Ahead of Leicester’s trip to Anfield, Claudio Ranieri will be poised with one question that could determine whether the Foxes are best placed to snatch a point or three. While it’s expected to be a match where both teams are likely to cancel each other out, there will be weakness in Liverpool’s defensive ranks, the sort of weakness that’d need to be exploited. The question is, who do you pair Jamie Vardy with to give Leicester the best possible advantage over the Merseysider’s rickety backline? The agile Musa, the dependable Okazaki/Ulloa, or the wildcard entrant, Islam Slimani?
T4O’s JD probes all the possible scenarios, in an attempt to give the correct-est answer.
Ahmed Musa and Jaime Vardy?
Before Islam Slimani broke Leicester City’s record outlay on a player, it was Ahmed Musa who held that particular distinction, just a few weeks ago. And while the 16 million Nigerian might feel hard done by, having the limelight yanked away from him, despite putting in a scintillating display vs Barcelona in pre-season, scoring a brilliant brace.
The 23-year-old, though, has found himself in a tricky situation. Initially bought as a measure to offset any compromise in Leicester’s style, in the event that Jaime Vardy’s proposed move to Arsenal went through, Musa now finds himself playing almost as a second striker off Vardy, with his back to goal. Goes without saying, the 5’7” forward isn’t exactly suited to playing the role of a Tesco shopping cart shuttler for Jamie, who can cash in with the goals at the check-out counter. No, in fact, he and Vardy are too alike. Both suited to running their tails off, playing through the channels, and on the shoulder of the last man, always leaning forward, on their toes, ready for the break.
Against Liverpool, Musa would be ideal off the bench, replacing Albrighton on the left, when there are tired legs about, to take on Nathaniel Clyne. The Englishman has shown signs of being jaded, most notably in the second-half vs Tottenham, when his lapse of concentration allowed Danny Rose to get on the overlap and score the equalising goal.
While he may not be the perfect fit to be paired up with Jaime Vardy, he could still play a crucial role, and cause all sorts of trouble, like he did when he was introduced later on against Arsenal at the King Power.
Shinji Okazaki and Jaime Vardy?
In many ways, Shinji Okazaki is a trendsetter. Before heading over to the greener pastures of the Premier League, he was the most prolific Japanese in the history of the Bundesliga, with 37 goals with Stuttgart and Mainz. He’s essentially, the real-life Kanō Kyōsuke, a striker with a voracious attitude for winning; and a heart-throb back home in Japan, already being their 3rd highest scorer for the Blue Samurais. And then, onto establishing is legacy with a Premier League title with the fairytale finale to fit any anime.
Despite his undoubted dedication the cause, his goals aren’t as free-flowing, as he finds himself deployed as the battering ram, and the focal point of retaining possession in the attacking third. That being said, his movement and work-ethic may prove to be useful, where Jaime Vardy would need to keep the attention of Liverpool’s Ragnar (RAGNAAAAR!) Klavan away from him. But, much like Ulloa, is he really the best possible choice?
Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy?
Standing at 6’1” throwing around a weight of 84 kilos, the Algerian is a wrecking ball of a centre-forward. The current holder of the club’s record transfer fee, at £29 million pounds, it’s easy to see why Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri forked out such a sum.
27 goals in 33 games, which includes 11 assists, was a staggering return on investment by the former Sporting Lisbon man – showing not only an insular ability to find the back of the net, but also the technical refinement and the vision to facilitate his team-mates’ efforts and the team’s collective forward momentum towards goal.
It fits. Imagine a more menacing Leonardo Ulloa, with an abundance of energy and initiative. Like a glove, at that. The big-man/little-man combo is a much pandered tactic across the scenery of the English game in the past, but however much pandered it was, it’s tried and tested and it reaps rewards (as does Leicester’s anachronous 4-4-2, who would have thunked?) Slimani would be the perfect foil for Jamie Vardy’s neck break runs – capable of playing with his back to goal, and slipping the ball onto his onrushing team-mate, or a clever through ball to set them on their way – his presence would not just prove beneficial for the England international, but for Riyadh Mahrez as well, complementing their games, and adding to their play.
Liverpool have had, in recent history, dealt with strikers such as Slimani in a school-boy fashion, garnering calamitous results. You needn’t be half as good as Didier Drogba, either. Just ask Amr Zaki, Carlton Cole, Kenwyne Jones, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora and the likes. It’s essential that Slimani starts.