Liverpool won their fourth Premier League on the bounce on Friday evening by beating Leicester City at Anfield. They won the game and booked extremely important three points, and they did so without scoring a single goal. Leicester defender Wout Faes did that for them, twice, after Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall scored an early opener for the Foxes.
What’s wrong with Liverpool’s defending?
In a nutshell, everything. Apart from Thiago Alcantara working tirelessly to help in saving his team at the back time and again, nothing really worked the way it should have.
The quartet of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson is deemed by many as Liverpool’s best defensive line, but they certainly didn’t look it in this match. Leicester scored from what was practically their first determined go at it, and each of the four defenders will want to examine his own contribution to it.
Defending Alexander-Arnold against criticism earlier this season, manager Jurgen Klopp pointed out that vulnerability on the flanks is something Liverpool willingly risk with the fullbacks going far up the pitch, and that means that the ball has to be won either with the initial press from the front, in midfield, or by the centre-backs winning aerial duels. If all that fails, a long pass wide by the opposition will cause all sorts of problems.
This time, the pass came from former Liverpool goalkeeper Danny Ward, who became Leicester’s No.1 with the departure of Kasper Schmeichel this summer. The pass went wide, behind Alexander-Arnold’s back towards Harvey Barnes, where the winger was unsuccessfully challenged by Joel Matip. Striker Patson Daka came closer to pick up the ball after Barnes flicked it his way, dragging Van Dijk out of position. And as Dewsbury-Hall made his run from midfield, Jordan Henderson looked inexplicably confused, turning this way and that and eventually allowing the Leicester midfielder to rush past him without any difficulty.
Meanwhile, Ayoze Perez ran inside from the other flank, dragging Robertson with him and emerging at one point as the player closest to Alisson Becker in the Liverpool goal. Robertson unwisely reacted by pausing to catch Perez offside, obviously expecting Dewsbury-Hall to pass the ball to the winger. Thus he lost a precious piece of a second and opened up even more space for Dewsbury-Hall to run into and head towards Alisson with the ball. Once the Scotland captain realized his mistake, it was too late.
It could be argued that perhaps with Fabinho in the place of Henderson, this goal wouldn’t have happened. The Brazilian would likely do whatever it takes to stop Dewsbury-Hall, even bring him down and risk an early booking if need be. But Fabinho was absent from this match through personal reasons and there’s no defending a club like Liverpool for suffering because of one player being out of action.
The Reds returned victorious from Villa Park earlier this week, but they allowed their opponents many chances in that game as well. Even with Fabinho in their ranks, the midfield simply doesn’t provide sufficient protection to the back line and the defenders are therefore more troubled, and consequently less aggressive.
When talking about transfers, people tend to discuss a perceived need to replace a player who leaves, and though Liverpool usually work differently in that respect, it’s becoming clearer with each game this season that they miss the presence of a player like Georginio Wijnaldim in the middle of the park. The Dutchman was, back in his Liverpool days, exactly the player they could do with now.
Liverpool are obviously aware of this issue and they’ve been heavily linked with Benfica’s Enzo Fernandez and Brighton’s Moises Caicedo. It remains to be seen if they get anything done on that front in January.
The Faes misfortune
Leicester signed Wout Faes from Stade Reims on September 1st to replace Wesley Fofana, who completed his move to Chelsea the previous day.
Having made his international debut with Belgium earlier in the summer, Faes started playing games for Leicester on September 17th and has completed the full 90 minutes in all 11 Premier League matches since. Manager Brendan Rodgers obviously trusts the newcomer greatly, naming him to start regularly ahead of Jannik Vestergaard, while captain Jonny Evans has been struggling with injuries.
The 24-year-old maybe isn’t quite in the world-class bracket, but he certainly isn’t a bad player. Therefore, it’s not very easy to explain what exactly happened at Anfield on Friday, when he became only the fourth player in Premier League history to put the ball in his own net twice in the same match.
The first own-goal was apparently a simple case of miscommunication with Ward. One would expect that when that ball, hit low and not very powerfully by Trent Alexander-Arnold, came in from Leicester’s left side, the goalkeeper to have given a shout to his defender as he came out to pick it up. If so, Faes obviously didn’t hear or heed the shout and decided to deal with it himself, but mishitting it, he only managed to lob it over Ward into the far corner.
The second one was clearly just clumsiness from Faes as he tried to sky the ball away while turned goalwards, from less than a yard away after Darwin Nunez’s chip over Ward hit the post. All he could do from there was to slam it under the bar and quite frankly, his decision to try what he tried was a shocking one as opposed to just poking it to his right and out for a corner. The only potential excuse can perhaps be the fact that he had Mohamed Salah breathing down his neck and there wasn’t any time to think. On the other hand, a professional player at Premier League level should instinctively react better in these situations.
This match will surely haunt the dreams of the Leicester centre-back for a while, and will be punishment enough. He has shown potential in previous matches and providing his game isn’t impacted by these mistakes in the near future, there’s no real reason for Rodgers to drop him from the team based on this performance. Even if he has practically handed Liverpool three points on a plate.
Liverpool seize control
In the second half, Liverpool obviously worked on slowing the game down. With the scoreboard now showing a favourable picture from their point of view, they had no cause to hurry and directed their efforts at impeding the visitors and keeping the ball under control for as long as possible. Thiago Alcantara played a big part in that, and earned his Man of the Match award thoroughly.
To that end, Klopp withdrew Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the game and replaced him with Naby Keita with just over an hour gone. The call to replace Robertson with Kostas Tsimikas at the same time was forced as Robertson picked up a knock, but the remaining two that happened with five minutes to go, Joe Gomez for Alexander-Arnold and Stefan Bajcetic for Harvey Elliott, were obviously done to add defensive stability and calm things down even further.
Even so, Liverpool managed to create a number of high-quality chances in the second half, and the usual wastefulness of Darwin Nunez in front of the goal was this time complemented by that of Mo Salah, It should also be said that Leicester had two promising moments as well, in the 54th minute when Alisson denied Barnes who broke down the left and stormed into the box, and in the 61st when Liverpool had another defensive nightmare and allowed Dewsbury-Hall a free header which the Leicester goalscorer failed to direct anywhere near the target.
All in all, Liverpool dominated this match with 57% possession and a total of 21 shots compared to Leicester’s seven, and they created more chances than the visitors even if they did waste all of them and needed a Leicester player to score two own-goals to win. But that statement also points to how lucky they were to get away with such inefficiency upfront, and apart from the appalling defending, it’s also something Klopp and his men will have to work on and quickly.
If it’s any consolation, Klopp does appear to be right when he says Nunez will eventually come good. It’s quite obvious that the Uruguayan striker just needs a bit of composure, to slow his mind down a little, and the goals are likely to start flowing for him.
With these three points, Liverpool are on a tally of 28, just two behind Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place and one off Manchester United in fifth, but these rivals are yet to play against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa, respectively, this weekend.
As for Leicester, Rodgers will be anxious to get James Maddison back after the attacking midfielder, the Foxes’ brightest star this term, returned from Qatar with an injury. But he’ll also be wary of the fact that his team are now just four points above the relegation zone – not where they want to be so soon after winning the FA Cup and the Community Shield in 2021 and playing in Europe last season.
Neither side will have too much time to reflect on this game, with Liverpool facing Brentford away on Monday and Leicester welcoming Fulham at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday.
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