Leicester City dropped out of the League Cup, losing to Liverpool on penalties Wednesday evening at Anfield. City started well on top, taking a 3-1 lead in the break with a brace from Jamie Vardy and a James Maddison wonder goal. The Reds got an early goal back from Diogo Jota and Takumi Minamino scored deep into injury time to level the score. Liverpool advanced on penalties by a score of 5-4.
The worst part? We all knew it was coming.
With the fixture pileup eased somewhat (at least for now) by a couple of postponed matches, manager Brendan Rodgers went with what was presumably his strongest-available side: Kasper Schmeichel (C), Ricardo Pereira, Wilfred Ndidi, Çağlar Söyüncü, Luke Thomas, Youri Tielemans, Boubakary Soumare, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, James Maddison, Patson Daka, and Jamie Vardy. Harvey Barnes, Daniel Amartey, and Jonny Evans were all left out of the squad, so the options were somewhat limited.
It took City only 9’ to get their noses in front of an inexperienced Liverpool defence. Maddison, playing in his preferred central position behind the strikers regardless of what the team sheet (or the gaffer) indicated, got the ball in space ten yards out from the “D.” His diagonal ball found Vardy in the area moving away from the net. No matter though, as the striker hit it first time across the keeper into the back of the net.
Jamie Vardy with a lethal strike for Leicester City over Liverpool! pic.twitter.com/bakizz8zaO— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 22, 2021
After so many goal celebrations, it’s a miracle he still has skin on his knees.
The Foxes doubled the lead on only 13’ in vintage fashion. Dewsbury-Hall sent Daka on his merry way down the left flank. The Zambia striker scampered between two defenders and squared the ball for Vardy. The former Fleetwood Town striker cut inside his marker and finished from short-range, giving the keeper no hope at all.
The two-goal advantage proved to be short-lived as the hosts scored on their first serious attack in the 21st minute. A reverse ball found Konstantinos Tsimikas in acres of space on the left. His deep cross found Roberto Firmino in the area. The Brazil man did well to hold up the ball and lay it off for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose first-time effort evaded a forest of bodies and found the back of the net.
The advantage was restored just after the half-hour mark in a ludicrous fashion. Dewsbury-Hall squared the ball for Madders, who drifted inside and, after a couple of fortuitous deflections, found the ball bobbling invitingly at the edge of the area. Madders being Madders, who took the shot and blasted a dipping shot directly over the keeper and off the crossbar into the net.
If you’re anything like me, you cringe a little when you see him lining one of these up. You’d think I’d learn.
Vardy should have had his hat trick on 37’ and Joe Gomez was very, very fortunate. The defender’s loose touch allowed the Rochester Rhinos owner to dart in. Gomez started to pull him back and, realizing it would be a straight red, let go, leaving Vardy one-on-one with Caoimhin Kelleher. The keeper got just enough of a leg to on the ball to cause it to come off the upright rather than nestle in the back of the net.
Ricardo’s return was cut short with him having to exit the match just before half-time. A late, sliding challenge from Tyler Morton saw the Liverpool man go through the fullback’s planted leg and left him unable to continue. Marc Albrighton came on as makeshift right back with Timothy Castagne and Vontae Daley-Campbell both unavailable.
That about did it for first-half action, but c’mon, that was a lot of action for one half. Are you not entertained? No, I’m not posting the meme, but I bet it’s in your head now.
The second half started at the same bonkers pace as the first, with the hosts employing their gegenpressing with great intensity but not especially great effectiveness. The space they were leaving when City broke the press meant the Foxes had acres of space to run into. Dewsbury-Hall nearly put the game to bed after turning James Milner inside-out, but Kelleher made a fine diving save to turn the ball around the post.
Rodgers decided to tighten things up, withdrawing Daka for Kelechi Iheanacho and then made a double-switch a few minutes later, taking off Dewsbury-Hall and Cags, who had picked up a knock, for Ryan Bertrand and Jannik Vestergaard. As is often the case when Leicester try to see out a match, things got interesting in the unfortunate sense of the word.
