Monday 19 February 2018

Mignolet saves best for last as Reds prevail

Leicester City 2-3 Liverpool

Liverpool's Simon Mignolet saves Jamie Vardy's penalty. Photo: Getty
Liverpool's Simon Mignolet saves Jamie Vardy's penalty. Photo: Getty

Paul Doyle

This was Liverpool at their breathtaking best and their thigh-slapping worst. Jürgen Klopp's side scored three brilliant goals but still needed Simon Mignolet to save a late penalty from Jamie Vardy to ensure the win.

Mignolet had given away the penalty himself and bore part of the blame for earlier goals by Vardy and Shinji Okazaki. But Jordan Henderson's goal ultimately proved decisive, the midfielder adding to the strikes by Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho and Henderson that gave Liverpool an advantage in the first half.

It would be an exaggeration to claim the German came into this game with many Liverpool supporters calling for his head, but it is true that a lot were questioning what goes through it. In particular, the failure to shore up a persistently leaky defence remained a vexing puzzle.

Four days after losing here to extend their winless streak in all competitions to four matches, Liverpool returned with a very different lineup to face a modified Leicester, each manager having selected only four of their midweek starters. Klopp said after that defeat that he, too, was sick of conceding preventable goals so he would have been well advised to pack anti-nausea tablets this time even though he was able to deploy his preferred centre-backs.

Having regained physical fitness in time to start, Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip needed to show evidence of their ability to marshall Liverpool's defence. The Croat, in particular, has a growing band of sceptics whom he could do with silencing. He also needed to subdue Vardy, who shook off a knock to return to Leicester's starting lineup alongside Okazaki, whose introduction at half-time on Tuesday changed the course of that contest.

Liverpool found their attacking groove early on. Coutinho and Salah, both thrumming dangerously, combined slickly to create the first chance, although Emre Can still had plenty to do. The German almost did it perfectly but his low drive from 25 yards bounced off the base of a post. Salah swatted the rebound wide from close range but turned out to be offside.

Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celebrates victory after the match. Photo: Getty
Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celebrates victory after the match. Photo: Getty

Salah was sharper three minutes later when he opened the scoring. The Egyptian sneaked behind Ben Chilwell to meet a lovely cross by Coutinho and send a powerful header into the net from an acute angle. Kasper Schmeichel seemed to be taken by surprise.

The same could be said of Mignolet moments later when the Belgian goalkeeper, as too often, was caught dozing. As he took his sweet time to kick clear outside his area, Vardy darted in to dispossess him. The ball squirted out to Okazaki, whose attempt to fire into the net from 25 yards was deflected wide.

As if reminded that they would probably need to score more than one to win, Liverpool hurtled quickly down the other end. When Alberto Moreno was tripped outside the area, Coutinho stepped up and curled a sumptuous free-kick into the net. On his second Premier League start of the season the Brazilian was showing why Barcelona covet him and Liverpool cherish him.

Liverpool switched to the tactic that Leicester had started with, inviting the opposition forward in the hope of striking at them on the counterattack. But the visitors were reprieved five minutes before half-time when Okazaki had a goal correctly ruled out for offside.

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool puts pressure on Ben Chilwell of Leicester City. Photo: Getty
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool puts pressure on Ben Chilwell of Leicester City. Photo: Getty

Before the break Leicester did score and it was Liverpool who complained of injustice. First Matip was booked when Vardy fell to the ground, then Mahrez swung over a corner that Mignolet missed under pressure from Okazaki. Gomez, jostled by Harry Maguire, was unable to prevent Okazaki's header from bouncing off him and into the net. Liverpool were leading at the break but could not relax.

There are managers who in such situations would shut the game down game to complete a 2-1 away win. Klopp is no such manager. He, with these players, can tweak his approach but really has only one setting - frenetic.

So the spectacle remained thrilling, the outcome unknowable. Leicester played their part. The clattering pace suited them, too. Matip blocked a shot by Vardy before, in the 68th minute, Liverpool broke fast to increase their lead. The substitute Daniel Sturridge unselfishly fed Henderson, who slotted past Schmeichel from the middle of the penalty area.

Still Liverpool were not safe. Leicester hit back one minute later, Mignolet parrying a shot by Demarai Gray into the path of Vardy, who accepted the invitation. Two minutes later the goalkeeper rushed off his line and clunked into Vardy. He atoned by saving the spot-kick.


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