1. Klopp matches Leicester's 4-4-2
Liverpool may have been only one of two teams to beat Leicester in the league before kick-off, but Jurgen Klopp was certainly not underestimating the league leaders. For the first time in his reign on Merseyside, the German coach opted for a 4-4-2 formation.
This enabled Liverpool to match up with each player, with James Milner and Jordan Henderson tasked with operating on the wings and pressing Leicester’s full-backs where possible. Lucas Leiva and Emre Can played as a typical central-midfield partnership, but it was the strike duo of Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino up front that surprised most.
The pair took it in turns to drop between the lines in the defensive phase, and then looked to drift into the channels when in possession. The two players are very fluid and mobile, which was designed to disrupt Leicester’s centre-backs. But the attackers aren’t used to operating in such close proximity and it was telling that of the 6 passes that they made to each other, 3 were from kick-offs. Leicester’s pressure all over meant that the Reds could never settle.
2. Mahrez shines again.... everywhere
The Leicester winger has been exceptional throughout the season, and arguably been the Premier League’s standout player having been directly involved in 22 goals – more than anyone else. Liverpool had allowed their opponents to score with their first shots on target in all 4 of their league games in 2016, and that run could have continued when Mahrez cut inside onto his left foot and narrowly missed the upright in the first minute.
Simon Mignolet has rightly faced a lot of criticism this term, but he stood up to the challenge laid down by the Algerian playmaker throughout. In the 14th minute, Mahrez tried his luck from distance again, but the Belgian keeper saved comfortably. Ten minutes before half-time, the Liverpool shot-stopper got his fingertips to yet another terrific effort from the Foxes wideman. Mignolet could do little about Jamie Vardy’s goals, even though some will argue that his positioning could have been better for the first. Mahrez was a problem for Liverpool throughout, thanks equally to his direct runs in central areas.
“He was very clever because he played one touch when Liverpool players attacked him,” Claudio Ranieri told the media after the match. “When it was one versus one he tried to do something special.”
3. Liverpool’s set-piece work fails to bear fruit
The club’s problems with defending free-kicks and corners has been well documented, with a lack of natural height evident throughout the side. The two full-backs, Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne, are particularly poor in aerial battles and Clyne was identified by Ranieri as a weak link: Vardy regularly positioned himself around the former Southampton right-back at goal-kicks from Kasper Schmeichel.
However, it was in an attacking sense that they appeared to have been practising on the training ground. 6 of the 11 corners from Milner were played short, and 4 more were hit into exactly the same area to no avail.
Dejan Lovren did connect with one of Milner’s crosses in the first half, though, which may have prompted more similar attempts in the second period. It’s a suspect area for Leicester, but on this occasion they defended magnificently.
4. Lovren and Sakho still struggling to convince
Lovren returned to the starting XI against West Ham at the weekend and Klopp clearly feels that he’s the best option alongside Mamadou Sakho at present. That will almost certainly change come the next transfer window, with the two centre-backs showing calamitous form once again.
There was little either of them could have done about Leicester’s two goals, but they still seemed uncomfortable and gave the home side encouragement when they failed to deal adequately with a number of through-balls.
In the 10th minute, Lovren struggled to clear at the first attempt when Vardy was through, but between him and Sakho they somehow managed to clear. When required to make a tackle the two defenders did well, with 7 successful from 8 attempts between them.
In the air Lovren was also very effective as he won all 9 of his aerial duels, but too many of his direct passes and clearances were wasteful. A quarter of his passes in the middle third were unsuccessful, and his clearances in wide areas are where he struggles the most.
5. Vardy gives Hodgson more brain ammo
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The former non-league striker is on an unbelievable high, and news this week that he’s about to sign a new contract at the King Power Stadium shows that he’s keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
It was his strike partner Shinji Okazaki who looked more likely to score in the first half, after Vardy crossed for his team-mate, but the Japanese attacker saw his header pushed onto the bar.
Vardy did break the deadlock, however, with a contender for goal of the season. Mahrez played a superb long ball into the path of his team-mate and the England forward allowed the ball to bounce, then struck a fantastic shot past a back-peddling Mignolet.
“It’s nice to be in the stadium when Jamie Vardy made the goal, but I wasn’t the manager of the other team,” joked Klopp in the post-match press conference.
The 30-yard thunderbolt was Vardy’s first goal from outside the area in his Premier League career. “It was amazing,” admitted Ranieri. “He watched the ball arrive, he watched the opponent and watched the keeper. He looked at the keeper out of the goal, it was amazing, fantastic.”
Vardy added his and Leicester’s second of the game when Okazaki’s deflected shot fell into his path and the poacher dinked it over Mignolet to make it 2-0. It’s now 18 goals for the forward, but it’s unlikely that he’ll hit any smoother than his opening strike. With Harry Kane at the double for Spurs last night too, might Roy Hodgson find a way to accommodate both strikers at Euro 2016 this summer?
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