Liverpool 2 – Leicester City 1: Match Review & Analysis

Let’s be honest, there was only one topic of conversation before kick-off in today’s game against Leicester City: the imminent arrival of Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool confirmed on the 27th of December that the Southampton centre-back will become our player officially when the transfer window opens on January the first. The former Celtic man was at Anfield today, getting a warm reception from the home fans when he took his seat in the Director’s Box. Personally I think he should have been paraded around the ground like the FA Cup, lifting the crowd and letting the defenders who were picked know exactly what sort of pressure to perform they were under. Instead the £75 million man might have spent the first five minutes wondering what he was letting himself in for, particularly when watching Joel Matip’s pass for Leicester’s goal.

As poor as Matip was for the opener, the Reds reach the halfway stage in the season conceding just four goals at home in the Premier League. When you analyse those goals, things look even better. I would argue that only Burnley’s was a well-worked goal, with today’s effort needing a mistake from our centre-back to get underway. Other than that, the Everton penalty should never have been given and Willian’s goal for Chelsea was a cross that he mishit. We also haven’t conceded more than once in the league at Anfield and with our attack that means we’ve got a really good chance of winning more often than we don’t. Having said all of that, there’s no question that van Dijk’s arrival will improve us at the back. The Dutchman is a leader and he’s vocal, something that the back five is currently lacking. What, then, will he have seen today?

Karius Staked His Claim

Simon Mignolet’s goose should now be cooked at Liverpool. The Belgian has chucked in far too many dodgy performances to continue being selected as our regular number one. The error against Arsenal was just the latest in a long line of offences that should see him put out to pasture. Jürgen Klopp said before the game that the only reason he’d brought Karius in is that we’ve got another game in two days time and he wants to rotate as many players as possible, as often as possible. Perhaps there’s some truth in that, but if the manager’s got any sense he’ll give the young German a decent shot at earning his stripes before deciding in the summer whether we need to go out and get ourselves a new first-choice goalkeeper. Certainly he will have done his cause no harm with today’s performance, given that there was nothing he could do about the goal and he otherwise dealt with everything Leicester’s talented attack could throw at him.

It wasn’t a flawless performance from him and there were a couple of occasions during the second-half when his distribution went a little bit haywire. Yet he also showed how he can turn a game around because of his speed of thought and distribution. My favourite moment of the game was when the Kop jumped down his throat for not getting the ball out quickly enough, only for the goalkeeper to immediately throw an inch-perfect ball to Andrew Robertson for the Scot to break down the left with. Anfield seemed more patient with him generally, too. Perhaps aware that Mignolet isn’t good enough and therefore finally being willing to give him a chance. One thing’s for certain, though, there’s no way that the Belgian would have had either the ability nor the vision to make some of the passes that Karius did. He also ran out well to block Vardy at one point, even if the striker was offside. If today was an audition, Karius can be called back in.

Mo Salah Is Worth His Weight In Gold

Whilst the British press seems to be focussed on when Barcelona are going to be able to prize Philippe Coutinho away from Merseyside, I’m far more worried about when the biggest clubs in Europe are going to come calling for Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian might not have done enough to impress José Mourinho during his Chelsea days, but his form since arriving at Anfield has been close to peerless. His brace today was enough to earn us all three points, with both goals showing exactly what it is that he brings to the team. The first demonstrated his intelligence to know that Sadio Mané would somehow get the ball to him and his second goal showed his strength in being able to hold off the Leicester defender before slotting the ball past Kasper Schmeichel.

Perhaps his Senegalese team mate is the cautionary tale that’s stopping the likes of Real Madrid and Paris St. Germain from window shopping thus far. Mané was easily our player of the year during our last campaign, but he’s been decidedly off the boil this time around. Maybe the big boys are waiting to see if Salah can maintain his form across the entire season or into the next one before lashing some money our way for him. I certainly hope that that’s the case, given just how well he’s started his Liverpool career. The Egyptian has been a revelation, making a mockery of people who suggested that £35 million plus was too much to pay for him. What’s he worth now, I wonder? To pass Roger Hunt in terms of goals scored before December and rack up even more than Ian Rush could manage suggests that the kid’s got some genuine skills. More of the same next year please, Mo!

A Performance That Showed Grit And Determination

Was that our most satisfying win of the season? It certainly feels like it after the fact. We’ve done the games where we’ve absolutely destroyed teams, but we haven’t often worked hard to grind out a result. Even when losing in the first-half we were playing some really good football, just not quite seeing things click in the final third. Still, the players remained patient and kept doing the same things that were clearly working for them, just trying their best to grind down the Leicester back line until we got the goals our play deserved. Once we’d made the breakthrough we kept the pressure up, finding a second to take the game away from the Foxes and then doing enough to see out the game. It’s that latter thing that we’ve struggled with too often in the past, dropping points in matches like that from similar positions.

It was a match that demonstrated genuine character, with some players fighting through poor performances to come out of the other side. Emre Can gave another showing that would have had people heading to Melwood with pitchforks if had been Jordan Henderson doing exactly the same thing, whilst James Milner was genuinely dreadful for the first twenty minutes or so. I’m not sure the two are helped by playing with each other, given Can’s desire to take four or five touches when one will often do and Milner’s pace meaning that he’s slower than the passage of time. Regardless, those two players and the rest of the team in general were able to pull themselves together and grind out a really good performance. The main question is, can we do it again at Turf Moor?

Let’s Talk About Time-Wasting

I always love to see Liverpool win, for obvious reasons. Yet nothing gives me as much joy as when we win against a team that has spent the majority of the match trying desperately to waste time. Given that the Foxes took the lead within three minutes, it’s no major surprise that they didn’t want to move that match along at a rip-roaring pace. Even so, the extent to which Kasper Schmeichel was allowed to waste time without coming under any scrutiny from the referee was a genuine disgrace. Time-wasting as a tactic is becoming more and more of a problem, with the Danish goalkeeper taking more than thirty seconds to get the ball back in play every time he had a goal kick. What’s worse is that the referee spoke to him several times and warned him about his behaviour but never actually did anything about it. What’s the point?

The referee wasn’t the best today, seemingly deciding to give bounce balls rather than make a decision about who should get a free-kick. Leicester City decided use of the balls, that should have been ours, to kick it right into our corner and then attack us. Thankfully, Emre Can had the sense to do exactly the same thing back to them late in the second-half. My anger and annoyance at time-wasting is actually rarely to do with the result of the match it takes place in; after all, we might not have won today if the Foxes hadn’t decided to waste so much time needlessly. Instead I’m annoyed because we’re paying good money to attend these matches and the ball is normally in play for less than an hour. Why do referees insist on letting goalkeepers get away with murder in terms of how long it takes them to do stuff? Sometimes they’ll book them, but it’s rarely earlier than an hour or so into the match and they’ll never book them twice if they carry on. Soon this will be something the FA will need to look at.

Happy New Year

Last but not least from me, a quick note to wish you all a happy new year. I’ll be back again with a blog post for the Burnley match in a day and a half’s time, but I wanted to say thanks for following the blog and interacting with me on Twitter. It’s hard work to write 2000+ words after every single game and I hope that you continue to enjoy reading them. It’s obviously so much better to write after a win, too! Have an amazing New Year’s Eve and let’s hope that the Reds make 2018 a year to remember. All the best.

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