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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Reds can stick another boot into hapless champs

Mane is the key for Liverpool

Liverpool's Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino
1 of 1

Premier League
Sky Sports 1, 8pm Monday

Premier League champions Leicester have dropped into the bottom three for the first time this season and are likely to stay there after facing Liverpool at the King Power Stadium.

The match is Leicester's first since Claudio Ranieri's controversial sacking last Thursday and emotions are sure to be running high among the home supporters, who will never forget the Italian's achievement in leading them to the title.

Criticism of Leicester's Thai owners King Power has been widespread but they will be far more interested in ensuring top-flight survival than winning a popularity contest.

There have been managerial changes at three struggling Premier League sides this season - Swansea, Hull and Crystal Palace - and all of those sides are showing signs of improvement.

Only time will tell if Leicester's owners have made the right decision and much will depend on the identity of Ranieri's replacement.

But it has been clear for some time that Leicester have been getting nowhere near the standards set last season and, after seven defeats in nine games, there is a strong argument for a fresh face at the helm.

Craig Shakespeare – Ranieri's former assistant – has prepared the team and will be looking for a repeat of the spirited-second half showing in Seville which helped the Foxes come away with a manageable 2-1 first-leg defeat.

Further Champions League progress is possible but Leicester have three important Premier League games to play before renewing battle with Seville on March 14.

Only a win would lift them out of the relegation zone but they haven't triumphed in a league match this year and are up against a Liverpool side revitalised and refreshed after winning 2-0 at home to Tottenham 16 days ago.

The victory over Spurs was one of Liverpool's most accomplished performances of the season. It was an excellent team effort and two-goal forward Sadio Mane was the undoubted star of the show.

Mane's participation for Senegal at Africa Cup of Nations coincided with Liverpool's stickiest patch of the season but the 24-year-old was back to his best against Spurs – adding the pace and power which had been sorely missing from Jurgen Klopp's attack.

Liverpool pass the ball as well as any team in England but Mane is a crucial component, ensuring opposition defences sit deeper and allowing the midfield extra time and space to weave their creative patterns.

Before Mane boarded the plane to Gabon Liverpool were talked about as the most likely team to push Chelsea in the title race.

That ship has probably sailed, but the Reds are focused on their quest to finish in the top four and should be far too strong for Leicester, who they hammered 4-1 at Anfield in September.

2pts 4-6 Hills

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Team news
Islam Slimani (groin) and Leonardo Ulloa (groin) face fitness tests.

Danny Ings is out long-term and Dejan Lovren, Lucas Leiva, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daniel Sturrridge are doubts with minor injuries.

Key stat
Leicester have won one of their last ten Premier League games.

Craig Shakespeare – Ranieri's former assistant – has prepared the team and will be looking for a repeat of the spirited-second half showing in Seville
E.W. Terms
Sky bet