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Leicester City 1, Liverpool 3: A Frustrating Victory but Momentum Building

Liverpool struggled in large parts against a determined Leicester City side but continued to improve after a disastrous November to win a game that may not have been won a few weeks ago.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Leicester City 1: Mignolet (O.G) 22',
Liverpool 3: Lallana 26', Gerrard 54', Henderson 83'

Before the match, much discussion was centred around what Brendan Rodgers was going to do before the game. Captain Steven Gerrard was rested in the victory against Stoke, senior players in Lucas Leiva, Kolo Touré, and Rickie Lambert who all started Liverpool's last two games, and virtually all of Liverpool's summer signings have been sidelined in times of need.

Steven Gerrard was restored to the line-up after being dropped/rested/disrespected/ignored in the victory against Stoke City a few days ago. Adam Lallana and Javier Manquillo were also brought back for the trip to the Premier League's bottom side. Joe Allen and Philippe Coutinho dropped to the bench as Curiously, Alberto Moreno continues to start on the bench and Fabio Borini's matchday exile continued. José Enrique didn't even feature in the squad, but Rodgers counted on the continued presence of Lucas, Touré, and Lambert to provide Liverpool with a needed away win.

In the opening quarter of the hour, Liverpool and Leicester traded counter attacks and while Liverpool may have enjoyed a far greater share of the ball early in the game,they looked to exploit opportunities on the flanks primarily through Raheem Sterling on the left. The youngster was heavily involved throughout and constantly found space in wide areas with an eagerness to take on anyone in one-on-ones. Adam Lallana was also a prominent figure in Liverpool's build-up play on the right and would cleverly come inside to help Liverpool with possession in the centre of the pitch. The two wide players in a 4231 formation used by Rodgers would prove to be key players in Liverpool's attack and eventual victory.

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Early on the formation seemed to be a good fit for the players on the field with Gerrard operating as an attacking midfielder behind Lambert with the two "technicians" in the wider positions. Lucas and Henderson operated in a double pivot with the vice-captain more advanced of the two. The passing was crisp, Liverpool looked decently organised, and the attacking movement looked better than it had been for many weeks. Still, Liverpool went behind to a promoted side that had already taken points off Everton, Manchester United, and Arsenal at home earlier in the season.

Mignolet's mistake nearly gifted Leicester with a lead after a misplaced pass gifted Esteban Cambiasso with a wide open goal to hit from distance but was relieved that the ball rolled wide to the right of his goal. Maddeningly, the goalkeeper was under no serious pressure to make such an error. Liverpool replied with an attack down the left, but Glen Johnson was dispossessed quite easily a long way from his defensive position. The space on the Liverpool's left  offered Riyad Mahrez a chance to pick out Jamie Vardy whose shot was saved by a scrambling Mignolet but the ball still needed to be cleared off the line by Skrtel, the ball came out to Leandro Ulloa who struck the post with a fierce shot at Mignolet's near post area, and the ball bounced off Mignolet's back into the back of the net. It was strange how Leicester seemed immediately more confident after Mignolet's distribution error.

Liverpool equalised soon after through the skilful Adam Lallana crisp left-footed half volley brought Liverpool level just a few minutes later. A speculative ball into the area towards Rickie Lambert from Lucas Leiva was rushed onto by Adam Lallana who showed anticipation, hunger, composure, and technique to send the ball past Kasper Schmeichel. Both sides traded middling counter-attacking opportunities for the rest of a scrappy first half. Sterling's runs late in the half could have brought Liverpool level but he veered to the left when one-on-one with a defender instead of going right where a small opening was cut off as players returned to outnumber the youngster.

Leicester City started the second half strongly but Liverpool took the lead through Steven Gerrard after he arrived in the box to take advantage of opposition captain Wes Morgan's desperate poked clearance after good work from Raheem Sterling. The Leicester City captain was sent off on 63 minutes, 9 minutes after Liverpool took the lead, after he brought down Rickie Lambert. It was a professional foul and Lee Mason finally made a sensible decision after a clear foul on a Liverpool player. A goal and a player up against a side propping up the rest of the league shouldn't bring panic but it did.

