If the suggestion had been made at the start of the season that Leicester City coming to Anfield on Boxing Day would be a clash between the team at the top of the table and a team barely scraping into the top 10, most Liverpool fans would have had a large smile on their face whilst they said ‘thank you very much’ and looked forward to the game.
Fast forward to the match itself and Reds fans weren’t feeling quite as smug in the lead up to the match kicking off. The festive schedule is always a tricky one, with games coming thick and fast and injuries likely to all teams. It is often seen as the great leveller, with the Premier League normally shaking itself back into shape.
For Liverpool it looked about as good as it could and the fixtures were friendly to Jurgen Klopp and his men. Losses to Newcastle and Watford and a home draw to West Brom later and the games that should have propelled the Reds up the table and into the title race are over with just a single point to show for it.
Here we’ll have a look at the major talking points from the game that gave Liverpool renewed hope in the aftermath of Christmas. As always we’d love to know what you think, so get in touch in the comments section or by sending us a tweet on Twitter. We’re all about interaction and we don’t necessarily think we get everything right!
Without question, one of the most worrying things about Liverpool’s game against Watford was the complete and utter lack of fight from the players wearing Red. They didn’t seem to be up for the physical battle and Troy Deeney said afterwards that he ‘bullied’ Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho. How much truth there was in that particular statement is up for debate, but what can’t be argued is that Liverpool simply weren’t good enough against a well-organised and intelligent system.
Can see how/why teams have fallen into Leicester’s trap. Key thing there was #LFC putting in more effort than they did. Well deserved win.
— Mark Jones (@Mark_Jones86) December 26, 2015
Leicester City aren’t top of the league table by fluke. They know what they’re good at and they do it with aplomb. Vardy and Mahrez have been a tremendous team together, scoring or assisting in what seems like every match. Their midfield battles and the defence, though not always solid, know how to turn the game around at pace. As for Kasper Schmeichel, he’s exactly the sort of dominating presence that Jurgen Klopp would love to see between the sticks at Anfield; god knows plenty of the fans would.
For 70 minutes the Reds went toe-to-toe with the league leaders, perhaps aided and abetted by the fact that the manager chose to match the Foxes with their 4-4-2 formation, initially with Origi up-front and then with Benteke, both alongside Roberto Firmino. Leicester were harried and harassed when they had the ball, pressured and pushed when they didn’t. Liverpool knew that they would be up against it but chose to not let the compact, organised defence get them frustrated, biding their time until they had a chance and then taking it.
The last 20 minutes saw Claudio Ranieri throwing everything he had at Simon Mignolet’s goal, knowing full well that his team has scored more goals in the final 10 minutes of games than any other Premier League team this season and that both Liverpool’s crowd and defence would get nervy when put under pressure.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 26, 2015
If Liverpool were nervy, though, it really didn’t show. Dejan Lovren and Sakho have now played together six times this season and have four clean sheets to show for it. Perhaps that, if nothing else, will make Jurgen Klopp ask questions about Martin Skrtel’s suitability as the first choice centre back in this Liverpool team. The solid defending was all the more remarkable for the fact that Leicester have scored in every single league game they’ve played since the start of the season.
Mahrez and Vardy have been sensational this season, doing for the Foxes what Suarez and Sturridge did for the Reds in ’13-’14, even if they are lesser versions of those players. Yet Liverpool’s defence, and the much maligned Lovren in particular, kept them quiet all day and never really seemed too troubled by either of them.
In its own way this scrappy 1-0, full of fight and heart and desire, was as impressive a win as a 4 or 5-0 scoreline would have been. It shows that Liverpool know how to get down and dirty when they need to; that they have learnt from the mistakes they made against Watford and West Brom and Newcastle. Jurgen Klopp needs to know that this team can do what it takes to beat the 80% of teams that aren’t as good as Liverpool on paper but who always seem to leave Anfield with a point – perhaps now he’s seeing what they can do when they put their minds to it.
