For the second game in four days, Liverpool established a first-half lead, squandered it in the second half and then scrambled, in the end, to snatch a win at the end of the game. Against RB Salzburg in the Champions League on Wednesday night, Mohammed Salah’s 69th-minute winner was required to secure a win after the Champions League winners from last season had scored 3 first-half goals. Against Leicester City in the Premier League today, the league leaders needed a stoppage-time penalty from James Milner to keep their 100% record intact. After Wednesday’s game, Liverpool fans were fearful of what an attack led by Jamie Vardy would do to the errant defence of the Reds. Even Jurgen Klopp alluded to it. But it was the Reds’ own profligacy in attack that caused them the trouble, from which eventually they escaped.
Liverpool’s Dominance in First Half
Klopp started with broadly the same team that started against Salzburg – barring the swap of Milner for Henderson and Lovren for Gomez. The sight of Lovren in the backline is generally a cause for worry but today he was a quite effective partner to Virgil van Djik. Also, it seemed like Leicester had put off their attacking till the second half. The first 45 minutes were largely dominated by Liverpool. The Reds had 7 shots, of which 4 were on target and they also created 4 Big Chances in the first half. While the Foxes did not take even a single shot during that period. If there was a question to be asked, it was that how Liverpool managed to score only once from 4 Big Chances.
But Liverpool were not as fluent in the midfield as they can generally be at home. In terms of passing, the Reds were a bit errant compared to their averages this season. A pass completion ratio of just 74.8% in the first half, against an average of 81.8% in the seven prior games, along with just 250 passes attempted in the first half point to midfield troubles or a change of strategy from the Reds. Leicester were inferior in this department as well, with 199 passes attempted in the first half of which they completed 136 (68.3%). Their average pass completion rate for the first seven-game weeks was identical to the Reds (81.7%).
Their reduced passing efficiency was not enough to keep the Reds goalless. As the half neared its end, in the 40th minute Lovren passed out of defence to Fabinho, who moved the ball on to Virgil van Djik. The Dutchman moved the ball a bit forward to James Milner who swept it to the waiting Robertson on the left touchline. The Scott passed back to Milner who had advanced a bit toward the corner of the half-line and the touchline. Milner took a touch and sent the ball long, evading a lunge from Johnny Evans and ready for an onrushing Sadio Mane. Mane rushed into the box with the ball at his feet and beat Schmeichel with a right-footed low shot into the far corner of the goal.
Second Half – Liverpool Wasteful, Leicester Precise
After the terrible second-half performance against Salzburg, Liverpool supporters must have been wary of what awaited them in the second half. But immediately after the restart, it was more of the same. Between the 46th minute and 79th minute, Liverpool had 8 shots, 3 on target and one Big Chance. Their pass completion actually improved to 80.2% To Leicester’s credit, in this period, they managed one shot (not on target), which was an improvement from the first half. The Foxes also matched the Reds in the final third passing (34 completed passes for both). Rodgers rang in a few changes – subbing Harvey Barnes off at half-time for Marc Albrighton and then subbing Dennis Praet for Ayoze Perez in the 73rd minute. While it did not seem likely at this moment, these two changes led to Leicester’s equalizer in the 80th minute.
Albrighton collected a backpass from Ricardo Pereira and then found Ayoze Perez at 30 yards from the Liverpool goal. Perez turned and put in a through pass for James Maddison to run onto and unleash a low, right-footed shot past Adrian’s outstretched right hand. This goal led to a bit more urgency from Liverpool but they struggled to find shots on target, while the time was running out. Both Lovren and Virgil van Dijk managed to head the ball from incoming corners but both managed to put the ball wide.
With Liverpool staring at the possibility of dropping points for the first time this season, Hamza Chaudhury fouled Salah in the 89th minute, which led to the Egyptian getting some treatment. This also led Klopp to replace Salah with Lallana in the 92nd minute. These events in themselves were not important but tell us why the game stretched into 95th minute when the declared stoppage time was just 4 minutes. And what an important additional minute it turned out to be. The tireless Sadio Mane ran into the box trying to keep possession and find an opportunity to shoot but Albrighton’s slightly late challenge tripped him, earning the Reds a penalty. The decision was, of course, verified through VAR but when technology also concurred with the on-field referee, Milner stepped up to the spot and put the ball in the bottom right corner, winning the game for Liverpool.
Liverpool’s Record Streak
Today’s win stretched Liverpool’s victorious run in the League to 17 consecutive league wins, which is second-longest ever in English top-flight history, behind 18 games won by Manchester City in 2017-18. It also put them 8 points ahead of the Champions Manchester City, albeit for the time being, as City play Wolves at home tomorrow. It was another lucky escape for the league leaders but it will ensure that Liverpool will at least be 5 points ahead of City as the league campaign heads into the second international break. Manchester United await the Reds at Old Trafford immediately after that. Liverpool will relish the opportunity of matching City’s record of 18 consecutive league wins – a small perch of sorts – at Old Trafford.