23 September 2017

Liverpool 3-2 Leicester City

Salah 15'
Coutinho 23'
Okazaki 45+3'
Henderson 68'
Vardy 69'

That was Liverpool distilled to almost as pure an essence as possible. Almost.

We got three great Liverpool goals, from three different players, from three different types of moves.

We got stupid and unlucky Liverpool concessions to make a game that should have been settled clearly not settled.

We saw the best of Mignolet and the worst of Mignolet in the space of three minutes, and throughout the entire match.

We saw Liverpool rampant and Liverpool on tilt. We had heart attacks throughout, especially in second-half added time.

Forget "pass and move, it's the Liverpool groove." Dumb and fun, that's how Liverpool run.

The only reason I wrote "almost" is that Liverpool won, thankfully denying us that narrative for at least one more match. Liverpool won, by any means necessary. Liverpool won despite themselves, Liverpool won because of themselves. In spite of opposition that almost always gives them trouble, in spite of a referee who also ruined Liverpool's opening day fixture.

The match started in the almost the best possible manner, with early goals from Salah and Coutinho. Salah's point-blank but difficult-angle header thanks to Coutinho's brilliant cross, then Coutinho's even better direct free kick. Liverpool could have had more had Can's shot from distance not slammed off the post, with Salah poking the rebound wide, or had Firmino converted his left-footed effort on the counter.

Liverpool could have conceded had Mignolet not denied Vardy in the sixth minute after Lovren played him onside, had Okazaki's shot not been deflected after Vardy robbed a dallying Mignolet, or had the linesman missed multiple Leicester players offside on a free kick that Okazaki then put into the net.

Obviously, 2-0 is rarely ever safe for this side, but Liverpool looked like seeing out the half fairly comfortably in spite of those earlier Leicester chances. They hadn't allowed a non-offside shot since the 17th minute. They were controlling tempo and tenor, even if with less possession than usual, and Firmino had just nearly scored a third.

But then, in the second minute of added time, a hopeful punt forward. Mignolet has it covered, charging out to clear, but Matip gets close enough to Vardy to allow him to dive. Which he does. And the free kick's given. And all hell breaks loose.

Mignolet denies Vardy's header from the free kick, but that means a corner. And you know what corners mean. Mignolet rashly charges out to try to punch. He misses, but he's also fouled, but it's also not called. Ndidi's errant header falls to Maguire, who's fouling Gomez, and everyone's out of position and the ball somehow gets to an open Okazaki on the goal line.

Half-time whistle. 2-1. Leicester back in the game.

Would Liverpool, unfairly punished in each their last three matches, fall apart after the restart? Would Leicester, often so good at home, make them pay for it?

Kind of, but not quite.

Leicester took the game to Liverpool more than they had at any other point after the restart. Nervous Liverpool touches, scrambled Liverpool clearances, they come again. But no Leicester shots. But just enough, just like between the 18th and 45th minutes. Liverpool even had the only potential scoring moment of note when Lovren was clearly, clearly, clearly held on a corner, preventing a clean header. Anthony Taylor, in all his wisdom, thoughtfully took everything in then booked Lovren for dissent.

Still, just enough until it almost wasn't, as Vardy got in behind onto Albrighton's through-ball but Matip recovered in time to block. Just enough, barely enough, until it seemed to be more than enough as Liverpool finally clicked on the counter just seconds after Vardy's chance. Henderson's interception, quick to Coutinho, quick to Sturridge, running to the penalty box then centering for Henderson, a touch to shirk the defender and shift the angle, and the two-goal lead restored.

For all of another minute.

Leicester kick-off. A couple of passes, a soft foul, a free kick spread wide to Albrighton, a run away from Gomez, a cross to Gray open at the back post, saved by Mignolet but right to Vardy unmarked six yards from goal.

Liverpool, everybody. Almost as pure an essence as possible.

At 2-1, we'd only seen partial tilt. Now we got full tilt. Three minutes after Vardy scored, Vardy stood on the penalty spot, somehow fouled by Mignolet on another long pass that beat Liverpool's back-line, fouled because Mignolet absolutely whiffed on an attempted clearance.

It had not been a good day for Simon Mignolet. The mistake for Okazaki's chance in the 17th minute. Yes, fouled, but still not strong enough to prevent Leicester's opener. Palming Gray's shot right to Vardy for Leicester's second. And now, conceding the penalty for what looked to be Leicester's equalizer, as Vardy had scored all five of the penalties he'd put on goal.

Simon Mignolet saved it.

Peak Simon Mignolet.

Incidentally, Mignolet has now saved seven of 15 penalties he's faced for Liverpool in the league.

From there, confidence somehow restored. Liverpool somehow almost comfortable – as comfortable as Liverpool get, at least – even when defending an unnecessary free kick in the fifth minute of added time. One Leicester shot in the final 20 minutes, from Ndidi 25 yards out and immediately blocked, compared to not-far-off chances from Sturridge (twice) and Wijnaldum.

So, yeah, it wasn't easy to watch. It rarely is. There were a lot of the good things we've seen from Liverpool: Coutinho and Salah and Henderson and Sturridge as a substitute. And there was a lot of the bad, with Liverpool defending more than adequately until WHAM they don't. Party at the front – even if less so than in draws against Sevilla or Burnley – and a party for the opposition at the back.

But Liverpool won. Despite that bad and that terror. On a ground where they'd lost by two goals all three times they'd faced Leicester under Klopp.

So, yeah, Liverpool once against needed at least three goals to win, as seems to be the case unless they're playing still-goalless Crystal Palace or Arsenal. But we can worry about those recurring defensive issues on set plays and against direct sides and despite having a lead tomorrow. And Monday. And when Liverpool *gulp* travel to Russia *gulp* to face Spartak Moscow on Tuesday.

But not today. When you've failed to win your last four matches, and probably deserved to win three of those four, I do not care how today's was achieved. When you beat opposition that's caused you so many problems recently, I do not care how today's was achieved.

Only that it's achieved.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

"Mignolet rashly charges out to try to punch. He misses, but he's also fouled, but it's also not called."

I personally think its a bit unfair to say he rashly comes out to try to punch. If he's not fouled and he gets nowhere near, then I'd agree with you. If he's not fouled and he puts his fist through it, we're happy with him commanding his box. He got close to it whilst being fouled, that I think he gets a pass for this.

"fouled because Mignolet absolutely whiffed on an attempted clearance."

Now this is a topic for discussion.
He was there in good time to get a first touch, yet is somehow so uncertain with what he's doing there, he doesn't get enough on it.

I'm also unsure as to why a keeper would elect to go with his feet rather than his hand in this situation.