30 December 2017

Liverpool 2-1 Leicester

Vardy 3'
Salah 52' 76'

That was all set up for failure.

Liverpool go behind within three minutes, as Matip's error – a misplaced pass from the back to Can – led a Jamie Vardy opener, the defense out of position and out-numbered, Iborra's perfectly weighted ball to Mahrez, just onside, centered to Vardy for a tap-in.

And it's all too perfect that it took 98 seconds for Liverpool to be behind thanks to a defensive error with Virgil van Dijk watching from the stands. This is what you're in for, brother, we want you to be aware of it as soon as possible.

Bad Liverpool often starts with comedy at the back. Bad Liverpool often continues with missed chances up front. Which is exactly what we processed to get.

Leicester are one of the worst sides in the world to give a 1-0 lead to. They're good at soaking up pressure and denying space in the final third. They're good at counter-attacking. And they're great at the dark arts: fouls that don't get called, time-wasting which doesn't get booked. Frustration mounts. Then Vardy goes and scores again, with his punchable face, probably after elbowing someone when the referee wasn't looking.

And it's made worse when Liverpool actually have chances. Specifically, Liverpool's top scorer. Two clear-cut opportunities for Salah, in the seventh and 20th minutes: the first pushed wide from Mané's cutback after lovely control, the second chipped wide when played in by Firmino. Couple that with a Mané "goal" rightfully ruled out for offside and Firmino's effort save but then played just close enough for Salah to touch but not to turn towards goal, and it felt like one of those days.

It especially felt like one of those days as the game increasingly deteriorated. Less space, less penetration in the final third. More shots from distance. More frustration.

This was the part of the match where Liverpool's midfield felt like a failure. Liverpool were behind because of defensive error and failure to convert chances, but Liverpool's midfield felt the most vexatious. Emre Can's having one of his "terrier running downhill chasing a tennis ball" games. Milner trying to make runs, trying to create, but he's still James Milner. And Coutinho's deployed on the right side of the three, ostensibly for Milner's protection against Mahrez on the counter, but a position which means he's rarely in a natural shooting or passing position, constantly needing to check back to create or shoot, or playing low-percentage outside-of-the-boot passes.

It was all very infuriating. As has been far too often the case in matches at Anfield this season. As is far too often the case against Leicester.

But, somehow, Liverpool go and redeem themselves in the second half. Mo Salah goes and redeems himself, not that he needed redemption with the season he's had so far.

First, after a Liverpool throw-in – a throw-in Liverpool had because Salah somehow kept the pass from defense in play. Firmino to Can to Mané, wonderfully back-heeled into the Salah Zone, Salah behind Maguire and in front of Fuchs, holding off the left-back, cutting away from Amartay, and slotting through Schmeichel.

So good – the assist, the control, the strength, the run, the finish. Two missed chances, but he goes and does that, and we end up expecting every chance to go in.

But we've been here before. 1-1 at Anfield, even when conceding first.

Five minutes after that, Salah's chip is on the roof of the net rather than the back of it, another clear-cut chance missed. Eight minutes after that, Mané has the ball in the net again but is offside again. And two minutes after that, hearts in mouths with Leicester possession and Leicester pressure and holy crap I thought that shot from Ndidi was in.

And it starts to ebb away. Chances dry up. More Leicester possession happens. Substitutions happen, taking even more sting out of the game. We have definitely been here before.

But then Mo Salah happens. Again.

Slow build-up and Firmino dropping deep leads to a pass into Milner, who back-heels it into the Salah Zone, this time with the forward backing into Maguire. Who's 6'4" and 220 pounds but surprisingly quick for a big man and surprisingly competent for an Englishman, Salah holds him off, turns him, evades the desperate tackle, and thwacks it under Schmeichel.

Sometimes I have no words for that man. Two Mohammed Salah goals – his 22nd and 23rd of the season so far, his 16th and 17th in the league. Liverpool are scoring for fun a lot this season, multiple players, and somehow Salah still has 35% of Liverpool's league goals and 30% in all competitions. And I have to mention that both goals came from back-heels, which remains a lot of fun.

So, we're back baby. 30 seconds ago, we're decrying how little time there was left in the match. Now it felt like too much. Way too much. And neither Leicester nor Liverpool helped. The former is actually decent at retaining possession when they want to. The latter loves to give us both heart attacks and aneurysms at the same time when put under pressure.

Long throws and crosses and so many long throws and holy crap they're coming back again. But with only one Leicester shot after Liverpool's go-ahead goal to show for it: Okazaki blocked from the top of the box with five Liverpool defenders between him and the goal.

By hook, crook, scrambles, and luck, Liverpool did enough to keep Leicester at bay. Even though we were terrified throughout, because we're all too aware that it takes just one moment. Liverpool never allowed nor gave Leicester that moment.

We did it guys. A late winner. Two goals in a match.

Salah's 76th minute goal is the latest decisive goal that Liverpool have scored this season. It's Liverpool's latest game-winning goal since Mané's at Everton way back in December 2016. 376 days ago.

This was the first time that Liverpool have won when conceding first this season.

This was the first time that Liverpool have scored two goals in a league match this season.

This was only the third time that Liverpool have won without scoring in the first half this season, after 1-0 v Palace and 3-0 v Huddersfield.

And this is the first time that Liverpool have beaten a Claude Puel-managed side, with a loss and draw against his Lyon, and two draws and two losses against his Southampton. Those Lyon matches hardly count, almost a decade ago, but the constant and overwhelming frustration in those Southampton matches last season remains very fresh in the minds.

And it feels so good. A narrow, battling, contentious 2-1 win feels better than 5-0 and 7-0 romps because we know this side is capable of 5-0 and 7-0. We've not seen them capable of narrow wins, of comeback wins, of ugly wins, of Anfield wins rather than Anfield draws in matches like these.

Liverpool are now unbeaten in their last 15 games, including 12 in the league. Liverpool will finish 2017 in fourth. Liverpool have done what Liverpool needed to do today, no matter the pain it caused us over 90 minutes.

Now they need to do it again in less than two days.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Amen. YNWA