Firmino must get better of £40.5m-rated Leicester ace who was 2018 Liverpool target – opinion

After their Club World Cup victory, Liverpool will resume their quest for Premier League glory against Leicester City on Thursday in a game that could have huge implications on the title race. One battle in particular is likely to have a telling impact.

On the chalkboard

It has been a stunning first half of the season for the Reds. After 17 matches in the Premier League, they have won 16 of them, and they currently lead by 10 points at the top of the table.

The team chasing them is Leicester City. The Foxes have been mightily impressive this term as they sit in second, and have won eight of their last nine league matches. At home against the Reds this week, they will be hoping they can close the gap to seven points.

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By this point, you know who the star names are in this Leicester team. Jamie Vardy, for example, leads the Premier League’s goalscoring charts with 16 strikes, whilst James Maddison has five goals and three assists to his name in an attacking midfield role.

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However, the impact of Nigeria international Wilfred Ndidi, who was reportedly a target for the Reds in 2018, often goes under the radar. With an average WhoScored rating of 7.6 so far this campaign, he is actually the third-best performing player for Brendan Rodgers’ team.

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He is a rock in front of the back four. With 4.5 tackles per match, he has the joint-most in the division alongside Manchester United right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, whilst his 2.9 interceptions per game has him just behind Diego Rico of Bournemouth. The £40.5m-valued 23-year-old – as per Transfermarkt – mops up everything in front of Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans, which then gives Leicester the possibility to move forward.

For Liverpool, Roberto Firmino plays a big role. Although he doesn’t score too many goals, he has nine assists so far this term, which is more than any of his teammates along with Sadio Mane. With 1.2 key passes, he contributes to the play, and he does so often from a deep position. As you can see in the two heatmaps below, taken from the Reds’ clash with Bournemouth, he was often deeper than Mohamed Salah despite playing in the centre-forward role.

AFCLIV - Firmino must get better of £40.5m-rated Leicester ace who was 2018 Liverpool target - opinion

AFCLIV2 - Firmino must get better of £40.5m-rated Leicester ace who was 2018 Liverpool target - opinion

Firmino’s link-up play and work-rate is what makes him so vital to this side, and it will be Ndidi’s job to reduce his influence. Whether that be marking the Brazilian international directly, or cutting off the supply line from the midfield, the former Genk man will need to make sure he keeps him out of the game. Firmino, meanwhile, must work around one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League.

This will be just one interesting duel in a match full of them, and if Firmino can get around Ndidi often enough, then it may not be just the match he wins for his side – it could even be the title.

In other news, four Football FanCast writers give their verdicts on this big Jurgen Klopp decision.

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