Liverpool: Second Half Salah Double Defeats Foxes
Reds come-from-behind to defeat Leicester City 2-1 at Anfield...
New £75million defensive acquisition Virgil van Dijk was an interested onlooker on Saturday afternoon as Liverpool ended 2017 with their unbeaten record at Anfield this season still very much intact.
For a spell it had looked in doubt though, despite the hosts bossing the majority of an entertaining encounter, after their nemesis Jamie Vardy had given Leicester City a 3rd minute lead following slack play from Joël Matip.
The goal was the England forward's seventh against Liverpool in less than two years and with Foxes boss Claude Puel possessing a six-match unbeaten record against Liverpool, including keeping four clean sheets in four meetings when in charge of Southampton last term, the omens didn't look good.
Such sentiments were reinforced throughout the first half when top scorer Mohamed Salah missed three decent chances, visiting keeper Kasper Schmeichel twice thwarted Roberto Firmino and the excellent and omnipresent Harry Maguire continually denied the Merseysiders with key blocks and tackles.
But just as it looked like it might turn out to be another one of 'those days' when Jürgen Klopp's men failed to make their superiority count in the final reckoning, Salah atoned for his earlier misses seven minutes into the second half; collecting Sadio Mané's backheel, braking away from two tackles and finishing low into the middle of the goal.
By now Liverpool were winning every tackle and beating the visitors to every loose ball as they dominated proceedings and threatened with every attack.
For a second time in the contest Mané rightly had a goal chalked-off for off-side shortly after the hour mark before Leicester responded with a strong spell of their own, which included a fierce first-time shot across goal from Wilfred Ndidi that was only fractionally wide of the far post.
Further goals looked inevitable and deservedly it was the hosts who, moments after Schmeichel had done well to parry away a Philippe Coutinho effort, completed their comeback in the 76th minute via the brilliant Salah.
The Egyptian's 17th Premier League goal of a remarkable debut season was another well-taken affair as he span away from Maguire, showed good strength to hold the defender off and then finished at the near post.
The strike means Salah has now been directly involved in 22 goals in 21 league appearances since his summer move from Roma (five assists).
There were some nervy moments in the remaining minutes as Puel's side inevitably went on the attack with the physical presence of Islam Slimani introduced from the bench and the delivery of left-back Christian Fuchs, both from open play and via long-throws, repeatedly causing the men in red problems.
Liverpool, who reacted by introducing Ragnar Klavan for Coutinho and switching to a five-man backline, managed to successfully see the game out however to welcome in the New Year on a high.
Speaking after the final whistle at his post-match press conference, Klopp lauded the performance of his players and in particular their reaction to the early setback.
"You don't want to be 1-0 down," analysed the German. "But if you are 1-0 down that early in the game you want to see the reaction I saw tonight - it was the best reaction we showed so far after being 1-0 down. It was fantastic.
"I didn't see one nervous player or any real reaction in a negative way. We kept on going and created and created and created, and played brilliant football.
"Defensively we were really strong. The main strength of Leicester is counter-attacking and quick transitions. If you are 1-0 down it plays into their hands and makes it more difficult. But we did really well. I liked the first half a lot apart from the result, to be honest.
"Everybody in the stadium reacted in the right way, everybody saw, 'wow, what a game!' It was 100 per cent one of the best we have played so far. We knew at half-time we had to carry on; there were not a lot of judgments that we had to change this or that.
"We had to do it again and again and again, and keep our nerves - that's the most important thing. Of course you get a little bit annoyed after missing the third or fourth chance. But they will come again. As long as we don't concede, we always have the chance to score.
"That's what we did - fantastic goals, two fantastic goals. They felt so good and felt so fair in this moment and deserved. So I'm really happy about it."
The victory ensures Liverpool remain fourth and, courtesy of Manchester United dropping points at home to Southampton, the gap to third is now down to just three points.
Like the majority of teams at this stage of the season, the Reds face a quick turnaround ahead of their next game which is at Burnley on New Year's Day.
So that's what both us and Klopp thought about the game, how about you? Let us know your views below...
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