Leicester 2 Okazaki 65’, Slimani 78’
Stop me if you’ve heart this one before, but Liverpool dominate the ball and create opportunities, but fail to take them and are eventually punished at the other end following some tragilarious set piece defending.
A whole host of changes on both sides ensured that Liverpool’s first entry into the EFL Cup ended up a clash of the second-stringers. Danny Ward became the third goalkeeper to start for the Reds this season, protected by Jon Flanagan, Joe Gomez, Ragner Klavan and Andrew Robertson. Marko Grujic, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke all got their first starts of the season, and Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Philippe Coutinho rounded out the XI.
It all started well for the Reds, and they nearly scored twice within the opening five minutes. First, the counter press allowed Coutinho to slide the ball into the path of a willing Robertson, whose cutback found Oxlade-Chamberlain at the far post, but the new-boy’s finish was blocked for a corner. On the following set piece, Solanke muscled Ben Chilwell off the ball, but his strike from a narrow angle crept past the opposite post.
On ten minutes, some vintage Coutinho footwork saw the Brazilian create space in the box, but his near shot strike was saved by Ben Hamer. The same man saw another effort collected by the Leicester goalkeeper minutes later, this time from long range after a neat one-two with Solanke.
The visitors were playing fun, expansive football, but the lack of an attacking option on the right saw them become slightly predictable, and an inability to overload the box when the ball arrived meant that the final pass more often than not failed to find a team mate in space.
Halfway through the first frame, Robertson went close on two occasions, first finding Solanke at the far post, only for the 20-year old to slice it over the bar, then finishing a break by hooking a shot from a narrow angle across the box and off a Leicester defender, somehow not earning a corner.
The chances slowly dried up as the half wore on, but in injury time, Solanke went close. A dribble gone wrong saw Coutinho with the ball at his feet 18 yards out, and the Brazilian’s improvised chip found the Englishman one on one with the goalkeeper. His touch deserted the England man, however, and the ball sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Jürgen Klopp replaced Coutinho with Ben Woodburn at the interval, and Liverpool immediately looked less threatening, failing to create anything of note in the opening minutes. Marko Grujic twice slid in late — earning a well-deserved booking for the second challenge — sandwiching a long-range effort from Demari Gray.
As they’re wont to do, the Reds gave up a seemingly avoidable goal on a set piece. An inswinging corner was well cleared, but as the ball was launched back in, Joe Gomez — who had put in an outstanding shift up until that point — fell behind his backline, playing Vicente Iborra onside. The Spaniard headed the ball down for substitute Shinji Okazaki — who had replaced a concussed Leonardo Ulloa — and the Japanese international struck a deflected effort off Andrew Robertson and past Danny Ward.
The Reds redoubled their efforts to quickly snatch an equalizer, but Woodburn’s curling effort sailed narrowly over the bar, before substitute Danny Ings — in his first appearance for the club in 11 months — attempted to dink an improvised header past the goalkeeper, only to see it collected by Hamer.
The visitors never looked likely to gain control of the game again, however, and twelve minutes from time, they stumbled after a set piece yet again. This time, a throw-in at the halfway line sailed over the head of a mistiming Robertson, before a one-two with Okazaki allowed substitute Islam Slimani run at the backline. Nobody offered a serious challenge, and the Algerian hammered a strike into the far top corner.
Leicester nearly made it three on the break a few minutes later, but Ward was able to palm Gray’s strike past his far post.
The home side calmly saw out the remainder of the game without much trouble, and Liverpool can scratch at least a couple dates off their fixture list.
It’s hard to get too worked up about this result, but that is only down to the fact that we super don’t care about the League Cup until games start taking place at Wembley. It was a worryingly Liverpool performance, however, hitting all the regular beats; dominate the ball, create chances, fail to take them, look like it won’t matter because damn we’re good, fall apart on a set piece, sob sob drink drink.
It also takes the Reds’ winless streak up to four in a row, failing to record a win since the last international break, while demonstrating that fears about the depth of the squad are well-founded. Jon Flanagan looked in no way like a Premier League player, and Oxlade-Chamberlain continued to miss the requisite calm in crucial moments. Ragnar Klavan — for all his assumed veteran savvy — does not provide a calming presence at the back, and Andrew Robertson made his first significant error in a red shirt. Danny Ward managed the dubious honour of being the third Liverpool goalkeeper in three consecutive games to concede the first shot on target, which is more about the defensive structure of the team than it is the goalkeepers, but that is a damning statistic nonetheless.
On the positive side, Joe Gomez looked outstanding all match, offside brain fart notwithstanding, Danny Ings is back baby! Coutinho continues his path towards match fitness, Ben Woodburn looks like he might just be the business in the end, and seriously nobody cares a jot about the Carabao Cup.
We’ll need to see something completely different when Liverpool return to the King Power stadium on Saturday, however, and a win feels like the only acceptable tonic at this point.