Leicester’s Harry Maguire slows Liverpool’s Premier League title charge

Liverpool 1-1 Leicester: The reds extended their lead at the top of the table to five points but it might have been more

Miguel Delaney
Wednesday 30 January 2019 22:56

The bald facts are that Liverpool have extended their lead at the top of the table by a point, but the wider emotions around Anfield didn’t reflect that. The muted reception at the full-time whistle said as much.

That was because this frustrating 1-1 draw with Leicester City gave Manchester City the slightest of reprieves after Tuesday’s shock 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United, and inherent to the night was the worry over whether that might prove costly in the long run.

Jurgen Klopp’s side ultimately failed to put the hammer down and streak away by punishing City and Leicester, as for the first time this season they failed to beat a side outside the top six.

There were times – like with two missed Leicester sitters – when it could have been worse, but Liverpool also had two big decisions go against them. And there’s another side to that stat, too. The reality is that run against the 'other 14' was never going to be sustainable, and a drop like this always going to come at some point.

The true test of their title credentials will now be how they respond to this. The most galling part of this game was how they didn’t respond well to their own fine start. Sure, goalscorer Harry Maguire might have been fortunate to even be on the pitch by the moment of his strike, but these are the kind of moments champions have to adapt to and react to, and why the league is such a measure of resilience. It couldn't be said Leicester didn't deserve the draw, either. Just like City on Tuesday, Liverpool led ludicrously early and ludicrously easily, only to thereafter find this one of the hardest games they’ll play.

This became a real battle, even if didn’t feel like it would be at 19 minutes, let alone two.

Liverpool couldn’t have had much of a better start, and that wasn’t just in the fact they went ahead but the manner of it. Maybe Sadio Mane’s finish might have been spectacular, but it would be hard to quibble with something so precise after a 30-pass move. Immediately preceding it was also the flourish of a Roberto Firmino step-over. While that was so enticingly intentional from the forward, the fact Leicester hadn’t touched it by then was not, and they didn’t get much of it for the next 20 minutes either.

Liverpool initially followed with a brilliant siege, but they didn’t follow it with another goal. And that was when Leicester’s lack of the ball began to become an advantage for them. Because, although the game had settled, Liverpool had not. It was as if the inability to get that second goal began to get to them, and so did any Leicester attacks.

Sadio Mane put Liverpool in front

While Claude Puel’s side were not exactly pounding down Alisson’s goal, Liverpool looked oddly nervy with every foray forward.

That led to an atrocious miss from James Maddison, and also the fact that the eventual Leicester goal was not that much of a surprise. It was a consequence of the curious sloppiness at the core of the Liverpool backline, as Harry Maguire was left free to mishit a free-kick in.

Klopp might argue it was partly down to the sloppiness of referee Martin Atkinson, too, as Maguire had only minutes beforehand caught Mohamed Salah.

Minutes after half-time, then, Liverpool should have had a penalty when Ricardo Pereira took Naby Keita’s legs from under him just as he was about to shoot.

Harry Maguire drew Leicester level

Liverpool could legitimately feel aggrieved about that, but just as relevant an issue was that this wasn’t the only time Keita went over, and those falls rarely came from fouls. For a player previously so sturdy, he again looked somewhat fragile here, but that was almost a reflection of the entire team for a lot of this game.

Liverpool did struggle with how willing Leicester were to give them possession, partly because of how willing they also were to suddenly burst on the break.

Jamie Vardy and Pereira almost caught them again in the second half.

So, was it going to be one of those nights? Or one of those classic title-challenge late goals?

The tension of the last 15 minutes was only infused by how tenacious Leicester were now defending, how anxious Liverpool now looked in attacks. They were fast, but not in the right way. They were here rushed, whereas in similar situations in recent games they have been rampant.

That could be summed up by efforts like Andy Robertson’s speculative long-range volley, but the way they were playing meant something like that was going to be required.

It didn’t come.

It ended up being one of those nights.

The true test for Liverpool now is making sure it play a part in finally preventing this being that season.

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