Liverpool started the 2018/19 Premier League campaign in a superb manner, winning three out of the first three games of the campaign while they remained the only team in the league yet to concede a goal having put seven past their opposition. The fourth matchday saw them face the unexpected 2015/16 champions Leicester City, at the King Power Stadium in the opening game of the round.
Dejan Lovren was still unavailable through his pelvis issue, while Rhian Brewster and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain long-term absentees.
Jurgen Klopp has the rest of the squad at his disposal and, while he mentioned a small advantage for the line-up which started and won all three games before this one, he kept the door open for changes as he wanted to see if anybody else would show more desire to play.
In the end, captain Jordan Henderson started instead of Naby Keita, and the team looked like this:
Having sold Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City this summer, Leicester’s most notable absentee was Jamie Vardy. The striker was sent off in their second-round win over Wolverhampton Wanderers with a straight red and was serving the last of his three-match suspension against Liverpool. Midfielder Matty James was also ruled out due to injury.
They were, however, boosted by the fact that their much-coveted goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had signed a new five-year deal the previous day.
Klopp said he expected Claude Puel to change their style somewhat due to Vardy’s absence and Puel chose the following men to try and defy the Reds:
The First Half
The contest looked like an even one until the fourth minute, when Henderson sent the ball from the middle to Salah on the right flank. The Egyptian produced a sublime pass for Firmino centrally on the edge of the box and Firmino took his man out, had his shot superbly saved, and Salah missed the target from close range on the follow-up.
It was a fantastic chance, simply unbelievable the Reds did not take the lead.
Leicester’s game seemed to be to aim long passes towards Demaray Gray who would try and engage defenders and hold the ball up until reinforcements arrived. But van Dijk and Gomez were up to the task.
Ten minutes in, the deadlock was broken. Robertson easily breezed past Ghezzal and Ricardo down the left, Morgan wasn’t decisive enough and gave way, and then the former Hull fullback cut it back for the incoming Mane. The Senegalese took out Maguire with his first touch and slammed it past Schmeichel with his second.
The Foxes kept their heads up, worked hard and pressed relentlessly, but Liverpool were now in control. The sheer quality of the Reds coupled with following Klopp’s instructions to the letter enabled them to keep the ball, keep Leicester in their own half and cause them problems without a break.
Trent and Robertson were giving them trouble down the flanks, the movements of Milner and Wijnaldum kept them turning around in confusion, Henderson was very calm and clever behind them, and the work of the front three kept them visibly quaking in their boots. Van Dijk and Gomez had very little to do.
But after 22 minutes Wijnaldum inexplicably lost the ball in his own half to Albrighton and Leicester sprang alive. The Reds did enough to prevent a quick transition, but after a longer attack a good through-pass from Ghezzal sent Gray running through, and he shot from close range past a tackle from Gomez, prompting a fantastic save from Alisson.
It was an unnecessary moment that gave the Foxes belief and the strength to fight back properly. They were now able to keep the ball for longer spells and come forward in numbers. The Reds fell back slightly and worked responsibly in defence.
Albrighton was perhaps the most inspired among the Leicester players, and after the half-hour mark he fought his way through the middle of the pitch and took a long-range shot very wide of the mark. Still, he encouraged his teammates to keep the fight up with a wave of his arm, and they did. Liverpool were unable to stamp their authority on the game again for a long while.
In the 39th minute Leicester worked out a good moment from a throw-in, enabling Ben Chilwell to shoot from range and he hit the target, but he needed to do it better to trouble Alisson.
Liverpool tried to play out from the back, inviting Leicester to press high in order to break past them, but Leicester were very good and continuously won possession around the halfway line. The Reds finally succeeded in the 43rd minute and their attack ended with Salah turning and shooting from around 25 yards, but Schmeichel diverted it out for a corner.
The corner from the left resulted in another one from the right, and Firmino managed to get away from his marker and slam a header from Milner’s delivery into the net.
Less then a minute from Leicester kicking off from the centre, referee Paul Tierney marked the end of the first 45 minutes.
