Liverpool travelling to King Power Stadium, a one-goal win was going to be the most likely result. That’s how three of their last four trips to Leicester had ended. But, for Liverpool, a win at Leicester has never been an easy affair. This too was a game where the Reds had to play out of their skins at the end to hang on to that one-goal margin, just like the previous three wins. What looked like a comfortable cruise at half-time ran into immensely choppy waters in the second half, mostly because of the Reds’ own carelessness and overconfidence.
For Leicester, the story was always going to be about Jamie Vardy, who sat out the game due to suspension. The pre-match commentary was all about how this team looked weak in their main striker’s absence and how Demarai Gray was an inadequate fill-in for Vardy. Indeed, other than two moments, a good shot under Gomez and a wonderous first touch to land a lofted pass, Gray had an average game. But, the player that has replaced Riyad Mahrez in this Leicester side did have a decent game. Rachid Ghezzal must not have imagined that his first Premier League goal will be served to him on a platter by the costliest central defender and goalkeeper duo in the world. After that goal, his game visibly improved and he was key in building the pressure on Liverpool late in the second half. Elsewhere on the pitch, Foxes’ defence was left ball watching for the first Liverpool game and for the second, the marking could have been better. The midfield performed much better, matching Liverpool’s mid-three touch for touch and pass for pass.
Four wins in first four games, a feat Liverpool have not achieved since 1990-91, should make the Reds’ fans very happy. Instead, Jurgen Klopp must be quite annoyed by that performance. While they looked dominant in the first half, their performance dropped quite a bit after the break. 44.1% possession, 75% pass success rate, only 3 shots (2 off target and 1 blocked) and dispossessed 10 times in a single half. That does not look like the stats of a team that is winning its fourth straight game. In attack, while Mane and Firmino were on target, Salah was wasteful in the first half, while in the second, the Reds simply did not create enough opportunity. The defenders were more than adequate in the first half, but they were the reason for Liverpool’s troubles in the second. Virgil van Djik’s back-pass to Alisson was awful, but the goalkeeper’s reaction to it was even more awful. Alisson, instead of clearing the ball away, tried to play out from his touchline and was quickly dispossessed. The ball fell to Ghezzal, who did not need a second invitation. The midfielders, sharp and snappy in the early part of first half, lost their rhythm after Leicester’s goals and resorted to poor long-balls.
Not many teams out-shoot Liverpool. But, Leicester did exactly that today. They had 12 attempts, 5 on target of which 2 were big chances. Shooting at the rate of a shot per 8 minutes is rare against Liverpool because generally their presses severely limit the number of shooting opportunities for opponents. Leicester’s xG for this game is rated between 0.83 and 1.1, which might have been better had Vardy been on the pitch. He would have possibly made better use of Foxes’ 172 final third touches and 16 penalty box touches.
It is rare that Liverpool have more shot-based xG than non-shot based xG. The Reds generally create attacking pressure near the opponent’s box and then attempt several shots resulting from that pressure. Today, however, their shot-based xG can be rated between 0.99 and 1.5 but their non-shot based xG was only 1.1. In fact, between the 53rd minute and the 80th minute their xG did not increase at all i.e. they did not make any attempt or none had any chance of being a goal. Another way of looking at this is how the Reds had only 287 opponent half touches (Leicester 342) and 135 final third touches (Leicester 172). That Ghezzal goal shook Liverpool completely and everyone lost their rhythm at least slightly.
In defence, Leicester could have wished for a better first half. The defence was caught napping for both the goals and those two mistakes are the reason why Leicester lost the match. They conceded 7 shots in the box, and 3 out of the box, of which 4 were on target. The central defenders had a decent game, putting in 17 CBI (clearance/block/interception), along with 9 from the full-backs. In the second half, the defence was hardly tested and when it was, the defenders rose to the challenge.
Liverpool came into this game with three clean sheets in three games. But, in the last game against Brighton, there were glimpses of the overconfidence that they could suffer from. Alisson’s chip over the Brighton player was celebrated, but a similar attitude this time around cost him his clean sheet streak. Van Djik had a horror game by his standard, with too many second balls from won headers falling for Leicester. While between him and Gomez the defenders did put in 21 CBI, which points to the silver lining for Liverpool’s defence – other than the error that led to Leicester’s goal, Liverpool’s defence was again impenetrable. It was a bit uglier than in the past, but it could not be breached.
Leicester were not expected to defeat Liverpool. That they took the game to the Reds and ran them so close was indicative of the fight that the team possesses. If Vardy had been available, they could have possibly gotten a different result. However, Claude Puel and Foxes fans should be happy with the way their team competed with a title challenger today.
If Liverpool’s goalkeeper had committed a mistake like Alisson’s last season or the season before that, it was almost sure that the Reds would have thrown the game away. Two examples of this being the Champions League final and the away league game against Spurs. But today, despite being shaken, Liverpool withstood Leicester’s attacks. The defence put in blocks and interceptions when they were needed. And while the mistake must cause some annoyance on Klopp’s and fans’ part, they should be happy that Liverpool have maintained their perfect start and are on top of the league for one more game week.