Analysis: Below-par Liverpool survive Alisson blunder to scrape through
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Analysis: Below-par Liverpool survive Alisson blunder to scrape through title test

Goals from Mane and Firmino were enough to give Liverpool the three points, but it was a poor showing from those in red.

matt-addison
Matt Addison

It should have been four games, maximum points, no goals conceded and nine goals scored, but instead, Liverpool’s players will head into the international break with the most perfect of records in terms of points gained but nowhere close in terms of their level of performance.

Not since 1990 had the Reds emerged victorious from their opening four league games, so that milestone was reached, but Jürgen Klopp was left furious with a lethargic and sloppy showing, particularly in the second half, as Alisson was tackled leading to Rachid Ghezzal converting.

Early chances missed for Reds

For the first quarter of an hour, Liverpool were well on top. Roberto Firmino should have done better with an initial shot straight at Kasper Schmeichel before Mo Salah had an even more clear-cut chance from the rebound, but the Egyptian could only guide it wide.

Moments later, Sadio Mané was far more clinical. Andrew Robertson blasted past two players on the left side, leaving Ricardo Pereira in a heap on the floor, before he picked out the Senegalese winger inside the area, and Mané made it 1-0 with his left foot.

Jordan Henderson came into the team for Naby Keita with Gini Wijnaldum operating further forward than he has in the first three matches – Klopp described that decision as being taken to make his side “rock solid” pre-match, and so it proved, at least for a short time.

For the first half at least, the midfield three restricted danger men James Maddison and Demarai Gray to few chances and frustrated Leicester City. The King Power crowd can be excitable at times, but Liverpool, early on, had done well to keep them quiet.

Leicester give Liverpool a taste of their own tactics

Leicester were clearly missing Jamie Vardy, who has scored seven times in his last five matches against Liverpool but went with an attacking line-up perhaps not normally associated with the often conservative Claude Puel.

That front-foot approach paid off as Leicester moved through the first period. For a 20 minute spell, Leicester turned the tables on Liverpool, giving them no time on the ball and pressing high up the pitch. Klopp's trademark high press was being used effectively against his team.

When it worked for Leicester, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk looked especially panicked; when Liverpool were able to play out, they could exploit the space left in behind and move their defensive line out.

Just before referee Paul Tierney blew for half-time, Liverpool doubled their lead. A corner was swung in from James Milner, making his 100th Premier League appearance for the Reds, and Firmino broke clear of Maddison to head home.

Given the previous 20 minutes had been almost exclusively played out with Leicester putting Liverpool under pressure, it was a welcome goal to increase the visitor’s advantage. The balance of play suggested it was not necessarily deserved; until that point, Firmino had been fairly subdued and minimally involved.

Liverpool hang on in the second half

Second half, Liverpool's performance level dropped as they made simple errors and invited Leicester onto them. An exasperated Klopp on the sidelines mirrored the emotions of those in the visiting end and watching on at home – Liverpool often tread a fine line between control and self-destruction, and this occasion was no different as they contributed to their own demise.

Van Dijk was uncharacteristically lackadaisical at times, with Maddison’s directness causing him problems. Ten minutes after the restart, the Leicester number ten was cynically brought down by Van Dijk who was clumsy and late. He rightly went into the book.

It was the normally imperious Dutchman’s worst showing in a Liverpool shirt to date, and he was bailed out by the excellent Joe Gomez on more than one occasion. So often, it has been Gomez helped out by his partner, but today saw their roles reversed. 

When Liverpool counter-attacked, facilitated by Leicester having almost all of the ball and attacking incessantly wave after wave, backed by a now rowdy home support, the normal level of quality was missing.

With a two-goal lead, one move of incision would have been all it took to put the game beyond Puel’s side, but it never materialized as Liverpool stuttered towards the finish line.

Milner broke clear as part of a four-versus-two opportunity but chose to pass to Salah when Mané and Firmino were free. Salah’s ball back to him was misplaced and the chance was gone; on another day, that would have been game over.

Liverpool should have been able to take advantage of the lack of pace in the centre of Leicester’s defence, but they failed to expose it on too many occasions, misplacing passes, lacking movement and hastily giving possession away under pressure.

Flavor of the month during the World Cup, Harry Maguire, alongside the strong but slow Wes Morgan, was hounded by Firmino at times, but it was when the Foxes duo were out of possession that they should have been made more uncomfortable.

Alisson's error gives the Foxes a lifeline

For all that Liverpool struggled from start to finish, the moment in which Leicester got a goal back would have infuriated Klopp the most.

Van Dijk’s ball back to Alisson under pressure was over-hit and inaccurate, but what happened next was something Liverpool fans hoped was a thing of the past.  

Kelechi Iheanacho, who came on as a substitute, closed Alisson down, and the Brazilian attempted a Cruyff turn.

The skill on his own goal-line was as poorly executed as it was ill-advised, with the Nigerian international able to nick the ball off him and find Ghezzal, who slammed home into a largely unguarded net.

Alisson warned Liverpool fans last week after his flick over the head of former Leicester man Anthony Knockaert that more heart attacks were to come, and that promise was certainly delivered on.

With over half an hour remaining, Liverpool had put themselves under severe scrutiny, all of their own doing.

Had Loris Karius or Simon Mignolet done the same thing, the reaction would have been relentless for the next week, but at least with Alisson it is early days, and errors of the like are rare. Nevertheless, he will need to learn his lesson fast. Too many of those catastrophes and the goodwill will not last long.

Liverpool's plans to control the game squashed

The game plan was to create a controlled environment, but that was thrown out of the window in a moment of madness that the expensive new signing between the sticks was meant to eradicate.

An abundance of substitutes were available at Klopp's disposal – Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri were called on in an instant as the German tried to react – but he could do nothing to prepare for what had just happened.

Such was the strength of Liverpool's bench, Fabinho failed to make the 18-man squad once again.

He is being afforded as much time as possible to acclimatize to English football and will be called upon after the international break when Liverpool's fixture list becomes increasingly congested, but his destructiveness could have been useful in the Midlands as Liverpool struggled to get going and saw themselves sit in under Leicester's stern examination.

It was another day on which Firmino, Salah, and Mané were below-par, mistakes at the back were prevalent and Liverpool were at times shaky, but the Reds just about passed the test. In previous seasons, they might have collapsed, but the fact that they put themselves into such a position will not please Klopp and his staff. 

Klopp has a lot of thinking to do over the break

If they are to go toe-to-toe with Manchester City at the very summit this season, these are the games that need to yield three points, but not in that manner. On another day, it could have been very different and the punishment could have been worse than a telling off.

When the international break is over, the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Tottenham, Chelsea and City themselves beckon; perform like this and Liverpool's season will be over before it has begun.

As it is, Klopp can reflect on achieving 12 points from 12, more relieved than anything else. He will be able to warn the likes of Alisson and Van Dijk that performances of that level are unacceptable, safe in the knowledge that on the day it did not make a difference.

Leicester away was always going to be a test of Liverpool's title credentials: the bottom line is that they passed – just. 

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