in two games fewer.
“I don’t know why [Vardy] has such a good record against us,” said Klopp when asked by Goal on Tuesday, though he joked the striker’s record should have “minus one goal”, referring to a strike at Anfield two seasons back which was put on a plate by Lucas Leiva.
“Did he get an assist for that?” Klopp smiled. “I would have scored that goal!”
Still, there is clear respect and admiration from the Liverpool boss, who recalled another Vardy strike against his side, an outrageous long-range volley at the King Power during Leicester’s title campaign in January 2016.
“The best one he scored was that one,” he said. “He was just past the halfway line and he shot, right? Yeah, that was a good year for them!”
Liverpool head into this game with at least one defensive headache to deal with, though it might have been worse. Virgil van Dijk should shake off a recent bout of illness to start and Dejan Lovren is fit to return if needed, but Klopp has a decision to make at right-back with Trent Alexander-Arnold injured and James Milner suspended.
Fabinho looks the likeliest option, though at his press conference on Tuesday, Klopp hinted, perhaps mischievously, that he may even look to change system, which would bring the teenager Rafa Camacho into the equation as a wing-back. A gamble, by anyone’s standards; the 18-year-old made his Premier League debut as a late substitute against Crystal Palace in Liverpool’s last fixture.
Whoever is selected, though, will need to beware the threat of Vardy, whose relentless running gives Leicester a dimension many teams in the Premier League’s middle and lower reaches lack. Liverpool’s defence has been rock-solid in the league this season, but they had trouble with Wilfried Zaha last time out, and Vardy is similar enough in that he thrives on space in behind and counter-attacking opportunities. And, unlike Zaha perhaps, he has the work ethic to force mistakes even when things are not going his way.
“It’s quality, the speed he has, the finishing skills he has,” Klopp said. “Jamie is a fantastic striker, one of the best in the league, and you can see that each fibre of his body is really ready for this decisive situation. He always waits for the balls over the shoulder. He’s involved more in defending than he maybe was in the past, but it doesn’t make him easier to defend to be honest.
“He’s a massive threat, and he always was, but he’s not the only one in that team. [James] Maddison, wow, really, really good player, not only from set-pieces, he’s a fine footballer. [Demarai] Gray, [Ricardo] Pereira, [Marc] Albrighton….they’re just a lot of either experienced and well-tuned, or very skilful and quick players, and with [Ben] Chilwell on the left side, up and down, up and down. They’re a very dangerous opponent.”
Manchester City's shock defeat by Newcastle on Tuesday night gives Liverpool the chance to bring an end to a testing January by going seven points clear at the top of the table.
And keeping Leicester’s main man quiet this evening will be high on their list of priorities, you can bet.