Liverpool returned to the winners’ circle as they beat the league leaders Leicester City at Anfield in their Boxing Day clash.
The Reds dominated most of the contest, particularly in the first half. Despite this, the 0-0 scoreline was taken into the break.
Divock Origi was awarded a starting berth in front of the home faithful, and provided a constant threat going forward, often working hard into the channels.
Unfortunately for the young Belgian, he succumbed to a hamstring injury and was replaced by his compatriot, Christian Benteke, seven minutes before the conclusion of the half.
Benteke has struggled for form and confidence, failing to find the back of the net in his last six and needing a good performance in front of the Kop to restore some faith.
The former Aston Villa striker got his (and Liverpool’s) much needed goal just after the hour mark, sliding on to the end of a well-created chance by Roberto Firmino from the left to put the Reds in front.
It wasn’t until they conceded that the Foxes came into the game, with Nathan Dyer coming closest to drawing them level, but he was brilliantly denied by Simon Mignolet.
Remarkably, Benteke failed to put the result beyond doubt in the final throws of the game, striking against Wes Morgan after Kasper Schmeichel had vacated the Leicester goal in order to participate in a late corner.
The win for Liverpool sees them sit in 8th place, five points shy of a top four position. Despite their first away loss of the season, the Foxes remain top, but will be looking for a response in their next fixture.
Liverpool opted for a 4-2-3-1 at home, with Divock Origi given a start as previously mentioned. Behind him were the fluid combination of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Firmino, while Jordan Henderson and Emre Can sat in central midfield. Dejan Lovren came back in to the lineup after Martin Skrtel’s injury against Watford.
Leicester lined up in their favoured 4-4-2 formation, with Andy King replacing the injured Danny Drinkwater. Shinji Okazaki was the preferred choice to partner Jamie Vardy in this
The Liverpool press worked brilliantly
One of the signature characteristics of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool is their high pressing of their opponents. While the interception count was 13-12 in Leicester’s favour, it must be noted that Liverpool achieved this count while having 60% of the ball. Emre Can was impressive in this respect, completing five himself.
Furthermore, where the Reds recovered the ball was most important, with five of the interceptions in the opposing half, while another three were in advanced positions, allowing quick counter attacks.
While the Foxes sport the lowest pass completion percentage in the league, they only completed a staggering 57% of passes today, often forced into mistakes by the organisation and workrate of their opponents. Ranieri admitted as much in the Leicester Mercury, lamenting after the game:
“We know when Liverpool lose the ball they would press us high up the pitch and we were ready to play in this way, with one-two touches and go on the counter-attack, but we lost a lot of passes and for this reason and Liverpool’s players got confidence to play against us.”
Liverpool peppered the Fox defence.
The Foxes were subjected to a barrage from the Reds, particularly in the first half. For the entire game, the Reds had 25 shots (12 on target) to Leiester’s seven (three on target).
The Reds created 19 chances to Leicester’s six, often through direct, forward play.
Particularly with the addition of Benteke, Liverpool were not afraid to cross the ball either, attempting 26 crosses throughout.
Vardy and Mahrez had little impact
Between Vardy and Mahrez, the Foxes boast 28 goals and 10 assists. Despite the team performing well as a whole, it is upon their attacking jewels that their success has been based.
It is no coincidence that the Foxes failed to score for the first time this season in the game where both Vardy and Mahrez were quiet.
Mahrez, normally a terror to opposing defences this season, only attempted four take ons, two of which were successful. He created zero chances and only had one shot – although it did sting the gloves of Mignolet.
Vardy didn’t look nearly the same player that leads the golden boot race this season and it was revealed later that he was suffering a fever.
Credit, however, must be given to the Liverpool defence who effectively shut the England striker out of the game; he had two shots (one on target) and only one touch in the opposing penalty box.
As for Liverpool, Christian Benteke will certainly be better for the run against the Foxes, while Jordan Henderson was arguably their best player, leading magnificently in midfield. This result was the perfect response to their defeat to Watford, a game in which they were underwhelming at best.
Leicester City were smothered by a well organised and hard working Liverpool outfit. Unable to get any sort of foothold in the game until late in the contest, the Foxes were subjected to a constant goals threat.
This was a game in which the 1-0 scoreline did not do it justice. It is a rare defeat for the league leaders who will need to bounce back after an uncharacteristically poor performance.