Liverpool pulled one back in farcical fashion just before the 70’ mark. Every pass by a red shirt found a blue shirt but then caromed back to Diogo Jota. After three of those bounces, the ball fell to Jota yet again, who blasted home from close range to reduce Leicester’s lead to one goal.
Things got silly after that. Ibrahima Konaté slid into a challenge on Albrighton in midfield, missing the ball entirely and leaving the winger in a heap. The Reds slowed down, waiting for the referee’s whistle when James Milner took the ball and charged down the pitch and found Oxlade-Chamberlain, who blasted over from distance. Tielemans took exception and got in Milner’s face and got a two-armed shove in response.
Just minutes later, Jota swung his elbow and caught Luke Thomas square in the face with it. With Thomas on the deck, Jota carried on and got his shot off but failed to hit the target. It could have been an accidental elbow, but it was still very high and again the referee saw nothing wrong with it.
After all the crying over Kane’s tackle I feel Leicester have been dealt a bigger injustice there. Cause Jota should have been off for that elbow, at the same time it swings in roundabouts #youwinsometoulosesome— Graham Balfe (@Balfee) December 22, 2021
You’re not really supposed to get make-up calls in the next match. Seems a bit harsh.
Throughout all of this, the only yellow issued was to Madders for blocking an opponent off the ball, which was richly deserved, but also exactly what Milner had done five minutes earlier. The former Norwich City man sarcastically applauded the ref, which was both understandable and kind of foolish given that he was already on a yellow.
Deep into injury time, a Milner cross was pumped deep into the penalty area and somehow found Takumi Minamino unmarked beyond Ndidi. The Japan international took the ball down cooly and smashed it across Schmeichel to level the score. On to penalties!
Tielemans (LCFC): Into the roof of the net, no chance for the keeper.
Milner (LFC): Goes left while Schmeichel stays centre.
Maddison (LCFC): Down the middle into the roof of the net.
Firmino (LFC): Stuttering run up, just evades Schmeichel.
Albrighton (LCFC): Straight down the middle.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (LFC): Schmeichel guesses correctly but too much power.
Thomas (LCFC): Saved to the right.
Keita (LFC): Perfect penalty into the upper-righthand corner.
Iheanacho (LCFC): Perfect mirror to Keita’s into the upper-lefthand corner.
Minamino (LFC): Misses off the bar.
Bertrand (LCFC): Terrible penalty, low and left, right at Kelleher.
Jota (LFC): Low and to his right, beyond Kasper.
That started so well and ended so, so badly. Liverpool’s changes at the half and, unfortunately, Rodgers’ changes early in the second period, swung the match. I don’t really blame the Reds for their physicality: Everyone knows that, when Liverpool go behind, they will turn up the aggression to eleven. It was the refereeing that I found baffling. I restricted my results to exclude City fans and most neutral (and some Liverpool) fans were shocked Jota was on the pitch. Some felt Morton should have gone as well. If the referee allows it, then it’s hard to blame a team for taking advantage.
And, frankly, some of the gaffer’s decisions seemed ill-fated at the time he made them. I understand that both Ricardo and Cags were hurt and had to come off, but hauling off KDH for Bertrand worked about as well as everyone expected. Perhaps Dewsbury-Hall had picked up a knock as well; we got clattered an awful lot during the match.
And, can anyone explain why our penalty-taker didn’t take a penalty? Note: Apparently, Vardy was hurt. This makes me feel a little better about Rodgers but worse overall.
Anyway, this clears our schedule next year a little. The defeat doesn’t mean anything in terms of the table, but it’s bitterly disappointing nonetheless. Next up, we travel to the blue half of Manchester to face Pep Guardiola’s charges on Boxing Day. The following Tuesday, these selfsame Reds visit the King Power in a Premier League fixture. Here is hoping that Daniel Amartey is fit to start this one.