Leicester City fell to Liverpool 2-1 at the King Power in Saturday’s matinee match. City fell behind early and couldn’t get back on level terms despite extended periods of pressure, especially in the second half.
Leicester were again without talismanic striker Jamie Vardy, who was serving the final game of his three-match suspension for picking up a straight red card against Wolves. Vardy scores for fun against Liverpool, so replacing his production against was always going to be a big ask.
Manager Claude Puel changed things up yet again with his fifth starting XI in five matches. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a four-man back line of Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire and Ben Chiwell. Nampalys Mendy and Wilfred Ndidi partnered in central midfield with Marc Albrighton and Rachid Ghezzal on the wings. James Maddison slotted in behind lone striker Demarai Gray, a surprise choice and a perhaps a signal of intent to hit Liverpool with balls over the top.
Liverpool almost immediately gained the upper-hand with lightning-quick passing in the Leicester half and should have gone ahead on the 2’ mark. Schmeichel saved well from Roberto Firmino, but the rebound feel to an unmarked Mo Salah 10 yards out, who put the ball wide when you’d have bet on him to find the back of the net.
City failed to heed the warning and went behind just two minutes later. Andrew Robertson outmuscled Ricardo on the Leicester right and cut the ball back for Mane, whose first touch and a fortunate deflection took him between Maguire and Chilwell. The Senegal international fired past Schmeichel and gave the visitors a deserved early lead.
The Foxes slowly clawed their way into the match over the next quarter hour as the Red menace subsided and a few chances started to open up. Alisson had yet to surrender a goal for Liverpool, but he had get down smartly on 23’ minutes to keep Gray from leveling for Leicester on after some fine passing from Maguire and Ghezzal.
The hosts dominated possession over the next 20 minutes, but without creating any any clear-cut chances. Speculative long-range efforts from Albrighton, Maddison, and Gray were never likely to trouble the Liverpool keeper, but they were more than the Merseysiders were creating through this period.
The failure to get an equaliser was cruelly punished right before the half as the Reds doubled their lead somewhat against the run of play. Madisson failed to close down Firmino on a corner and the Brazil international generated just enough power on the header to beat Schmeichel at the near post. Half-time score: Leicester City 0 - 2 Liverpool.
Another half of football that tested #LFC defensively, which they handled confidently. That solidity has again been the platform for everything else. #LCFC did well to disrupt feed to the visiting front three and grow into the game, but still find themselves 2-0 down at half-time— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) September 1, 2018
Both sides emerged from the tunnel unchanged to start the second half. The Foxes started brightly, putting the Liverpool defense under a sustained spell of pressure immediately. Leicester had a hatful of half-chances in the early exchanges and had a couple of opportunities get a goal back.
Maddison worked some real magic with his feet to beat two Liverpool defenders and was denied a goal by a brilliant sliding clearance from Joe Gomez. Shortly after, a well-worked routine on the right fell to Morgan’s feet 3 yards out, but he couldn’t get the right contact on the ball and the chance went begging.
Puel sent on Kelechi Iheancho for Albrighton in search of a lifeline, and City got a goal back in the most comical of fashions on the hour mark. A poor back pass from Virgil van Dijk put Alisson under pressure, but he had ample time to clear the ball. Instead, the former Roma keeper tried to play the ball under pressure from Iheancho. He duly lost the ball to the Leicester striker, who drove towards the net and pulled the ball back for Ghezzal. The Algeria man sliced home into the empty net and the Foxes were back in the hunt.
City kept the pressure on and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp responded by making a double substitution, sending on Xherdan Shaqiri and Naby Keita for Mo Salah and Jordan Henderson. Puel responded by throwing Shinji Okazaki into the fray in place of Gray. The Reds went into time-wasting mode as City were chasing the game. Puel made one last throw of the dice, sending on Daniel Amartey for Maddison and pushing Ricardo into midfield.
Leicester struggled to gain possession over the last 10 minutes of regular time, and struggled to do much with it once they got it. Five minutes of stoppage time were added on, primarily due to a painful injury to Ben Chilwell of the sort that the physio can do little about but nod sympathetically.
There was a moment of drama near the end as Schmeichel came up for a corner, but it came to nothing and that was the last goalmouth action of the match. For all the possession and pressure, City came up just short: Full-time: Leicester City 1 - 2 Liverpool.
This was not, as you may have gathered, a poor performance from Leicester City. This side looks like it is very close to the one that Claude Puel would like to play, and outside of a couple of lapses in concentration, they played quite well indeed. This was the most-balanced Foxes outfit I’ve seen in some time, capable of attacking either wing or mixing it up in the middle through Maddison. With more clinical finishing, Leicester could (and probably should) have taken points off a very, very strong Liverpool side.
There was a spectre haunting this match - the spectre of Vardy. City were statistically solid, having more possession, more shots, and more shots on target, but we clearly lacked the cutting edge to turn our advantage into goals. Neither Gray nor Iheancho have yet shown the ability to punish opponents every time they get a half yard of space the way the former Fleetwood Town man can.
There were certainly more positive performances than poor ones. The Ndidi/Mendy axis in midfield is starting to gel (and I say that as someone who’d written Mendy off). Ghezzal impressed, and having two full-backs who can get forward really opens up the attack. Maddison obviously has sublime skills; if he can just get his decision-making right, he’s going to be a beast.
Left it all out there today, we definitely deserved more! Lots of positives going forward. Loved how loud it was today @LCFC— Ben Chilwell (@BenChilwell) September 1, 2018
Leicester’s next league match is on Saturday, 15 September, away to Bournemouth. The primary goal over the international break, as always, is to avoid injuries and return to league action with a full squad. There’s no such thing as a “good defeat”, but this was an encouraging performance and one we’ll hope to build on in two weeks.