Monday 19 February 2018

Benteke ends his barren run to halt Foxes' title surge

Liverpool 1-0 Leicester City

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp look on during the match. Photo: Reuters / Craig Brough
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp look on during the match. Photo: Reuters / Craig Brough
Liverpool's Christian Benteke clips a shot towards goal. Photo: Reuters / Craig Brough
Liverpool's Adam Lallana in action with Leicester City's N'Golo Kante. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Andy Hunter

Claudio Ranieri believes Leicester have produced a miracle regardless of what transpires this season but hoping to extend their Premier League lead without attacking Liverpool was taking it too far.

Christian Benteke emerged from the substitutes' bench to inflict only a second league defeat of the season on Ranieri's side as Jurgen Klopp's team recorded their first win in five matches.

Liverpool controlled the play as Leicester failed to score for the first time this season and suffered their first reverse in the Premier League since September 26, when they lost 5-2 at home to Arsenal.

Ranieri's men were strangely passive throughout, only rousing themselves for the dying stages, as the hosts reacted well to the lame defeat at Watford and displayed the defensive resilience that had gone awol in recent weeks.

The visitors' approach would not have surprised Klopp but that did not simplify the task confronting Liverpool. Leicester sat deep, absorbed almost constant pressure and struck with pace and aggression on the counterattack - as had been the case throughout their remarkable rise to the Premier League summit. They were content to let Liverpool dominate possession and, with Robert Huth reclaiming his place alongside Wes Morgan in central defence after serving a suspension against Everton last weekend, Kasper Schmeichel was rarely stretched despite the contest unfolding largely outside his penalty area.

The Leicester man was undoubtedly the busier goalkeeper in the first half, saving from Emre Can's long-range shot and Divock Origi's near-post effort after the young Belgium striker did well to shrug Morgan aside in the penalty area. Yet Simon Mignolet made the finest save before half-time when Riyad Mahrez exchanged passes with the live-wire N'Golo Kante and forced the Liverpool keeper to tip over a goal-bound drive from the edge of the penalty area.

The Leicester keeper also survived unscathed for more than an hour thanks to Liverpool's failure to hit the target when given time and space in front of goal. Philippe Coutinho curled two decent chances wide, the second a clear opportunity from Origi's cutback, and Adam Lallana found the side-netting when put through by Jordan Henderson's long pass, an option he appeared under instruction to take throughout. Injury to the impressive Origi did not help Liverpool's momentum either.

Klopp had spoken to Benteke about the faltering start to his Anfield career, and what was required to correct it, having dropped the £32.5m summer signing against Watford last weekend and introduced the inexperienced Origi ahead of him when Martin Skrtel limped off with a hamstring injury. The heart-to-heart did not result in a different approach against the league leaders. Origi was preferred once more and the 20-year-old's workrate and movement caused Leicester frequent problems on only his third Premier League start. He, too, succumbed to a hamstring problem shortly before the interval, however, but his misfortune offered a route back into favour for the Belgium international.

Benteke's hopes of improvement or establishing a rapport with his new team-mates have not been assisted by a run of only two consecutive starts since Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers as manager in October. But his physicality provided a fresh problem for Huth and Morgan. The first time Leicester's defence lost concentration amid the Liverpool pressure, they were punished ruthlessly. Roberto Firmino was again largely anonymous but, having combined with Can, floated an inviting cross towards the penalty spot where Benteke lurked completely unmarked. The substitute steered a fine half-volley into Schmeichel's bottom left corner at full stretch.

Only when behind did Leicester display the necessary intent. Mignolet saved from Nathan Dyer when the substitute connected with Christian Fuchs' cross towards the near post, Huth almost capitalised on Leonardo Ulloa's long throw into the six yard box and Andy King volleyed another Ulloa throw goalwards only for Can to deflect over.

At the opposite end Coutinho went close from distance and Henderson squandered a glorious opening when played through by Firmino. Leicester besieged the home penalty area in the final moments of the game only to find the fit-again Dejan Lovren in commanding form.

The visitors should have been punished a second time when, with Schmeichel sprinting up for a corner, Liverpool broke on an open goal through Firmino. The Brazilian released Benteke in front of a vacant net yet, incredibly, the striker hesitated long enough for Morgan to recover and block his weak shot on goal. Mercifully for the former Aston Villa man, he was confirmed as the match-winner seconds later.

At a glance

Tweet of the match: @GaryLineker "Huge shock on the cards at Anfield as Benteke gives Liverpool the lead against Leicester." Leicester's unbeaten run finally ends.

Star man: Jordan Henderson - Liverpool's captain was his usual bundle of energy and provided the driving force from a deeper midfield position than usual.

Moment of the match: Christian Benteke's first-time sidefoot shot from 12 yards to break the deadlock having endured a difficult time after coming off the bench in the first half.

View from the bench: Jurgen Klopp was less animated than usual and looked to have made the right call in selecting Divock Origi ahead of Benteke until injury curtailed the plan. Claudio Ranieri, possibly mindful of the impending visit of Manchester City, substituted both in-form players Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez while they were still looking for an equaliser.

Moan of the match: Linesman Stuart Burt got caught up in the added-time panic created by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel's decision to go upfield in search of an equaliser and failed to flag for offside when Christian Benteke countered despite there being only one Leicester player in their half.

Who's up next? Sunderland v Liverpool (Wednesday); Leicester v Manchester City (Tuesday).


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