Liverpool completely dominated their encounter with Leicester City at Anfield on Sunday, and the three points they booked for it were more than deserved. The Foxes may have hoped that the injury-hit champions won’t be at their usual high level, but the Reds fully proved they can cope with several key players missing.
System over line-up
The hosts missed three normally first-choice defenders in Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold. They missed captain Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, as well as the considerable attacking threat of Mohamed Salah. Xherdan Shaqiri, so often proven a valuable backup asset, was unavailable also. And yet, none of it mattered when those chosen in their places got down to business.
Midfielder Fabinho stepped into the centre-back role once more alongside Joel Matip, having just overcome an injury of his own. James Milner was once again called upon to show his versatility, this time at right-back. Naby Keita started in midfield but picked up a fresh hamstring problem which forced manager Jurgen Klopp to send young Neco Williams into the fray, pushing Milner up into the midfield. Curtis Jones booked another Premier League start alongside the ever-reliable Georginio Wijnaldum. Upfront, the in-form Diogo Jota played with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
And even with all these forced changes to the line-up, the system suffered no setbacks. The pressing was relentless and efficient, the ball was kept moving fast, and danger came to the visitors from every direction possible. The machine was tweaked, but worked impeccably.
Vardy needs more support
In the first half, Jamie Vardy pealed to the left and set up Harvey Barnes who shot wide from a good position. In the second, he won the race for the ball ahead of Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker but was too wide to make anything of it. Apart from those two moments, the Leicester striker was hardly involved in the game at all. It seemed far to easy for the hosts to prevent James Maddison and Barnes from offering their striker any kind of support, and once cut off, he was easily marshalled by Matip and Fabinho.
This kind of game, where the opposition mostly has the ball and you’d expect counterattacks
to be the Foxes’ most potent weapon, is something Vardy usually thrives on. His pace and knack for smartly timed runs in behind can hurt most defences, but not Liverpool’s on this occasion. It seems manager Brendan Rodgers has to find a way to make his other attacking players get more involved; the extremely defensive 5-4-1 setup in which the visitors entered the match obviously had a hugely detrimental effect on Vardy, usually a deadly striker.
Firmino finally shines
Much has recently been said about the ‘poor’ form of Roberto Firmino. Klopp was openly asked about it several times, but he always replied that he couldn’t help those who didn’t see what the Brazilian did for the team. This time, however, Firmino’s contribution was clear to all.
The 29-year-old was as mobile as ever, moving to the left or the right as the situation requested, or dropped deep into midfield to help with buildup play. Those things he does admirably even on a bad day, but this time he was more of an attacking threat than was the case for most of the season so far. Having given the Leicester defence a lot to worry about throughout the match and been denied by the post and a an off-the-line clearance, he managed to crown a great overall performance with an accurate header and set the final score in the 86th minute.
Leicester entered the matchday at the top of the table, but this defeat saw three teams, including Liverpool, shoot past them – it’s a proper reflection of how tight things are in what is promising to be a thrilling Premier League title race. As for Liverpool, they’ve now set a new club record, going 64 league games at Anfield unbeaten.