Liverpool’s 21st game of the Premier League season was played at Anfield, against the always awkward for them -Leicester City.
Captain Jordan Henderson, Alberto Moreno, Nathaniel Clyne and Daniel Sturridge were still unavailable to their manager, so he opted for this starting XI:
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 30, 2017
Claude Puel, who had never lost to Liverpool before, set his men up like this:
Here's how the Foxes will shape up for #LivLei 👇
Schmeichel; Amartey, Maguire, Morgan (c), Fuchs, Mahrez, Iborra, Ndidi, Albrighton, Gray, Vardy.
Subs: Hamer, Dragovic, Slimani, Okazaki, James, Thomas, Musa. pic.twitter.com/TgORqLHhTK
— Leicester City (@LCFC) December 30, 2017
The First Half
The game started as a nightmare. Less than a minute in, Demarai Gray got into the box and tried to wriggle through Liverpool’s defence, but he eventually got crowded out.
It didn’t take long for Liverpool to give their visitors another chance though, which they gladly took. Joel Matip tried to pass to Emre Can, but the pass was misplaced and Can was far too slow to correct the centre-back’s mistake. Vicente Iborra picked it up and employed Riyad Mahrez on the right who got away from Andy Robertson and squared the ball to Jamie Vardy for an easy tap-in.
There was another nervy moment straight after when Vardy ran in behind and directed a low cross in, but Loris Karius was alert.
Getting a dream-start, Leicester fell slightly back as expected. They defended deeper and looked to split Liverpool’s defence with a through ball aiming for space for Vardy to run into. But Liverpool were determined to show the Foxes that getting away from Anfield with anything would not be an easy task, despite the early lead.
First, Coutinho involved Mane who combined with Milner to create a dangerous situation. Milner’s cross was blocked but Robertson followed it up with a cross of his own, which somehow bounced through the crowd in the box and went out on the other side.
Then Roberto Firmino found Mane on the left, Mane squared low for Salah, Salah wriggled free and hit the outside of the net, from 10 yards. Leicester then tried a swift attack, but Milner stopped it with a foul on Mahrez for which the referee Neil Swarbrick showed him the yellow card.
Liverpool were mostly attacking, but Leicester defended well and would occasionally even press high up the pitch.
On one such occasion around 10 minutes in, their pressing into Liverpool’s half was beaten by a long accurate pass from Matip to Salah. Salah played a one-two with Milner and Milner sent him running. He moved slightly to the left, Harry Maguire cut inside him and blocked his shot at the last second.
Leicester would occasionally shake off pressure and attack, but such periods were short-lived and far apart.
After 15 minutes, a strong shot to the centre of the goal by Coutinho was easily saved by Kasper Schmeichel. A minute later, a scramble inside Leicester’s box presented Milner with two successive chances to score but he was unsuccessful. Leicester cleared their half, Matip took the ball forward and passed to Coutinho, who suddenly lost it and Vardy was running down the channel now vacated by the Cameroonian. But it took one touch too strong from the Foxes No.9 for Dejan Lovren to step in and resolve the matter.
Two minutes later, Coutinho and Salah did some great work on the right, and the Brazilian sent it to Robertson on the left. Robertson sent in a beautiful cross for Mane to run onto, and he did, and even put the ball in the net, but the linesman’s flag had already been justly raised for offside.
In the next attack, Gomez sent the ball down the right flank for Salah, Salah played a one-two with Firmino, went past his man and ran into the box. Schmeichel covered the near post and shortened the angle, and Salah went for a far-post lob and missed. Sadio Mane was standing free, his arms outstretched, six yards from the gaping goal. Having squandered three great chances already, it was beginning to look as if this wouldn’t be the Egyptian’s day.
It was all about Liverpool at that point, but the equalizer just couldn’t be found.
In the next move, Schmeichel saved a good shot from Firmino after Milner and Can had done well to win the ball in the middle.
24 minutes in, even Joe Gomez took a shot from 30 yards, but it went slightly over the bar. Two minutes later a clear foul by Maguire on Salah just outside the box was not given.
Schmeichel had a rather shaky moment in the 28th minute. Coutinho’s volley was deflected and went vertically upwards. Schmeichel came for it, caught it and fumbled. In the end he managed to recover it with a large dose of luck.
However, the son of the former Manchester United ‘keeper redeemed himself nicely less than a minute later, when Firmino shook off Ndidi and took aim from 30 yards.
With around half an hour gone, a scramble in Leicester’s box ended with Robertson being pushed to the ground by Daniel Amartey. Nothing was given, even though the push was far more visible than the penalty given against Lovren in the Merseyside Derby.
Liverpool attacked more fiercely by the minute, though their passing was sloppy at times, while Leicester defended with their lives and wasted time whenever opportunity allowed.
However, with six minutes of the half left, Matip was very lucky to escape booking after he had brought down Gray to stop a counterattack.
The next few minutes saw Amartey do some fantastic defending on two separate accounts. First he accurately tackled Coutinho to prevent him from scoring after the Magician combined well with Firmino, and then he stopped Mane when the Senegalese received a good long pass from Matip.
Liverpool kept attacking for the rest of the half, but the sloppiness was still a big part of their game.
The Second Half
With the scoreline as it was, it was no surprise that Liverpool started the second half attacking and Leicester defending.
Five minutes in, Salah was brought down in the box by Christian Fuchs and appealed strongly for a penalty, but Swarbrick waved it away. That enabled the visitors to start a quick counterattack, but it ended with Marc Albrighton’s cross being cleared by Robertson, just in front of Vardy.