Nigel Pearson's side responded excellently and put pressure on Liverpool. Leandro Ulloa was dangerous and Liverpool lacked any sort of game intelligence or control of the game. The plan was clearly to profit on the counter attack with more spaces for Liverpool's players to exploit as Leicester pushed for a goal with fewer players on the field. The idea wasn't the problem but the execution. Liverpool dropped deeper, inviting Leicester to come forward without caution. While that meant that the home side's defensive line was higher for quicker attackers to break through, only Raheem Sterling had the pace to capitalise on such a strategy with Henderson stationed far deeper as Lucas' partner in midfield. Gerrard and Lambert didn't have the pace to break through, and when they did, they didn't have the pace or remain onside to take advantage of the situation. It did bring a red card and should have brought a penalty for the away side, so there was some merit in the strategy.

Liverpool's biggest problem in the game was the nervous handling of pressure from opponents when they increase the tempo or frequency of their attacks. Liverpool look insecure, disorganised, and unable to respond effectively to repel or neutralise attacks. This has been a problem for Liverpool throughout the season as players with pace, even average ones, make Martin Skrtel far more uncomfortable than he should be as a so-called top defender. His lack of composure in and out of possession doesn't help his colleagues. Simon Mignolet has a mistake in him and when the ball is tossed into Liverpool's box, the Belgian number two is not always sure when to stick or twist. Liverpool's fullbacks often open up counter attacking opportunities and have routinely struggled in defensive positioning even when performing well. Furthermore, the manager is often too slow to make in-game changes to respond to the flow of the game.

Leicester City shouldn't be overwhelming Liverpool in the circumstances presented after Wes Morgan was sent off but were beaten after Jordan Henderson, one the game's quieter players, finished confidently after Sterling's backheeled assist with seven minutes of normal time remaining. With another six minutes of added-on time, the home side showed courage and didn't stop trying to reduce the deficit. Liverpool could and should have scored a third before Henderson's goal as Lee Mason's decision-making served to keep Gerrard earning a chance to score his second from the penalty spot.

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Kolo Toure, Rickie Lambert, and Lucas Leiva are unlikely starters for Liverpool after two victories in a short space of time in the Premier League. They've started the last three games for Liverpool and have been part of an improvement in results. Mamadou Sakho and Mario Balotelli will probably return to the bench while Daniel Sturridge will surely return to the starting line-up. It seems that Liverpool are finally winning games with just a single striker in attack and could continue in that vein with Balotelli's return. Considering that Fabio Borini's absence from competitive football deprives Rodgers of a forward to rotate with Rickie Lambert, Balotelli's return will be welcomed by the manager.

There was no support on the counter as Lambert and Gerrard both do not have the speed to assist quick attacks. It's not a problem to have a slow front man or a slow number ten, but it is when both are deployed together it can be difficult to support quick players like Sterling. Lallana is not the quickest either and Henderson is deeper in midfield so Sterling was isolated in attack sometimes, even if his decision-making was erratic throughout the game. Lucas Leiva's introduction as a regular has been the key change in Liverpool's improvement and Gerrard remains a very good finisher. There are options for Liverpool further forward in attacking midfield positions when Gerrard should be rested, but what about support for Lucas? His involvement seems to be essential in each game now and it is something that Liverpool should look at in January or groom Emre Can for the role as potential partner and understudy.

Liverpool scored at least three goals for only the third time this season in all competitions and will entertain Leicester City to start next month. Until then, Liverpool have seven games where the improvements seen in recent games must continue along with addressing Liverpool's control of games. Liverpool needed to win, looked dangerous in attack at time, and remained in touch with the teams ahead of them in the race for the top four. Even with the frustrating elements, Liverpool would gladly take another victory against Sunderland this weekend ahead of two crucial fixtures next week.

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