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Unrecognisable Reds, the title race & Thiago time – Last word on Leicester 1-0 Liverpool

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Liverpool’s latest run without a defeat ended in lacklustre fashion as Leicester landed a sucker punch that the Reds never recovered from, leaving a lot of points to make up for.

The Reds had the advantage of a six-day break heading into the game compared to Leicester‘s 48 hours, but it was Jurgen Klopp‘s side who looked the more fatigued in the later stages.

Missed chances from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane proved costly and the inability to capitalise on final third openings made it so Ademola Lookman’s goal was a match-winning one.

It left Klopp to say that “there were too many performances below normal level,” and that is never conducive to the results Liverpool need in the title race.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) is joined by Ben Webb (@BenWebbLFC) and David Comerford (@Dave_Comerford) to breakdown the loss and start to look ahead.

 

There were a number of low points…

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's Joel Matip looks dejected as Leicester City score the opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BEN: I think a few might place a lot of emphasis on either Mo Salah’s penalty miss or Sadio Mane squandering that crucial opportunity, but I was more disappointed in the overall reaction to going a goal behind.

We were unrecognisable at times, with our normal never-say-die mentality lacking and the high tempo pressure absent. We’ve played with such decisiveness of late that teams have been getting torn apart with the speed and accuracy of our ferocious football, but at Leicester, it resembled the opposite – indecisive, especially in attack and at times, lethargic.

JOANNA: I certainly agree with that, Ben. I thought the body language throughout the squad was woeful and so far and away from what we usually see and expect from this team.

We were looking as though we had played 48 hours earlier and not the other way around, there just wasn’t anyone looking to take the game on aside from Joel Matip and that said everything.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah look dejected after the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. Leicester City won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BEN: I also felt that we really didn’t capitalise from set-pieces, which has been widely highlighted as one of Leicester’s weaknesses and yet, many were either overhit or out-swinging which didn’t play to our attributes.

Klopp’s honest post-match assessment actually made me feel positive, by recognising (and not sugar-coating) how we lacked our normal identity and calmness.

DAVID: For me, there’s only one place to start and it’s the gilt-edged chances.

Salah’s penalty was poor, and the rebound was agonising to watch. This was his worst game of the season, and he didn’t really have an impact against Spurs either, but it goes without saying that he has plenty of credit in the bank.

Mane, on the other hand, has become a serious worry. I felt coming into this game that his goal drought had gone slightly under the radar, but that miss brings it into sharp focus. As far as I remember, he started the season fairly strongly, making last year look like a blip, but after this stretch, it seems like he may well have peaked after all.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Leicester City's Ademola Lookman celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOANNA: And a word for the defending for their goal, terrible. The initial defending from Trent and Henderson was sloppy at best, they twice let the runner go and left Matip to deal with it.

DAVID: Adding to that Joanna, Liverpool only gave up six shots and Lookman’s goal was the solitary effort on target. The counter-press in the opposition’s half is largely very effective, but on the rare occasions it’s bypassed, we’re so vulnerable.

It seems like all it takes is a fairly simple movement or combination, and you’re in. Overall, the balance doesn’t feel quite right.

And finally, I have to mention the clearly audible chants of ‘feed the scousers’, ‘sign on’ and ‘always the victims’. It was genuinely horrible. I just want to hear one broadcaster call it out.

 

What does that result do to the title race?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp speaks to his players during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAVID: There’s no denying that this was a damaging defeat. I for one expected a pretty comfortable night given Leicester’s defensive frailties, which had been compounded by the injuries they’ve suffered.

Along with Brighton and Brentford, this is a result that makes you question whether we’re champion material.

Six points is a lot, but it’s not over. City are on the kind of run many of us were expecting at some point of the season, but this is the strongest Premier League in history, so I’m hopeful that it won’t be the kind of juggernaut we saw in 17/18, 18/19 or even last season.

I’m not hugely optimistic, but it’s worth saying that the situation could look very different in a month’s time.

BEN: In terms of the title race, I actually think it’s nowhere near a foregone conclusion at this point, and although a disappointing result, there’ll be plenty of points dropped from Manchester City and Chelsea.

I understand the reactiveness on social media to a point, because we’ve been here before and against such an unrelenting opponent, there’s little room for error.

Although, we’ve lost the same amount of times as them and the only difference is a few draws, which suggests this title race can remain very close until its conclusion. I mean, Chelsea were deemed favourites early on and haven’t been excluded from this title race, yet have the exact same points deficit as us. Never say never with Liverpool is all I’ll say.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 3, 2021: Manchester City's manager Josep 'Pep' Guardiola shakes hands with Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOANNA: We’re up against a competitor that demands nothing but near perfection to run them close, a competitor that shows no mercy for nights such as these.

We’re still not in 2022 and you cannot definitively say the title race is, in fact, over, but it is a major dent in our bid as we could very well be 12 points behind by the time we next kick a ball.

Man City could go through a rough patch but we’d need to be able to capitalise and we’ll be asked enough questions over the coming month without three players due to AFCON.

If we needed near-perfection before, we need nothing but straight up perfection now as the margin for error just got smaller. It’s not over until it’s over though.

DAVID: You do feel, though, that Liverpool can’t really afford to drop further back, and so they’ll need to win at Chelsea this weekend. They’ll probably need to win at City too, something they haven’t done when both teams have been competing for the title.

Having said that, winning both those fixtures might not mean all that much if there are more Brighton/Brentford/Leicester-like results to come. We got 41 points from the first half of the season. We’ll need considerably more from the second.

 

And the trip to Chelsea just became that much more important…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 28, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (L) and Chelsea's Marcos Alonso during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BEN: The Chelsea game was already such a significant game in the context of this title race, but now it’s absolutely crucial that we take maximum points.

Regarding team selection, I would only make minimal changes, with Thiago coming in, pending on his fitness. I believe his precise passing and ability to control the midfield would be the ideal antidote against Chelsea.

As much as I’d like to see Naby Keita start, I think Klopp will opt for Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, plus ideally Thiago for a more robust midfield – although, Keita is a great option off the bench in a game like this.

Finally, I think an argument could be made to either revert back to the original front-three of Mane, Firmino and Salah or play Diogo Jota on the left in place of Mane. Would love nothing more than seeing Firmino facilitating the false-nine role, dropping in-and-out of the midfield and causing mayhem with his pressing and interplay.

This might read as slightly idealistic, but losing to Leicester could and should be used as extra motivation for the clash with Chelsea. Let the pundits criticise, let the fans doubt, let them all underestimate this team. A big performance and win would disprove them all.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 4, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOANNA: Not that it wasn’t before, but it’s huge. There can be no dropped points as come kick-off we could find ourselves 12 points behind City.

I definitely agree with you Ben, that should Thiago be fit, he’s straight into XI and then you have an argument for switching Firmino with Jota, in my mind, after a quiet and ineffective night at Leicester for the No. 20 – although that could be said of most of his teammates!

We’re usually pretty good at bouncing back straight away so, hopefully, this time is no different!

DAVID: As you say Ben and Joanna, hopefully, Thiago is back. I think we’ll all feel much more confident if he’s fit. Thiago for Ox would leave us with near enough our strongest line-up (Tsimikas certainly isn’t too much of a downgrade on Robertson).

You could certainly make the case for dropping Mane, but I’m not sure how much faith I have in Roberto Firmino either. And if restoring him means moving Jota away from the centre forward position, it may not be worth it.

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