01 September 2018

Liverpool 2-1 Leicester

Mané 10'
Firmino 45'
Ghezzal 63'

That was over-flowing dumpster set on fire careening down a hill. That was so bad. So, so bad.

Liverpool still won.

Well, let's be slightly fairer. The first 15 minutes weren't bad. The first 15 minutes were actually good, against a side that gave Liverpool tough matches in all three of last season's meetings. Liverpool should have scored within four minutes, with Firmino's clear-cut chance saved and Salah's even-more-clear-cut chance put wide. Liverpool did score within 10 minutes, with Robertson trucking through Ricardo Pereira, centering for Mané, delightfully taken in stride after a fortunate deflection from Maguire, controlled and toe-poked past Schmeichel for his fourth in four games.

Liverpool were pressing, Liverpool were creating great chances, Liverpool were ahead and seemed likely to get more.

And then they weren't.

I guess there's a reason that Claude Puel has one of the best head-to-head records of any manager with multiple matches against Jürgen Klopp. Now Liverpool can't get around Leicester's front-four press. Now Liverpool can't pass through a congested midfield, with Ndidi and Mendy terrorizing Henderson, Wijnaldum, and Milner. Now Liverpool can't even boot it long, with Salah and Mané unable to get free from markers, with Firmino unable to hold up play when actually on the ball.

But at least Liverpool continued to limit Leicester. Five of Leicester's six first-half shots were from nowhere and went nowhere close. The lone from inside the box, Gray from Ghezzal's throughball, was from a slightly acute angle, closely marked by Gomez, and well saved by Alisson.

And then Liverpool get a second, scoring just before halftime for the third time in four matches. Milner's corner, Firmino's header, slipping away from Maddison with everyone else watching Gomez. Perfect placement, strong power, 2-0. Now Liverpool are where they need to be. Now Liverpool will regroup and kill the match in the second half. We're done here, yeah?

Nope. Not only do Leicester remain the better side, but Leicester now have actual, honestly good chances. Ghezzal fizzes a low cross through the penalty area, one that someone really should have gotten onto. Gomez makes an enormous block after Maddison slithers around and away from van Dijk and Robertson. Wes Morgan somehow can't shoot when wide open after Albrighton flicks on a short corner.

And then disaster. The disaster we'd all feared. The disaster that nearly happened last week.

I'll roll the tape back a little further than most. We should have never reached the point where true disaster happened. Liverpool are again struggling to get through midfield after reclaiming possession. Henderson could have cleared rather than playing to a surrounded Gomez. Henderson, after receiving back from Gomez, fires a difficult ball to van Dijk's knees rather than a calmer pass or, you know, just clearing it himself. Van Dijk's back pass is away from Alisson, behind him and wide to the byline, where the keeper has to collect before being able to look up.

But then Alisson did an utter madness, trying to Cruyff turn away from Iheanacho rather than boot clear when he had the time and space, as he did a couple of times last week. And this time he utterly failed, with Iheanacho reading the move, stealing the ball, and centering for Ghezzal to slam in.

A mistake like this seemed inevitable. And if it's inevitable, I guess it's for the best it happened here rather than, say, last week against Brighton when Liverpool had just a one-goal lead. I'd also say "don't do it again" but I try not to be overly optimistic. Just maybe hopefully learn from it.

And now it's 2-1 and Leicester are truly in this and there are still 30 minutes left. And we're actually afraid for the first time this season.

To Liverpool's credit, Leicester had just one shot after Ghezzal's goal: Ndidi from 25 yards swiftly blocked. Liverpool calmed a little, at least after the substitutions, with Keïta and Shaqiri for Henderson and Salah helping matters. Liverpool had slightly more possession. The defense didn't do anything stupid, anything else at least, aside from Milner giving away a late free kick which led to a corner which led to nothing. But Liverpool remained horrific on the counter and in possession. Absolutely horrific.

Four consecutive wins, four from four for the first time since 1990-91, and I'm actually happy Liverpool have an international break coming up. Each of these four matches has been progressively worse, at least in midfield and attack. Mané took his goal excellently, and was the brightest of Liverpool's attackers when Liverpool were actually attacking, but that's absolutely grading on a curve. None of Liverpool's front three truly played well, for the third consecutive match. Salah was wasteful, Salah was too easily handled by Maguire and Chilwell. Firmino worked his butt off out of possession, but couldn't keep possession in the slightest bit when transitioning. Every final ball on the counter was off, everyone ran into rather than around defenders.

And the midfield was just as culpable. If not more so. Henderson's usually fantastic when Liverpool dominate possession, crucial to recovering clearances and pinning defenses back. He's a lot less so when the opposition presses and controls, often tearing around the defensive third and leaving gaps in the middle, unable to pass through the press and congestion. Similar goes for Wijnaldum and Milner, neither incisive enough nor good enough with the ball at feet to get through players. This is a big reason why Keïta – who truly didn't play well last week against Brighton – made such a difference when coming on; he's a player who does get into the spaces needed to move forward and, more importantly, can move the ball forward by himself. It's also why Liverpool will desperately miss Oxlade-Chamberlain at times this season.

But at least Joe Gomez was fantastic. So, so good. Van Dijk did enough, especially when going no-nonsense head away and hoof clear after Liverpool conceded. Liverpool's defense, moment of madness aside, was Liverpool's best feature for the third consecutive match. Liverpool doesn't have that moment of madness and we're laughing about how good this defense has been.

The overall play hasn't been good enough since Liverpool rolled what's been a terrible West Ham side so far on opening day. It hasn't been anywhere near what Liverpool are capable of doing.

But it's still been good enough to take four wins from four matches.

1 comment :

Minty, LFC said...

Also worth adding that our previous keepers have been very distraught when making mistakes in games. One mistake usually leads to more but Alisson helped restore the calm today after he made his boo boo. They looked resolute today and he certainly was a part of that.