Leicester 3 Vardy 28', 61', Drinkwater 39'
Liverpool 1 Coutinho 68'
Individual errors and systemic issues again conspire to trip up Liverpool in their increasingly unlikely bid for Champions League football.
Injuries to Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson forced Jürgen Klopp to include Lucas Leiva and Emre Can in his starting XI on Monday night, to assist what would otherwise be considered the manager's strongest team. With how lazily the entirety of the Reds side began the match, these alterations likely made no difference. Leicester — having recently deposed their title-winning manager amid rumours of player mutiny — came sprinting out of the traps, immediately creating two chances from throw-ins, first through a Robert Huth header, then a minute through Okazaki getting a touch on a Jamie Vardy volley. Simon Mignolet was equal to both efforts, but the signs were instantly ominous.
After ten minutes the Reds produced their first — and perhaps best — bit of play, as a one-touch set up between Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana saw the former slice a cross into the box, but Wes Morgan slid in in front of Joël Matip to deny the chance. The game was all arses and elbows, with little in the way of quality football, and the visitors failing to match the Foxes for intensity. Vardy raced clear after a goal kick was allowed to bounce in midfield, and while Mignolet again produced a save, it seemed only a matter of time before Liverpool's failure to account for Leicester's game plan would be punished.
That punishment arrived before the half-hour mark, as the Reds pushed their entire team over to the sideline to press a throw-in, and as Georginio Wijnaldum let a loose ball run onto an unmarked Mark Albrighton in midfield, the Englishman could pick a throughball for his compatriot Vardy. Neither Lucas or Matip had the pace to deal with the 24-goal man of last season, and Vardy slotted home alone with Mignolet.
A minute later, Philippe Coutinho was presented with an opportunity from close range, but was unable to slide the ball under an onrushing Kasper Schmeichel. The Reds looked unlikely to create an opening, and when Daniel Drinkwater hammered home a volley from 30 yards following a set piece, not an eye was batted. Can went somewhat close with a 25-yard effort in injury time, but Schmeichel did enough to keep the shot out despite it taking an awkward bounce in front of him.
There was more intent from Klopp's charges in the second half, but it would still take ten minutes before they put a shot on target, courtesy of Coutinho, and easily saved. Mané found himself one on one with Huth minutes later, but could only force a corner, and on the inevitable counter attack that followed that corner, Leicester went three up. Lallana sold out to Christian Fuchs' feigned cross with a jumping block effort, and the Austrian could take his time to pick out Vardy, who had snuck in front of Can to head home easily.
Lallana had a left-footed effort punched wide five minutes later, and Coutinho pegged one back on 67 minutes after some terrific attacking play by Can as Leicester's play straddled the fence between confident and arrogant, but despite Lucas going close with header in the dying minutes, a comeback never seemed likely. A Nathaniel Clyne rabona to a Coutinho volley could've produced some sexy, but even that pleasure we were denied, and the reigning champions cruised to a comfortable 3-1 win.
All the old problems were there all night, and Jürgen Klopp — and/or his backroom staff — must take criticism for failing to deal with Leicester's shopworn gameplan. Certainly, the Foxes showed more fight than they have previously this season, but the Reds were willing victims, coming up short on seemingly every second ball or 50/50 duel. The first goal was the result of a systemic issue, as the visitors completely laid themselves bare to press a throw-in, while the third followed failure to block a cross yet again. Defensive set-pieces remain a clown show, and the lack of rhythm, precision, penetration and concurrent movement on offense continues to be a frustrating watch.
Individuals must improve their application, while tactical adjustments need to be made on both sides of the ball if the Reds are to have any chance of rising up out of their current quagmire. Luckily, fourth place Arsenal are coming up, giving the Reds a chance to play a non-physical side willing to play to Liverpool's strengths. Surely, this comment won’t come back to haunt us.