Tuesday 23 January 2018

Klopp's wasteful Reds run out of ideas

Leicester 2-0 Liverpool

Islam Slimani of Leicester City celebrates scoring his side's second goal during their League Cup third-round clash Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Islam Slimani of Leicester City celebrates scoring his side's second goal during their League Cup third-round clash Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

Jurgen Klopp will recognise the story but the question once again for the Liverpool manager is just how he now stops this narrative playing out week after week, that being a team that can dominate long periods of games but seems strangely incapable of winning them.

This was Klopp's team's fourth successive game without a victory, and while defeat in the League Cup third round is not the season's worst outcome for Liverpool it does pile on the questions about the manager's methods.

Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum avoids a tackle Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum avoids a tackle Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Leicester struggled to live with their visitors all first half and yet when finally Craig Shakespeare's team emerged from their shells in the second half they did so in a game which was theirs still to win.

The second-half introduction of Shinji Okazaki was transformative and he scored the first before Islam Slimani struck an outrageous second from the substitute's pass, without Leicester ever really being on top in the game.

There will be questions asked once again about Liverpool's defence although in this team with eight changes from the weekend's 1-1 draw with Burnley there was not the potency in attack either.

That 5-0 defeat to Manchester City has been followed by draws with Sevilla in the Champions League and then Burnley and now this cup defeat that precedes the two sides meeting again in the league on Saturday. Philippe Coutinho came off at half-time on this occasion while Shakespeare rested many of his big guns, including Jamie Vardy, in anticipation of the weekend.

Liverpool's Danny Ings heads clear Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Liverpool's Danny Ings heads clear Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

For Shakespeare it had been a night to bring on some of the new boys for their first time, debuts for the Spanish midfielder Vicente Iborra and the Austrian centre-half Aleksandar Dragovic who found themselves part of a Leicester team that looked more disjointed than ever in the first half.

Shakespeare had retained just four of the starting XI who drew with Huddersfield Town on Saturday and what he was left with was a side in the first half that seemed to drop ever deeper when faced with Liverpool's greedy dominance of possession. Daniel Amartey was moved to right-back where Liverpool found the door open and in the early stages of the game Andy Robertson was arguably their most effective attacker.

It was Robertson's cross to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that Ben Chilwell had to block, and it was Robertson's cross to Dominic Solanke that the 20-year-old just volleyed over. For Solanke this was his first start in senior English football, the centre-forward between Oxlade-Chamberlain and Philippe Coutinho, and he got another chance midway through the first half which was saved by goalkeeper Ben Hamer.

Liverpool could have overwhelmed the home team in those early stages but, as has been the case in their last two draws, in the Premier League and against Sevilla last Wednesday, there was a lack of cutting edge. Coutinho sent a free-kick drifting over and generally looked like he could beat any two of the Leicester back four at any time, but he was searching for that final telling act that would make it all count.

surgery

Only Coutinho, Ragnar Klavan and Robertson from the first XI on Saturday against Burnley started, and there was room for Danny Ings on the bench. The English striker has not played since October last year following the second major surgery on his knee, and has missed the majority of the two full seasons he has been at the club.

Not until the very late stages of the first half did Leicester manage to apply some pressure, the only surge forward from Demarai Gray who was out on the left side and - like Marc Albrighton on the other wing - isolated from the action for most of the first half. In place of the rested Vardy was Slimani, who would have left in the transfer window had there been a ready buyer, barely had a sight of goal.

When Leonardo Ulloa injured himself doing something at a Liverpool corner, Shakespeare called for Okazaki. The striker won a tackle within seconds and something seemed to click in Leicester. If their opponents had gone this long without managing to score then perhaps it was worth them trying.

The first goal was a series of missed opportunities for Liverpool to clear the danger. Even after Wes Morgan and Iborra had won headers from Ben Chilwell's ball in after a corner was cleared, Robertson might have blocked Okazaki's cross. Instead, he succeeded only in deflecting it past the second-choice goalkeeper Danny Ward and a familiar sense of dread set in among the away side.

Shakespeare had been planning substitutions at that point but decided to stick. Klopp had to make some of his own and sent Ings on for his first game-time in 11 months to play centre-forward with Woodburn and Solanke either side of him.

But once again Liverpool were chasing a game they should have led and more pain was coming.

Okazaki's part in Slimani's goal might have been eclipsed by the finish but the Japan international was the thrusting, decisive presence who made the opening. His run took him into the Liverpool half and then he picked out Slimani who switched the ball from right foot to left and struck the shot of his life, curling in a perfect arc beyond the fingertips of Ward.

There was even time for Shakespeare to finally grant a senior debut to Hamza Choudhury, 19, a local boy from Loughborough, who stepped into holding midfield by which time Liverpool had run short of ideas.

Telegraph.co.uk

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