While Leicester City were expected to do well this season in Brendan Rodgers’ first full campaign, the Foxes had exceeded expectations coming into their game against Liverpool at Anfield. Leicester were flying high in fourth place, having put five goals past Newcastle United in their previous Premier League game, and this game had unexpectedly become a must-watch, with many observers tipping the Foxes to end Liverpool’s 16-game winning streak in the league.
Jürgen Klopp brought in Dejan Lovren instead of Joe Gomez to partner Virgil van Dijk at the back in the injury-enforced absence of Joël Matip, while James Milner came into midfield in place of Jordan Henderson.
Rodgers had James Maddison available again, and the Englishman came into the team in place of Ayoze Pérez. The rest of the side was the same as the one that beat Newcastle 5-0 the previous weekend.
Direct passing to start things off
Both sides have played some extremely attractive football this season, but Klopp’s attacking setup showed that he was going to try out a different tactic against the Foxes. Leicester have played with a high line this season, much like Liverpool, and Klopp’s selection of Mohamed Salah at centre-forward, with Roberto Firmino shifted out to the left flank, was to potentially take advantage of this with the Egyptian’s pace in behind. Firmino also offered more in terms of work-rate, which would be helpful to keep tabs on Ricardo Pereira, Leicester’s marauding right-back.
While Liverpool are by no means a ‘tiki-taka’ side – their attacks are usually quick and direct, they attempted to put Salah in behind Leicester’s defensive line quite frequently in the opening exchanges –
Utilising Salah and Mané’s pace in behind has always been important to Liverpool’s attacking play, and the Senegalese attacker gave Liverpool the lead via a direct, long ball out from the back –
This brand of direct, quick attacking was also aided by the amount of space afforded to Alexander-Arnold on Liverpool’s right flank, as this analysis will show next.
Alexander-Arnold dominates the right flank
Trent Alexander-Arnold has established himself as one of the best right-backs in the league, certainly from an offensive point of view, and thus it was curious that Rodgers’ allowed the Liverpool full-back to get so much time and space on the ball, throughout the match. Alexander-Arnold’s statistics from the game illustrate his influence – 112 touches, 42 passes in the opposition half and five chances created, more than any other player on the pitch. Liverpool’s attacking system was geared to allow the Englishman to get up the pitch as much as possible –
This was not countered by Rodgers, and in fact, his selection of James Maddison on the left flank contributed to the problem. Maddison rarely tracked back, with the result that Alexander-Arnold was usually in acres of space on the right flank during a Liverpool attack, and was often the out-ball to switch play and change the focus of the attack –
Alexander-Arnold’s high positioning on the flank was countered by Andy Robertson staying a little more circumspect. The left-back was not as attacking as his counterpart on the right, and Milner’s positioning helped him out in that regard. The midfielder would often drift out to the left flank, allowing Robertson to stay deeper or even move into central areas. Milner got the assist for Liverpool’s opener from the left-back position, and his prior experience in the role meant that Robertson could choose to stay back if needed.
This meant that Alexander-Arnold, on the right, was allowed to push up high and wide. he thus had time and space to play passes or crosses into the box, with his ability on the ball ensuring that he created some extremely promising opportunities for the home side –
Maddison’s positioning may have been deliberate in order to give Leicester options on the counter-attack; however, it allowed one of the best crossers in the league ample space to try and pick out his teammates. Alexander-Arnold had a superb game as a result, and only Liverpool’s inability to take their chances prevented him from getting at least a couple of assists, and the home side from winning by a more convincing margin.
Pérez unsettles the hosts
While Leicester were supposed to pose a difficult test for the Reds, in truth, they struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities. Adrián did not have a save to make in the Liverpool goal, and Jamie Vardy had only 21 touches of the ball, illustrating Leicester’s toothless attack. The xG numbers bear this out as well – Liverpool ended the game with an xG total of 2.88, and while this was inflated by the late penalty, Leicester could only muster an xG of 0.3. Nevertheless, there was a short spell of the game when it looked as if the Foxes may come away with at least a point, and this was after Ayoze Pérez came on for Dennis Praet in the second half –
Note how Leicester shifted to a 4-3-1-2 once the Spaniard came on, with Maddison moving into a central role and Pérez partnering Vardy up front. This caused Liverpool some problems, with Maddison and Pérez taking up positions between the lines. This could be seen in the build-up to Leicester’s equalizer –
This probably shows that Rodgers could have been a little braver in his team selection in order to truly trouble Liverpool.
Liverpool maintained their winning run in the Premier League, with this victory taking them to 17 wins in a row, and more importantly, an eight-point gap over Manchester City, after they suffered a surprising home defeat to Wolves on Sunday. For Leicester, it was a dogged performance which ultimately failed to bring them any points; nevertheless, they kept their place in the top four, and on the evidence of the season so far, it will be difficult to dislodge them from this perch.
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