Leicester City 2 – Liverpool 3: Match Review and Analysis

Two matches in a row a against Leicester City is almost certainly not what this Liverpool team needs right now. The ‘crisis’ is nowhere near as deep as some people, including some of our own fans, would have you believe. Even so, we’ve struggled to get the results that Jürgen Klopp would have wanted over the last couple of weeks; not least of all against today’s opponents in the League Cup on Tuesday night. We dominated, but we couldn’t put the ball into the back of the net and when you fail to do that then you’re always going to struggle to win. Not only was our profligacy a problem, but our weakness at the back was once again exposed far too easily.

The issue the manager’s got right now is that that could be a report from any of our games since we thumped Arsenal four-nil. It’s become something of a groundhog day for Liverpool supporters, players and management in recent times and the last thing you want when that happens is to have to play one of the teams that so successfully frustrated you in the preceding match. That said, of course, the chance to go again will allow the players to correct the mistakes of Tuesday’s game, even if it wasn’t the same eleven players that made the starting line-up today. Given the nature of the midweek cup match, in which we battered the Foxes in the first-half but seemingly fell away in the second, I’ve decided to do something a little bit different with my match review this time around…

The First-Half

On Tuesday night Craig Shakespeare was willing to let his team sit back and invite the pressure from Liverpool, knowing that his team would get chances to punish us as the game went on. So what tactics would the two managers adopt this time around? More playing dead from Leicester, or would they take the game to The Reds in the manner that was so successful during the second-half during the week? Jürgen Klopp decided to abandon his formation from the other night and revert to his favoured 4-3-3, with Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings alongside Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Craig Shakespeare, meanwhile, brought Shinji Okazaki into the starting line-up and returned Jamie Vardy to attack.

It was a clever decision from the Leicester manager, with Okazaki playing brilliantly after he came on, to the extent that his appearance on the field and Coutinho’s departure from it turned the match on its head. We know what damage Vardy can do too, obviously, and whilst he might look like Steptoe he’s exactly the sort of striker our defence hates facing. Speaking of the defence, the manager once again chose to shuffle his deck with the ‘good’ news being that his first-choice centre-back pairing was available for the first time in the league since the game against The Gunners. Whether the summer spent chasing Virgil van Dijk has had an affect on his mentality or what I don’t know, but Dejan Lovren started poorly.

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This Liverpool side is Jekyll and Hyde from front to back and Mohamed Salah continued his impressive start to his Liverpool career by scoring a brilliant header from a tricky angle less than twenty minutes into the first-half. He actually atoned for a terrible miss a few moments earlier, when Emre Can’s shot struck the post and the Egyptian missed an open goal with the rebound. Someone observed about the former Chelsea man recently that he’s a one-in-three man, the only problem being that he always seems to score the third. Well this time around it was the second that found the back of the net, thanks in no small part to a brilliant ball from Coutinho. If that went some way to the Brazilian atoning for his antics in the summer then something was to follow that would ensure he would be completely forgiven.

Emails reported to be between Liverpool and Barcelona were leaked on the morning of the match, with the Brazilian apparently being offered £20 million a year for five years to play for the Spanish giants. They perhaps should have offered him £200 million given the beauty of the free-kick he scored to put us 2-0 up. His departure from the field of play on Tuesday definitely handed the advantage to Leicester and today showed exactly why. The Little Magician was magnificent in the first forty-five minute period, controlling the midfield and causing The Foxes all sorts of problems. Any concerns that he’s be foolish enough to down tools in a World Cup year must surely now be dismissed. Equally the idea that he’ll take a bit of time to warm-up as he has in the past appears to have been put to bed.

Coutinho & Klopp On The Side Of The Kop

Of course excitement is never too far away when you’ve got our defence and Simon Mignolet behind it. The goalkeeper firstly made the defence panic by dwelling on the ball so long that Jamie Vardy nearly tackled him, which is weird because I thought Loris Karius was our only goalkeeper who took to long to clear the ball. Then Anthony Taylor continued his race to the bottom of the pile in a league full of dreadful goalkeepers by falling for a blatant dive from Vardy. Mignolet initially made a brilliant save from the resulting free-kick before coming for a ball from a corner and completely missing it. He was being impeded by Shinji Okazaki and a competent referee might have given him a free-kick, but he still needed to be stronger in trying to claim the cross and wasn’t. 2-1 at half-time.

The Second-Half

The goal at the end of the first-half changed the nature of the game when the second-half got underway. Leicester started full of confidence, whilst Liverpool looked nervous in the extreme. The Foxes came out with their tails up, believing that the goal they scored gave them a real chance of getting something out of the game. That idea might have been put to bed had Anthony Taylor given a penalty when Dejan Lovren was held on to when we had a corner, but Greater Manchester’s finest not only didn’t give the spot-kick but actually booked the Croatian for his protests. Why on earth a referee from that particular part of the country might have a desire to help the opposition out against Liverpool I couldn’t possibly say, but once again he proved why he’s one of the worst officials in the Premier League.

Easy to blame the referee, of course, but Liverpool had a 2-1 lead going in to the second-half so could they do enough to hold onto it? The problem we’ve got is that we only have one setting: attack. Despite being in the lead there was never a question that we’d attempt to protect it; perhaps because no one in the team, on the bench or in the stands has enough faith that our defence would be able to keep the opposition at bay. Still, we managed to give ourselves a real foothold in the game when we went 3-1 top through Jordan Henderson, perhaps slightly against the run of play. It was the least the captain deserved after an excellent, disciplined first-half display. Despite the obvious influence he has on our performance some people still don’t rate him; if you don’t believe me check out my mentions on Twitter.

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Obviously nothing is ever that simple if you’re a Liverpool supporter and Simon Mignolet was determined to demonstrate the best and worst of his ability in this match. I don’t think a goalkeeper should ever be palming a ball into the middle of his own box, yet that’s exactly what the Belgian did to gift Jamie Vardy his sixth goal in his last four games against us. Taylor wasn’t happy with the shot-stopper getting all the attention, however, and gave a penalty against Mignolet moments later despite the fact he appeared to get the ball. That would be that then, surely, with Vardy stepping up to score a certain equaliser. Except for the fact that the Belgian must have been doing his homework and knew the England striker tends to go down the middle with his penalty strikes. The spot-kick was saved and we still led 3-2. Would that be the end of the excitement?

As I said a minute ago, we’ve only got one mode and that’s attack. Despite having a one goal lead we pressed on as if we were 3-2 down and that naturally left us exposed at the back. Given that Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham had all won earlier in the day, three points was far more important than the style in which we got them. It was obvious that Leicester, who had lost three of their opening five games would throw everything at us in the closing stages, so could we hold on? For what feels like the first time in a long, long time the answer was actually ‘yes’. I don’t want to continue making this about the referee, but where the official got five minutes from at the end of the second-half I’ll never know. Equally I’m not sure how he adjudged Lovren to have fouled Demerai Gray when the Croatian got the ball and the midfielder took five minutes to hit the deck.

Regardless, it’s three vital points for Liverpool that moves us up to to fifth in the table and leaves us just five points behind the two Manchester clubs despite us being in ‘crisis’ and them having a brilliant start to the season. Anyone would think the suggestion that our season was over already might be complete and utter nonsense. Yes, it was hairy for the majority of the ninety minutes and our problems at the back have been exposed once more, but we were brilliant going forward and did more than enough to deserve the three points. Give me the choice on Monday of losing one and winning one of our two games against Leicester and I’m glad we did it this way around.

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