Liverpool brought the curtain down on 2021 with an awful defeat at Leicester, with uncharacteristic misses blighting our hopes of closing the gap at the top.
Leicester City 1-0 Liverpool
Premier League, King Power Stadium
Tuesday 28 December, 2021
Goals: Lookman 59′
Virg and Fab return…
Klopp welcomed back his Nos. 3 and 4 for the trip and can be pleased with both overall.
For Virgil van Dijk, it took 28 minutes for his first real test as Vardy looked to streak in behind. Big Virg had time to glare at the assistant, put on the afterburners, make a fierce block and turn again to the official – who by then had got the message and duly flagged for offside anyway.
He did not, however, cover himself in glory (or Matip, or Trent, or Henderson) for Lookman’s goal, failing to block the angle or close down enough.
Fabinho was slightly different, and it’s something we’ve seen before from the Brazilian: after a stint out of the side he can take a couple of games to regain rhythm and timing in the pass and tackle.
It was a little quicker this time thankfully – about half an hour.
Twice early on his loose touches led to losing possession and committing a foul which may have seen him booked, while a couple of times he was slightly slow in adjusting to a team-mate and again saw the Reds lose the ball as a result.
Then he woke up before the break when the Foxes started to dominate a bit and made three really important tackles and interceptions.
All back to normal until he was subbed on 63′ in a pre-planned change. Didn’t get booked, which would’ve ruled him out of Sunday at Chelsea.
Salah and Mane: One game left
Worth considering what happens next for Liverpool, with Mane and Salah off to AFCON duty after our next game with Chelsea.
Salah hasn’t quite been in clinical form as usual of late, exemplified by when he won and missed a penalty on 15 minutes.
There was plenty of effort, a few dribbles and some attempts to combine down the right, but all told it was a bit of a low-key first hour other than the penalty.
Sadio Mane was a lot more involved and no better with his end product.
There’s a debate going on in TIA Towers recently as to how good or otherwise he has been this term, and whether he has enough effect on matches – particularly end product. A skied effort when through on goal after 55 minutes didn’t help one side of the argument, that’s for sure.
But even with neither in golden form: has anyone else looked like stepping up enough over the next month?
Not enough guile against a fragile defence
This is of course partly to do with that forward duo, but far from just pointing at them.
Diogo Jota missed a couple of chances to make an earlier pass, Jordan Henderson‘s decision-making to consistently volley from range was abysmal and the delivery from wide was arguably the poorest it has been all season.
Against a defence that has been repeatedly breached of late (including six times at Man City just over 48 hours ago…), it couldn’t have come at a worse time – our first blank in 34 games.
Leicester had two midfielders at centre-back but they weren’t tested enough, not with runners in behind and not with movement and quick passes in front of them.
Set-pieces, too, have been a big issue for Leicester all season – but our delivery on them was poor until the final stages. Too little, too late.
Heading into Christmas, pretty much every Liverpool fan would have thought that the two games in the festive run – even though Klopp hates them – would have meant six points in the title race.
Leeds, loads of injuries and rubbish all season, denied us the chance through a postponement.
Leicester, smashed 6-3 by City only days earlier, should have been a game we approached with fury and energy – we cost ourselves the points this time with an all-too-passive approach at times and a wasteful one at others.
Even in second or third gear we still had the chances to win this: Salah’s penalty, Mane’s one-on-one. Should have been 2-1, instead we got a big fat zero for Christmas.
“So many individual performances today were below the normal level,” admitted Klopp post-match. “We just were not good enough.”
Goodbye 2021…goodbye another title push?
It is too early to definitively call a Premier League title race over.
But it’s not too early to look at a six-point gap at the top and wonder where City will drop them, considering they’ve dropped 10 in total in the first half of the campaign.
They don’t just need to drop six, after all, as we won’t take every available point between now and May.
We’re going to have to have a near-perfect second half of the season to get back into this battle, and let’s not forget we’re now level on points with Chelsea again too – if we’re in it, so are they.
On to 2022, and let’s get back to relentless consistency in the new year.
Maybe it’s time to turn attentions to No.7 and not No.20 in 2022.