A minute later, Karius threw a long ball for Salah on the right wing. Salah only just managed to keep it in and earned a throw-in off Fuchs. Gomez took it by throwing to Firmino. Firmino turned away from his marker in the middle and passed to Coutinho. Coutinho laid it off for Mane, whose neat back-heel pass sent Salah in. Salah got away from Maguire, sold a dummy to Amartey, and blasted it in between Schmeichel’s legs from 10 yards.
Emre Can and Maguire then earned a booking each in a scramble over the ball inside Leicester’s goal.
But the Foxes weren’t giving up. A very good through pass from the back released the run of Vardy behind Liverpool’s back line, but Karius ran out to meet him and dispossessed him with a perfect tackle just outside the box. Only then was it noticed by everybody, including Swarbrick, that the linesman had raised his flag for offside.
Liverpool were pressing high, and Leicester were forced to go long for Vardy more often. Vardy of course cannot match the aerial power of Matip and Lovren, and he was therefore forced to play dirty at times. In the 56th minute he swung an elbow into Matip’s face and gave him a bloody lip, but the foul wasn’t given. The play was eventually stopped because of a possible head injury.
When the play was restarted, we witnessed a very underhand trick by Ndidi. Expected to give the ball back to the Reds in a fair-play manner, he sent it out for a throw-in deep in Liverpool’s half. Thus he enabled his team to move up the pitch, and they immediately pressed high. It was a very ugly example of unsporting behaviour.
They won the ball quickly, and Vardy was off down the left flank. He got past Lovren and Gomez with smart movement and took a shot, but Matip was there to block it. Liverpool immediately launched a counterattack. Coutinho employed Salah and Salah tried another lob, this time over the bar. The game was picking up pace.
After an hour of play, Ndidi was booked for a clumsy stamp on Coutinho’s foot off the ball.
Five minutes later, a display of magic from Coutinho. His sublime pass found Mane, and Mane scored, but he was again ruled offside.
Then Leicester attacked strongly for a while. They had two throw-ins taken long by Fuchs in quick succession. Maguire went upfront and offered himself as a target on the edge of six yards. The first time he was beaten in the air by Matip, but the second one he managed to flick on, and after a scramble in the box, Ndidi took a shot comfortably wide.
Leicester kept attacking with both Maguire and Wes Morgan playing high, almost in centre-forward positions, but Liverpool couldn’t take advantage of only Amartey and Fuchs staying at the back. The Foxes pressed high in that period, making Emre Can lose the ball twice in succession. It was not a very good game by the German midfielder.
Around the 70th minute, Liverpool finally shook themselves free and pushed forward. After a corner that was easily cleared, Coutinho sent in a great cross from right. Lovren beat everyone in the air but his header went just over the bar.
In the 72nd minute, Klopp decided a shake-up was needed in his line-up. He pulled out Mane and sent in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Coutinho moved to the left side of attack while the former Gunner took his place in midfield.
Claude Puel responded a minute later with a double switch. Mahrez (not very visible in the second half) and Vardy (visibly tired) left the pitch, making way for Shinji Okazaki and Islam Slimani.
With 75 minutes gone, both teams could have scored one after the other. Can misplaced a pass which enabled Slimani to charge forward, but pace isn’t a strong feature of this attacker and he was stopped with relative ease. Vardy in his place would have probably been a different prospect. Then it was Liverpool’s turn. A fast attack ended with Coutinho shooting from 10 yards from an angle on the left, but Schmeichel made a good save.
A minute later, it was time for the game to be settled.
Can sent a pass forward through the middle towards Milner. Milner’s deft touch extended it to Salah, who was facing away from the goal and had Maguire on his back. A defender on his back while facing the wrong way?
No problem for Mohamed Salah. One swift turn around the static Maguire solved both those issues and Salah was through, scoring his 17th league goal of the season.
Naturally, the whole complexion of the game changed for Leicester at that moment. They pushed forward as much as they could, looking to snatch a point back, and it was Liverpool’s turn to defend, waste time and look for counterattack opportunities.
The visitors had a descent chance in the 80th minute, but Amartey’s pass that should have sent Slimani through was too strong, and the striker was forced to chase it wide on the left. He tried to save something out of it with a cross, but Matip was there and dealt with it.
Two minutes later, Georginio Wijnaldum replaced Salah. From “not his day” to scoring a brace to turn the game around – not a bad day’s work for Mo.
Immediately afterwards, the visitors made a substitution as well, their last one. Albrighton made way for Matty James. Wherever your allegiances lie, it’s nice to see a player who was missing from the pitch for 18 months through injury make a comeback.
Four minutes from time, Iborra sent a good through pass for Okazaki who cut inside Matip, but Robertson was there to thwart him.
With a minute left of the 90, Coutinho was replaced by Ragnar Klavan in a highly defensive move by Klopp.
Liverpool then settled for keeping the ball in their possession, not allowing Leicester to move forward. But just as the regular time was up, the Reds lost the ball, and Robertson committed a foul on Okazaki and shoved him down to prevent him from taking it quickly. He picked up a yellow card for that, naturally.
Two minutes into the stoppage time, Karius puched a cross away, getting a bit of Klavan as well. The Estonian went to ground and Swarbrick was forced to stop the play. It was now Liverpool’s turn to give the ball back to Leicester, and they did it in exactly the same fashion as Ndidi had done earlier.
Leicester tried to go forward one last time, but the Reds stopped them quickly and launched a counterattack through Can. Can employed Wijnaldum on the left, the Dutchman squared it for Firmino but the cross was intercepted.
And that was it.
A very important win, and very important three points as the Reds end the year on a high. A bit scruffy, but it’ll do.
Next up – Burnley at Turf Moor, in two day’s time.
Have a very happy New Year everyone.
We walk on.