Alisson’s blushes spared as Liverpool edge to nervy win at Leicester
By Paul Doyle
Liverpool maintained their 100% start to the season but got a reminder here that they are far from perfect. Leicester exposed their vulnerabilities – and provoked a recurrence of their goalkeeping woes – while demonstrating that they form a nifty outfit themselves.
The visitors prevailed thanks to goals by Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino but endured several scares in addition to conceding their first goal of the campaign, Rachid Ghezzal scoring after an embarrassing blunder by Alisson.
The Brazilian had shown his dexterity with his feet by cheekily chipping an opponent during last week’s win against Brighton, after which he warned Liverpool fans he would continue to take calculated risks. But he got his sums wrong here when attempting to dribble past Kelechi Iheanacho in his own box in the 63rd minute and was left looking like a dunce as the striker relieved him of the ball before passing it on to Ghezzal, who swept it into the net from close range.
Jürgen Klopp put a positive spin on Alisson’s mistake, saying the goalkeeper and the rest of the team would learn. “It needed to happen so that it doesn’t happen again,” he said, explaining that while the goalkeeper bungled, so did his teammates by bringing him into the play too often.
“It was clear it would happen one day, that we would concede because of that,” said Klopp. “[Alisson’s footwork] should be an option for us, but not the solution. We have to learn to use him in the right way. Play the pass at the right moment.
“Joe Gomez could have cleared the situation and then Virgil [van Dijk] for sure could have done it. Then if Alisson had kicked the ball away everything would have been fine but for some reason he didn’t. No goalkeeper in the world should dribble in that situation.”
Klopp said the way the match unfolded after that gave him encouragement that his players had learned their lesson, especially Alisson. “His reaction was interesting. We still used him in the right situations and the crowd tried to make him nervous but he wasn’t.”
The pre-match indications had been that this would be Liverpool’s most stringent test of the season to date and so it proved. They had hinted at fragility against Brighton and Leicester had the smarts to probe awkwardly for weaknesses even without the suspended Jamie Vardy.
In recognition of the threat posed by Leicester, Klopp made his first alteration to the starting XI this season, fielding Jordan Henderson instead of Naby Keïta in midfield. Klopp is well aware that if Liverpool are to fulfil their quest for the Premier League title, they must offer more than devastating offensive storms. They must also show stability. Keïta is no flake but Klopp suggested Henderson was fresher for this duel. The change, however, deprived Liverpool of the midfield thrust Keïta has added since his keenly anticipated arrival in the summer.
Any concerns looked unfounded early on. Liverpool cut through their hosts after four minutes and should have capitalised with a goal. Firmino was denied by Kasper Schmeichel after a lovely pass by Mohamed Salah, then Salah botched the rebound, sidefooting wide from eight yards.
Liverpool made amends three minutes later. Andy Robertson ran through Nampalys Mendy down the left before crossing for Mané, who stabbed into the net from seven yards.
For the next 15 minutes Leicester looked helpless, unable to touch the ball as Liverpool circulated it with almost regal splendour. Test? This was a doddle.
But then Leicester got to grips with them. Alisson had to make a good save from Gray in the 22nd minute and for the next 20 minutes the deft interplay between Ghezzal, Demarai Gray and James Maddison flustered the visitors, while Ben Chilwell made regular incursions down the left. Now Liverpool lacked control in midfield and Klopp made vexed gestures from the sidelines. Those pre-match concerns were justified.
A goal on the stroke of half-time was what Liverpool needed – and Leicester were sickened by how easily they got it. After Schmeichel pushed a shot by Salah out for a corner, James Milner delivered an outswinging cross and Firmino did not even have to jump to meet it, giving Maddison the slip before guiding a downward header into the net. “We lost concentration,” said Claude Puel.
Leicester took the fight harder to Liverpool from the start of the second half. Gomez made a vital block from a shot by Maddison after the Leicester man had skipped past Van Dijk, who was booked soon afterwards for resorting to a trip to stop him.
Liverpool were struggling to get out of their half and the pressure ultimately triggered an elementary mistake by their goalkeeper.
As Leicester continued to build menacingly in search of an equaliser, Klopp made a pair of changes, replacing Salah with Xherdan Shaqiri and restoring Keïta to midfield in place of Henderson. The Guinean had been missed and soon helped to steady Liverpool.
They held on to their lead but left knowing they must improve to be top of the table at the end of the season.
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