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Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 1 Leicester City

Can we please only play the “big” teams from now on?

Liverpool FC v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Leicester City fought Liverpool to a 1-1 draw on a snowy Wednesday evening in Lancashire. Sadio Mane scored for the hosts in the 4th minute, but his goal was cancelled by a Harry Maguire strike right before the half-time whistle. Despite numerous opportunities, neither side could break the deadlock and the match ended in a draw that will please the visiting Foxes more than it will the Reds.

Claude Puel went with a brave lineup to take on the league leaders on their own ice-covered turf. After defeating Manchester City, Chelsea, and Everton with a 4-3-3, the Foxes lined up in the 4-2-3-1 with Kasper Schmeichel in goal behind Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy anchored the midfield behind Marc Albrighton, James Maddison, and Demarai Gray in attack. Jamie Vardy once again plowed a lone furrow up top as the solitary striker.

Don’t ask me, I just “work” here.

Alas, the difference between bravery and foolhardiness is often fine indeed. It took the Reds less than four minutes breach the Foxes defense. With Ndidi and Mendy dropping deep, the hosts’ midfield had all the time in the world to pick out a pass to Roberto Firmino, who found Sadio Mane on the edge of the area. The Senegal international cut across the top of the area and and fired past Schmeichel at the far post.

Liverpool FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Please note that, while there are four Leicester players in the image, not one of them is between Mane and the goal (not pictured, left).
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Reds had approximately all of the ball over the first twenty minutes, with 71% of the possession and all of the threat. The closest the Foxes came to scoring came from Madders beating Jordan Henderson to a loose pass, but the former Norwich man went down in a none-too-convincing attempt to win a penalty from minimal contact.

The Foxes spurned a gilt-edged opportunity to level the score on 25’. Alisson, who really should know better, tarried on the ball. Vardy, doing a very Vardy thing, charged him down and got a foot to the clearance, diverting it to Albrighton. The former Villa man took a moment to allow Vardy to get back onside and then lofted an inch-perfect cross to Maddison at the back post. He met it unopposed, but alas, he was unable to put the free header on target and the danger passed.

The next twenty minutes saw a lot of high-paced, very sloppy play and it suited the Foxes. We slowly, slowly dragged ourselves back into the match. Liverpool still had most of the ball but they didn’t look nearly as threatening and the Foxes strung the odd pass or two together from time to time. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a lot of fun to watch. The frozen pitch caused the ball to run away from players and lose the ball to alert defenders, primarily Ndidi. Liverpool left back Andy Robertson in particular was being given a torrid time by Albrighton and Ricardo.

Deep into injury time, those two combined on a move down the right, drawing a foul from the frustrated Robertson. The free kick was easily cleared, but only as far as Chilwell just outside of the area. He headed it first time back towards the goal, but the entire Leicester attack were offside...but Maguire most certainly was not. The Liverpool defense fell asleep and the former Hull man was able to run on to the ball unopposed and first time it past the stranded Alisson. So, forget the stupid run of play and all that; the Foxes were level with the leaders at the half.

Winner of the “BBC’s least-inspiring graphic” contest, 2018.

The Foxes started the second period more brightly than they did the first, but that bar was low indeed. Gray and Chilwell worked a lovely move down the left which saw the left back keep the ball for what felt like half an hour deep in the Liverpool area and then cut the ball back neatly to Maddison. The England midfielder had all day to set up his shoot, but unfortunately, he took that proverbial day and then some and the chance went begging.

The Foxes were fotunate not to concede a penalty on 55’. The hosts worked a 1-2 which set Naby Keita free on goal. Ricardo recovered well to get back, but it looked for all the world like the Portugal man stood on the attacker’s foot whilst making his challenge. The referee was in a perfect position to see it and he saw nothing wrong with the tackle, so I guess it was clean. The wizened Martin Atkinson never makes mistakes, right?

While Liverpool still had the bulk of the possession, they were having less of it and looking largely toothless in attack. If there were warning bells ringing, they were at the other end of the pitch. Jurgen Klopp opted for an all-out attack formation featuring his key three attackers plus Shaqiri, but it wasn’t working as Ndidi and Mendy were regularly getting the best of them.

It was the hosts who made the first change, bringing on Adam Lallana for Keita and Fabinho for Shaqiri. As the hosts poured forward, they began to leave spaces at the back. A Henderson free kick was cleared to Albrighton, who found Vardy in the centre of the park. The striker sent the onrushing Gray free down the left, but his first-time effort was directly at the grateful Alisson.

Liverpool FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Nope. Do not want to know what Adam Lallana is trying to do here.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

With a quarter hour left to play Puel made his first change, withdrawing Maddison for Hamza Choudhury and switching the shape to a 4-3-3. Chances were starting to appear at both ends, but worryingly, the Leicester lines were starting to drop deeper and deeper and the ball was spending all of its time deep in the Foxes’ area. The gaffer’s next move was to send on Shinji Okazaki for Gray.

On 85’, the Reds nearly got the opening they’d been looking for. Mendy lost the ball deep in the hosts’ half and Liverpool looked to take a page from the Leicester playbook, breaking at pace at the retreating Leicester defense. Daniel Sturridge was driving towards the penalty area thinking he was all alone, but you’re never alone when Choudhury is on the pitch. The academy product made up yards to catch the former England striker and dispossess him with a perfectly timed challenge.

The Foxes threw Kelechi Iheanacho into the fray for the tiring Vardy and to chew up a little of the four minutes of time added on. The Reds won a late, late corner, and the ball found the bonce of Mane, but he was unable to direct it on target. That would be the last action of the match, and Foxes emerged with a hard-earned draw against the table-topping Reds

I suppose we should be used to this by now. Surrendering an early goal and then coming back to make a game of it is old hat, as is getting a result against a top side. If we could put in these kinds of performances every week, forget the Europa League; we’d be looking at a spot in the Champions League next year.

From my point of view, the standout performances were primarily in the back line. Maguire scored, of course, but just as importantly, Salah didn’t. Of course, a lot of credit for that should go to Chilwell, who minded his defensive duties with aplomb and was more effective going forward than we’ve seen lately. Ricardo kept his wing under wraps and got under Robertson’s skin which always brings a smile to my face.

And, can we take a moment to appreciate how right Claude Puel got this one. Given how well we’ve played in a 4-2-3-1 of late, I was prepared for things to go very badly. Early on, it looked as if they would, but as the game progressed, we were the side looking more likely to take the 3 points. I’m frustrated by the inconsistency, but let’s give the man his due: He did well tonight.

Liverpool FC v Leicester City - Premier League
Take a bow son....son? Is he younger than me? No, but it’s closer than I’d care to admit.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Despite getting a good result, the draw drops the Foxes to 11th on the table with 32 points from 24 matches. It doesn’t get any easier in the coming week. We host Manchester United, who are still undefeated under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as of this writing, on Sunday morning. Then it’s off to London the following Sunday to face Tottenham Hotspur. Based on our current form against top clubs, that has to be at least four points, right?