Having beaten Manchester City and Chelsea in December, Leicester City came close to adding another “big six” scalp to their collection after putting in an excellent shift at Anfield on Wednesday – and leaving owners of most Liverpool assets frustrated as a result.
We recap the main Fantasy talking points as Liverpool’s seven-match winning run at Anfield came to an end.
Liverpool 1-1 Leicester City
- Goals: Sadio Mane (£9.5m) | Harry Maguire (£5.4m)
- Assists: None | Ben Chilwell (£5.0m)
One-nil up after three minutes and having gone close to extending their lead soon after, it looked like business as usual for Liverpool on Wednesday evening as they attempted to capitalise on Manchester City’s shock defeat at Newcastle the night before.
Sadio Mane (£9.5m) curled the Reds ahead with the first attack of the game and nodded a headed chance wide three minutes later, with Roberto Firmino (£9.3m) also testing Kasper Schmeichel (£5.0m) as Jurgen Klopp’s side exerted some early pressure.
The match took a curious turn thereafter, however, with Leicester growing ever more confident and threatening to turn an exercise in damage limitation into a title-jeopardising away victory with a superb all-round display.
The Foxes are perhaps the most unfathomable team in the Premier League, capable of delivering some truly inept or tedious displays one week (Cardiff and Southampton at home in Gameweeks 20 and 22) and then a coupon-busting performance the next (Chelsea and Everton away in Gameweeks 18 and 21, Manchester City in Gameweek 19).
Claude Puel’s side were again brilliant at Anfield on Wednesday night, restricting Liverpool to just one shot on target after that opening six-minute blitz and not allowing their hosts (at least, in Opta’s eyes) a single “big chance” in the entire game.
Despite a joint-best eight touches in the Leicester area, this was perhaps as quiet as Mohamed Salah (£13.6m) has been in a league game this season, with both of his attempts on goal (one a poor free-kick) being blocked.
Ben Chilwell (£5.0m) and Harry Maguire (£5.4m) were superb in dealing with the Egyptian as he attempted to find space in the channel between the two, with Leicester’s defensive display in general back to the usual levels after the 4-3 defeat at Wolves in Gameweek 23.
The Foxes conceded four “big chances” in that harum-scarum anomaly of a match at Molineux – as many as they allowed in total in the other five matches contested in Gameweeks 19-24.
Liverpool’s defence, on the other hand, was far from convincing.
Maguire was left unmarked to stroke home a Chilwell header just before half-time but Leicester should already have been level 20 minutes earlier: James Maddison (£6.7m) heading a glorious chance wide after Alisson (£6.0m), not for the first time on the night, caused Liverpool hearts to flutter with some high-risk distribution.
Leicester’s attacking ambition – and Liverpool’s defensive disarray – continued after the break, with Maddison unable to pick out a team-mate from inside the six-yard box, Chilwell flashing an excellent cross past a throng of bodies and Demarai Gray (£5.4m) wasting a very promising counter-attack when failing to find an unmarked Maddison in the Reds’ area.
Maguire’s prominence at set plays continued, too, as he almost forced Firmino to put the ball into his own net with a header back across goal.
The Reds haven’t become a bad team at the back overnight but the injury crisis at right-back was evidently an issue on Wednesday, while Joel Matip (£4.9m) and Virgil van Dijk (£6.5m), though individually competent, don’t seem to have a great positional understanding when paired together.
As indicated in the last two Gameweeks, the clean sheet prospects for the likes of van Dijk and Andrew Robertson (£6.8m) appear to be adversely affected until reinforcements arrive from the treatment table.
Dejan Lovren (£4.9m) was, at least, fit enough for a place on the bench on Wednesday so could come into the reckoning at the London Stadium in Gameweek 25.
Jordan Henderson (£5.3m) was given the nod at right-back in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.2m), Joe Gomez (£4.9m) and even James Milner (£5.6m) and Leicester found a lot of joy down their left flank as they clearly targeted the out-of-position England midfielder.
Klopp said of Henderson’s display:
It was [a] good [performance]. We had to find a solution. We thought about Rafa Camacho as well; he played there in training because Hendo couldn’t train the whole week. Then in the end, I made the decision for rather more defensive aspect and his experience in that position because they go for it on that side.
Chilwell is usually really involved in the offensive play, overlapping constantly and stuff like that, so I didn’t want to give Rafa in his first game in that position such a big task. That’s why we decided on Hendo and he did really well, really well, and all good from that point of view.
The Liverpool manager offered a variety of reasons for his side’s below-par performance, adding:
We spoke about [the 11-day break] before the game, we didn’t have games in that time but the problem was that we had a lot of different things. Little injuries, because they didn’t take longer than ten days, but they couldn’t train properly, then illness [for] two or three players, which doesn’t help as well.
We knew before it would be really difficult and then it started snowing and that made it no easier. The snow is actually not a problem, the only problem is if it stays on the pitch and that was actually the case. You saw that the ball didn’t roll, really, and if you then have the ball pretty much for 70 or 80 per cent of the time then it makes life really uncomfortable.
In the last third it was possible with the way Leicester defend that we [could] play in between the lines, which is what we did around the first goal. Immediately we had similar situations where we didn’t get the last ball or the last pass was not perfect, but we had these situations. But to break down a side who defend like Leicester did you have to accelerate and to speed up in decisive areas. Sometimes we didn’t do it, I don’t know exactly why, and sometimes we couldn’t do it because it was difficult; you have to control the ball and pass through a really compact defending formation.
Mane was perhaps the pick of Liverpool’s players, succeeding where Salah couldn’t in breaking in between the Leicester lines and causing the Foxes’ defence to foul him on several occasions.
Xherdan Shaqiri (£7.1m) disappointed on his return to the starting XI but owners of Liverpool’s attacking assets may have a more fruitful evening on Monday when they take on an injury-hit West Ham side who have shipped five goals in the last two Gameweeks: the possibility of Salah or Shaqiri up against deputy left-back Arthur Masuaku (£4.3m) is particularly mouth-watering.
For those wondering why Robertson wasn’t given an assist for his role in Mane’s goal, FPL stipulated that the Scottish defender’s pass was clearly meant for Firmino, with the deflection off a Leicester player changing its intended destination and carrying it to Mane.
Puel offered the following reflections on the match:
I think we suffered a little too much at the beginning, it was difficult to recover the ball.
We changed the system a little to try to have more possibility to recover the ball and start better when we do. After, we had good chances with [James] Maddison and got a goal just before half-time. It was the right moment, of course.
We started the second half with fantastic feeling, good quality, good pressing, good work and quality on the pitch. It was perfect. We had fantastic chances and I think we need to be more clinical in these moments.
We kept a good structure and worked hard on the pitch to recover the ball, to start well under pressure and under strong pressing we kept our calm all the time. We played a fantastic defensive game and with the quality to start with the ball after recovering.
Liverpool XI: (4-2-3-1): Alisson; Henderson, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Keita (Fabinho 72′); Firmino (Sturridge 82′), Shaqiri (Lallana 72′), Mane; Salah.
Leicester City XI (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Pereira, Maguire, Evans, Chilwell; Ndidi, Mendy; Gray (Okazaki 84′), Maddison (Choudhury 75′), Albrighton; Vardy (Iheanacho 90′).
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