The Second Half
The home side came into the second period with a notable desire to get back into the game quickly. A minute in, Ghezzal whipped in a dangerous ball across the six-yard box from the right, but nobody got to the end of it and Alisson rightly judged not to interact with it. Three minutes later a good chance for a long-range effort opened up for Maddison, but Alisson saved it very comfortably.
But the former Norwich City attacking midfielder had a fantastic chance after 52 minutes. He brilliantly took out van Dijk, turned and fired from inside the box, but Gomez was very quick to come across and block the shot with a sliding tackle. Two minutes later Maddison played a one-two with Gray and forced van Dijk into a foul for which the Dutchman found himself in the referee’s book. Maddison took the free-kick from 25 yards himself and hit the wall. Leicester’s domination continued and they came very close again after a corner, but Morgan failed to take advantage of Reds falling asleep for a second.
A minute later the Leicester captain made his pass towards Ndidi short, Milner intercepted it and Liverpool were off, four on two. Milner gave it to Salah on his right but then failed to understand the Egyptian’s intention to re-engage him in behind and the chance went begging.
After an hour, Ghezzal elbowed Milner in the middle of the park and got booked for it.
Then, Albrighton made way for Kelechi Iheanacho.
Three minutes later, an Alisson nightmare.
Van Dijk overhit a backpass towards the goalkeeper, and the Brazilian, instead of hoofing it long, tried to dribble around Iheanacho and lost the ball. The former Manchester City forward cut it back for Ghezzal with the net gaping.
Immediately afterwards Leicester won the ball and hit on a counter again but Maddison ruined it. However, the Foxes were now flying high. They were all over the pitch, pressed relentlessly, but giving away a few unnecessary fouls in the process. The stadium was loud in their support.
After a while, they got calmer and started outplaying the Reds smartly. Klopp realized it was time to react and sent on Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri for Henderson and Salah with 20 minutes to go. Wijnaldum dropped back to the No.6 role.
A real battle had started in the middle as Reds now started fighting and acting smartly themselves.
Five minutes later, Puel tried to turn up the heat by introducing Shinji Okazaki for Gray.
Leicester were very good in defending in those moments. They continuously found ways to crowd Liverpool players out and prevent them from switching sides.
But Liverpool refused to be denied. The freshness of Keita and Shaqiri started to show as the duo of substitutes started getting on the ball more, keeping and moving it forward. After 81 minutes Shaqiri won a foul near the right-side corner flag. Milner swung in a cross, Mane got high to win the header but failed to hit the target.
Then Daniel Amartey came on for Maddison who had gone quiet again. He took up the right back spot as Ricardo moved up the pitch to the right wing, Ghezzal moved to the left, while Okazaki and Iheancho played upfront together.
Five minutes from time an opportunity for a long-range volley opened up for Trent, but it went over the bar.
Leicester then moved forward in numbers but were almost caught on a counterattack. Mendy took care of it by taking out Mane and getting himself booked.
In the 88th minute, Joel Matip came on for Trent. Gomez moved to the right flank of the back line.
As the fourth official showed five minutes of stoppage time would be played, Shaqiri took advantage of Chilwell and Ghezzal overcomplicating things in their own half and won a corner, but the Foxes defended it well and went forward again.
Milner earned a yellow card with a late challenge on Amartey in the 93rd minute some 30 yards out. Leicester won a corner from it and Schmeichel went up to join his teammates in the box. Liverpool defended it though and Ndidi was forced into a foul on Keita to prevent the gaping goal being exploited at the other end. Another yellow card.
Less than a minute later, it was all over.
Despite suffering defeat, plenty of praise should go Leicester’s way for the fight they put up in the second half. As for Liverpool, it is to be hoped they won’t be allowing such nerve-shattering endings in the future. All needless too, as it was from their individual mistakes that Leicester picked the game up. First it was Wijnaldum, and then Alisson with the goalkeeper’s mistake far more costly than the midfielder’s.
On the bright side, it still is four out of four for Klopp’s men and that’s certainly a great start to the season. Liverpool will most probably retain the No.1 spot in the Premier League table after this round as the first international break of the season comes forth.
It’s Spurs at Wembley next when the league resumes, on September 15.
We Walk On.