Having dropped points against Arsenal in the fashion we did the result against Swansea on Tuesday evening was exactly what the doctor ordered. Swansea couldn’t just be beaten, they had to be annihilated. A 5-0 scoreline in our favour was more than satisfactory as was the performance. This game today was out first of three in the next six days. For that reason Jurgen Klopp was in a quandary – play his best side or rest certain players knowing there was a visit to Burnley to plan for in 48 hours, not to mention an F.A Cup tie against Everton at Anfield on Friday night. Leicester are a tricky side and need to be taken seriously. This was going to be no early new year’s party.
It’s hard to pick a starting XI for Liverpool this season as Klopp switches his side around so much, as was the case here. Simon Mignolet was rested for this game and Loris Karius was brought in to deputise for the Belgian. Trent Alexander-Arnold scored his first league goal for Liverpool on Boxing Day in front of The Kop, but would have to be happy with a place on the bench in favour of Joe Gomez today. Virgil van Dijk will officially sign on Monday, so today was an audition for Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip to see who will play alongside the most expensive defender in football history as of next week. Despite scoring on Tuesday, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would also start this game in the dugout. Sadio Mane would play on the left of the Liverpool attack, which meant Philippe Coutinho would take Oxlade-Chamberlain’s place in the centre of midfield next to James Milner.
Claude Puel has the same issue as his German counterpart but with less key players. Daniel Amartey would have to play at right back today due an injury picked up by Danny Simpson against Watford on Tuesday. Leicester have been plagued by a lack of creativity in the centre of midfield this season following the sale of Danny Drinkwater to Chelsea on August deadline day, a problem that will be remedied when Adrien Silva can be registered on 1st January. Nevertheless, Wilfried Ndidi and Vicente Iborra were tasked with having to create the chances for a front two of Jamie Vardy and Demarai Gray. It wouldn’t take them long to do just that.
In the second minute of play Joel Matip received the ball from Loris Karius on the edge of the box and try to slip it to Emre Can. However his hospital pass was snuffed out by Iborra who played in Riyad Mahrez in the right channel. Mahrez had the chance to score but instead squared it to Vardy, who tapped into an empty net from six yards. It was a nightmare start which again highlighted the need for a improvements in defence following Matips howler. Good job we have a new centre half sitting in the crowd.
Liverpool’s response was just what you’d ask for though. Sadio Mane sprinted down the left minutes after the goal and played a low cross into the box. It fell to Mo Salah, who sold Harry Maguire a dummy and looked certain to score from eight yards. He managed to send Kaspar Schmeichel the wrong way and his shot the wrong side of the post. Not long after that guilt edged chance, Mane got on the end of a Salah cross and converted. However the assistant referee raised his flag and the goal was ruled out for offside. Salah would have another opportunity from the right side before the end of the half, when Roberto Firmino slipped him in beyond Maguire. He was now in on Schmeichel’s goal put could only flash his effort across the six yard box.
Liverpool were creating opportunities that were troubling Leicester but just couldn’t find the finishing touch. Mohamed Salah was getting into great positions but it didn’t look as if he had his shooting boots on. Liverpool’s main threat was coming down the left, with Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane doing an excellent job of isolating makeshift right back Daniel Amartey. Still we were unable to find a way through and finished the half behind. Jurgen Klopp will have told his players to do more of the same, knowing it was well within our capability to break this Leicester side down eventually. Claude Puel will have been happy with his sides stubbornness in defence and will have asked his players to keep up the good work. After all, they were ahead.
Following the break both sides reassumed the roles they filled in the first half. Liverpool continued to press and probe Leicester, while the away side seemed to have answers for every question Liverpool posed – that was until the 52nd minute. Salah won a throw in off Maguire on the right hand side which the Foxes defender claimed actually came off his Egyptian opponent. Salah took the throw quickly before making tracks towards the opposition box. Can carried the ball into midfield before playing a short pass to Mane. With sublime vision, Mane backheeled the ball into the path of Salah on the edge of the box. Salah managed to fend off the attentions of Maguire, sell Wes Morgan a humiliating dummy, and fire the ball between the legs of Kaspar Schmeichel. It was a goal Liverpool deserved scored by the man who deserved it most. Liverpool were definitely alive and kicking, and three points were now in our sights.
However Leicester weren’t about to give up that easily and began to attack. From a corner, the ball fell to Wilfried Ndidi on the edge of the Liverpool box. He took it down and lashed a shot goalwards, which whistled inches wide of Karius’ post. Liverpool responded again though. Coutinho lifted a cheeky ball over the Leicester defence for Sadio Mane to run onto and convert. Mane was again offside though and had a second goal ruled. The game was opening up although it seemed more likely that Liverpool would grab a winner. And we did.
Emre Can had the ball in the middle of the pitch and looked towards The Kop end. Mo Salah was ahead of him but was being marked tightly by Harry Maguire once more. Nevertheless Can played the short ball into Salah. It looked like Maguire would hold up Salah and force him to play the ball away from goal. But this is Mo Salah we’re talking about and he only ever has one thing on his mind, which is scoring goals. He received the ball into his feet and turned Maguire easily before closing in on goal. He beat Schmeichel on his near post and wheeled away in celebration to the jubilant Liverpool fans. That is now seventeen league goals for Salah this season and twenty two in all competitions. What a player we have on our hands here.
With another game to come in just two days, Klopp began to make his subs. Obviously wanting to keep his star man fit, Salah was brought off to rapturous applause to be replaced by Gini Wijnaldum. Sadio Mane was also replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain, with the hope that moving Phil Coutinho to the left hand side would cause poor Amartey a whole new realm of problems. Ragnar Klavan was brought on late on to add an extra body at the back following a late Leicester surge. With The Foxes now committing more men forward in search of equaliser, Klavan would be called upon when Christian Fuchs swung a telling cross into the box. In another example of Liverpool’s lack of leadership at the back, Klavan rose to head the ball and was clattered by Karius getting injured in the process. Liverpool managed to survive that scare though and Leicester’s mini-revival to see the game out and claim the three points.
After the match Jurgen Klopp spoke of his side’s patience and praised the fans for not getting on the players backs. The joy in his voice was palpable, as it was in his celebration at the end of the game. As the referee blew his whistle and Anfield released its loudest post-match cheer so far this season, Klopp turned to the Main Stand and pumped his fist in over-exuberant delight. This is clearly a result that meant a lot to the manager and the fans. Having gone behind and facing a team that has won a title by sitting on leads, a Liverpool of time gone by would not have got back into that game. The fact that we did so and deserved to do so was testament to our work rate and how far we have come under our German manager.
Who knows, the future may just be bright. After all, we do have Mo Salah.