26 December 2015

Liverpool 1-0 Leicester

Benteke 63'

Welcome back, Liverpool.

It wasn't a perfect performance, by any means, but you can't even hope for perfection after Liverpool's last month. It was a return to what had worked for Liverpool under Klopp: a team rather than a collection of individuals, a vicious work-rate, actual movement both with and without the ball in the opposition half, a surprisingly smothering defense, a confident performance, and just barely enough firepower up front to eke out a victory.

It was everything last week's loss at Watford wasn't. It was a success for both team and manager. So much for Klopp having been "found out" by the Premier League.

It began with the line-up named and formation selected. What initially looked to be a 4-2-3-1 turned out to be a 4-4-1-1, 4-4-2, 4-2-2-2, with Origi and Firmino both floating around up front, and a firmer midfield line of four in front of the defensive line of form. It matched Leicester's formation player for player, creating a series of individual battles rather than opportunities for one side to exploit flaws or holes in the opposition's system. And, for the most part, Liverpool won those individual battles: Henderson and Can equaled Kante and King's athleticism in midfield, Origi gave Wes Morgan fits, Lovren competently marshaled Vardy, and Coutinho and Moreno were able to double up on Mahrez, often with extra protection from one of the midfielders.

Aside from the overall work-rate, the biggest difference was Origi's (and, to a lesser extent, Firmino's) movement up front. He pulled center-backs, usually Morgan, wide looking capable of winning through pace or strength. He allowed Liverpool to play quick passes over the top, without getting caught offside, working against Leicester's defenders until other attackers could join in.

It led to Liverpool with all the best early chances: Origi saved at the near post, Lallana shooting into the side-netting, but also more patient moves that led to Can's effort from distance saved and a couple from Coutinho wide. And all it happened without any vulnerability on the counter: one burst along the byline from Mahrez the only moment of true fear.

But then, of course, because we just can't have nice things, Origi pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury in the 37th minute, replaced by Benteke.

And for a while, Liverpool regressed. Liverpool changed its style. Liverpool found chances harder to come by, Liverpool became more concerned with crossing to Benteke. Liverpool were still the better side, but it was also still a lot more of what we've complained about recently, at least in attack.

Until it wasn't. A some quick passing from a throw-in down Liverpool's left, one of those crosses finally found its target, and that target hit the target: Firmino's low lefty effort, Benteke's feet-first dive to get a toe-touch, giving Schmeichel no chance. Both Firmino and Benteke have been massively criticized lately, and neither blew the doors off prior, but they finally combined for a necessary goal.

Normally, going a goal behind is no concern for Leicester, and a fairly substantial concern for Liverpool. Liverpool have gone from 1-0 to 1-1 in seven matches in three different competitions this season, all seven finishing level. Leicester have conceded the opener in six matches this season: winning two and drawing four.

Mignolet did wonderfully to deny Dyer in the 74th minute, but Leicester created just three shots in the half-hour following Liverpool's goal; Dyer's was the only shot on-target. Liverpool had more chances to extend the lead on the counter - including one four-on-one empty net counter in injury time (that should have been offside) which Liverpool amazingly failed to take. Liverpool really could have done with the second to ease nerves. But Liverpool, thankfully, didn't end up needing that second.

I reiterate: Liverpool held the league leaders scoreless. Those league leaders had scored in every single match this season. Those league leaders attempted just seven shots today; they'd averaged almost double that per match this season. Both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez - Leicester's best two players, the darlings of this league campaign, having scored a combined 28 league goals - were subbed off with Leicester in need of an equalizer. Leicester have a small squad who've all played a lot of minutes, and Leicester have Manchester City on Tuesday, but seeing those players off with neither doing much in the match is no small matter, and a massive credit to both Lovren and Moreno, among others.

Sure, Liverpool's attack remains worrisome. 25 shots against a side that's averaging 13 allowed per match is a very good thing, but one goal from 25 shots with just four of those shots on-target obviously isn't. Since scoring six at Southampton in the league cup, Liverpool have scored all of three goals through 450 minutes of football. Yet another striker has now suffered yet another muscle injury, and after such a promising 37 minutes of football.

But those can be concerns for tomorrow, not today.

Liverpool won. Liverpool won at Anfield for just the second time in Klopp's five league matches. Liverpool beat the side leading the league for the first time since 2013-14. Liverpool are five points off fourth.

Today we got the Liverpool we want to see, need to see. Not the Liverpool we dread to see.


E Coutinho Can said...

Just another Liverpool blog. Please support thank you.


Jonny S said...

Looked like matching Leicester and focussing on their danger points really did the business though Leicester did look a bit jaded. They seem to rely on so few of their players for their threats that it seems like you can take them out of the game.
Curious why others haven't managed it, but then Utd constantly scored against poor mistakes from opponents in the past ie most teams just aren't aware enough.

It seemed to pay off matching them rather than trying to play our own game. Still waiting for something resembling connections and interplay up front. It's a problem for now at least, surely we need another striker?