A Bit Of Heart
It was revealed this week that Jurgen Klopp had a heart-to-heart with Christian Benteke in order to help the big Belgian understand what the German manager wanted from him in the future. Benteke hasn’t been at his best since Klopp’s arrival, with many suggesting that he isn’t the sort of player that will ever be able to work in a heavily pressing, intelligently fluid system.
With the manager choosing to abandon his false 9 formation that had failed so dismally against Watford, many thought Big Ben would get his chance to lead the line. He will have been more than a little disappointed to see his international team-mate Divock Origi’s name on the team sheet, then, but if Klopp made that decision to provoke a reaction out of the former Villa man then he would have been delighted at the response that he got.
Benteke got his chance in the first half when Origi went down injured and he seemed to be more than a little bit keen to show that he’s got what it takes to work in a team that requires movement. He was running about the place from the off, closing players down and keeping the pressure up as much as possible. It wasn’t the perfect striker’s performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it was good enough to suggest that he might yet have a future at the club.
— Si Steers (@sisteers) December 26, 2015
When they played together as the front two against Newcastle Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke were so poor that the manager could have bombed them both out and no one would have batted an eyelid. They seemed to make no attempt whatsoever to figure out how to play with each other, instead deciding that they weren’t the same type of player so they may as well not bother.
Firmino has, to be generous, struggled to settle in England so far. There have been some games when he’s been entirely anonymous, with the match against Manchester City his only real shining moment since his arrival on Merseyside. He was better here, though, and his assist for Benteke was his fourth of the season in all competitions, joint most for the Reds alongside Alberto Moreno.
With a hamstring injury taking Origi out for at least a little bit of time and Daniel Sturbridge’s fitness veering from one extreme to the other more often than the walking wounded, Benteke and the Brazilian might yet find themselves working together a few more times. If they can repeat performances like today’s then we might not have too much to worry about, with heart-to-hearts being Jurgen’s order of the day.
Jurgen Klopp has made clear his desire to see a better atmosphere from the Anfield crowd and yesterday he got one. It didn’t last for the 90 minutes and there were moments of nerviness shown from the Kop towards the end of the game, but for good portions of the game Anfield showed something of the atmosphere of old to keep Leicester at bay.
Maybe the famous old stadium is waking up to the fact that atmospheres can make a difference; that there’s no coincidence that teams like Leicester, Watford and Crystal Palace are doing surprisingly well in their home games whilst the crowds that reside in them are getting behind their teams and making them uncomfortable places to travel to.
First victory for #LFC since 2 December. Volume up at Anfield and Jürgen Klopp swirls his arms encouraging more noise. Vital, deserved win.
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) December 26, 2015
Klopp still had to gee the crowd up at times, with his animated antics on the touchline enough to make even the meekest of supporter get excited and engrossed in what was going on. But it is a two way street after all, and it’s not a surprise that the moment the Anfield crowd were at its best were the moments the players were producing some of their best work on the pitch. Strong tackles, surging runs, neat passing – all elicited noise from the stands that suggested reports of Liverpool supporters’ demise were greatly exaggerated.
The Reds won’t win every home match between now and the end of the season, that’s just the way football works. Klopp has expected Liverpool to struggle to adapt to his ideas, with one step forward often being followed by two steps back. Yet the team will be given the greatest chance possible of victory if the crowd is able to keep up the pressure, maintain the noise and let the opposition know that they’re in a match. It was great to see that the flags were back on the Kop after the club finally saw sense and ended their ridiculous stance over certain matters with the group who organise those flags voluntarily. It makes the Kop a sight to behold and more like the one we’re used to.
There was no hand holding, arm raising thanks in front of the Kop this time as their was after the West Brom match, but there can be no mistaking the fact that Liverpool were better on the pitch for the noise that was being made off it. Jurgen knows it, the players know it, we all know it. No we need to ensure that it is just the start of something special, not the occasional noise making of a crowd who have had a few hours in the pubs and know they don’t have work tomorrow. Forza Liverpool, forza a very noisy Anfield.