Where do I even start after that?
After 80 minutes, I was thinking of the positive comments I was about to write on here. Instead, I am once again feeling a sense of déjà vu, as a combination of VAR and defensive sloppiness have cost Liverpool all three points.
At this point I would love to say I am surprised, but the truth is that I half expected something like this to happen again. As much as the Reds took the lead, the game followed a similar pattern to that of recent games, which is why when Liverpool self-combusted in the final stages I had to laugh about the fact that I foresaw this happening, otherwise I would have cried.
With injuries to Fabinho and Ben Davies during the week, and to James Milner after just 15 minutes, the injury room at the AXA Training Centre is now overflowing. With players suffering knocks and strains at an alarming rate, this has derailed the Reds defence of the title in such a destructive fashion. After this result, even a top four finish is looking unlikely for Klopp’s side, such is the dire run of form they have been on since Christmas.
The importance of Tuesday night’s game against RB Leipzig has risen to all new levels after this result. It isn’t just a “get a result game” anymore, it is paramount that the Reds go to Hungary – moved to Puskas Arena due to COVID security in Germany – and win to give them the upper hand in the tie and regain some sort of confidence in the team.
Returning to matters at the King Power, generally the Reds played pretty well, with the defence and midfield playing key roles in establishing a dominant foundation, that Leicester struggled with until the last ten minutes of the game. Liverpool where terrific until they reached the final third, but the same old storyline of the last two months quickly developed, as Klopp’s side really struggled to convert any chances, as the front three continued to misfire.
Into the second half, the visitors pushed forward seeking that vital breakthrough but wasted valuable chance after chance to give them the edge, until just after the hour mark. With Roberto Firmino finding some space, he produced a majestic piece of skill to find a free Salah at the edge of the area. The Egyptian was clinical, ruthlessly finishing beyond the full-length dive of Kasper Schmeichel. This was nothing short of what the Reds deserved.
With Leicester struggling to produce anything of note, all Liverpool had to do was to manage the game and see it out. It seemed easy enough, but this side don’t work like that, especially with VAR now a prominent feature in football.
After Harvey Barnes had wrongly been adjudged to have been fouled by Thiago, James Maddinson proceeded to whip the ball into the bottom corner from the free kick to give Rodgers’ side some short-lived joy, as the goal was swiftly ruled out by the linesman’s flag. With everything nowadays checked by VAR, this decision looked like a straight forward one for the VAR official, with Daniel Amartey clearly offside. What followed was embarrassing and why the call for VAR removal grows ever stronger.
After drawing the lines, it became apparent that the official had marked them wrong, yet he continued and wrongly advised Anthony Taylor to award the goal. With many bemused by the decision, this was the catalyst to a nightmare seven minutes for Klopp’s side, who self-destructed two minutes later.
With the ball played over the top, a massive piece of miscommunication between new signing Ozan Kabak and Allison saw the players take each other out, awarding Jamie Vardy the ball to easily run into the empty net and give the Foxes the lead. It was the last thing the Reds needed after the painfully inadequate VAR decision and Alisson’s recent blunders from the week before.
With Liverpool pushing for the winner, space developed amongst the Reds backline and Harvey Barnes took full advantage, as he sprung beyond the Turkish international Kabak before firing beyond Alisson to end another miserable game for the Merseysiders.
It is the same story every week. Jürgen Klopp’s tactics were once again correct and developed to perfection, but a mixture of his sides inadequate game management and the official’s decision making, let him down. All his hard work during the week had been ripped up and tossed away in the space of seven minutes, after battling so long for the lead.
Like I touched upon earlier, Champions League football can be the saviour of Liverpool’s season, but they have to be so much better in every department. There is hope that this side can re-establish some sort of form, most notably what they were producing prior to Christmas. If they don’t, the Reds season could be over within the next three weeks.
Klopp made two changes from the side defeated at Anfield by Manchester City. Fabinho suffered another injury during the week so dropped out, with new signing Ozan Kabak making his debut. Whilst James Milner came in to firm up the midfield as Thiago dropped to the bench.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Jordan HendersonEmbed from Getty Images
Whilst we massively miss his presence in midfield, he is the only one holding things together at the back. With everything crashing around him, he stays composed and continues to try and rally his side despite the clear lack of confidence.
His defensive ability continues to improve every week and when he does eventually move back into midfield, he will be better for it. His reading of the game was brilliant before his much-needed adaptation to the defence, but now it is exceptional as his continues to outduel players who are quicker and taller than himself. In particular he was excellent up against Jamie Vardy who was a non-factor until his goal, as Henderson bullied the Foxes number nine all over the pitch.
His diagonal balls where a thing of beauty. He played several stunning long range passes towards the front three, which frustratingly none were able to take advantage of. In particular his 50-yard pass to put Salah clean through on goal after ten minutes was spectacular.
Despite the Reds poor form, Henderson continues to lead by example. He is paramount to the Reds turning there results around, with his reintroduction to Liverpool’s midfield desperately needed. However, with Davies now injured, an extended stay at centre-back looks likely until his return or Phillips can be trusted to play with Kabak.
Alisson & Ozan KabakEmbed from Getty Images
Both actually had very good games and were both in line for places within my winner’s column until the last ten minutes. Alisson looked back to his best with several eye-catching saves and some brilliant distribution, whilst Kabak on his debut looked imperious and composed in every situation, as he slotted perfectly into Klopp’s and Liverpool’s playing style. This makes what the pair did all that more confusing.
After the wretched VAR call moments earlier, the Liverpool players were clearly disgusted by the decision, their minds elsewhere rather than the there and then. This told, as Alisson and Kabak handed the Foxes what would eventually be the three points, with their horrendous mix up.
Both were at fault for the goal and neither should be singled out for the error as at the end of the day it’s a team game. Win as a team and lose as one. However, Alisson should not be going anywhere near that ball. The ball was so far beyond his area it shouldn’t come into his thought process to go anywhere near it. On the other hand, Kabak had an early, loud and clear shout from the Brazilian and should have got himself out of the way for the Reds goalkeeper to clear. Instead, neither happened, with a colossal clash instead materialising 25 yards out.
The size of the mistake will be blown out of proportion by the fact that Liverpool are defending Premier League champions, Alisson is the best keeper in the world, Kabak is a new signing and the Reds are going through a horrendous patch of form. Fans need to look at the bigger picture. Yes, this won’t help, but the pair were playing there first game together in a season unlike anything we have previously experienced.
We can hope that both pick there heads up and knuckle down ready for a season defining game against RB Leipzig, as they try to right some of the wrongs within this game. If both produce what they showed in the first 80 minutes, I have no doubt the Reds will walk away in a strong position for the second leg.
Sadio ManéEmbed from Getty Images
The Reds front three are in a poor run of form that is clear for all to see. Mané in particular has really struggled as he continues his disjointed spell with only a handful of goals, whilst his assists have dried up and his defending has been well below par.
As a forward, goals and assists are the main statistics that his performances are measured by, but as most Liverpool fans have come to understand, if you put in the effort elsewhere – like defensively – the lack of penetration at the top of the pitch will be overlooked. This is very relatable as Firmino was at this point earlier in the season, with his defensive work appreciated by his team and fans. With Mané – during the game against Leicester – he even lacked that defensive discipline.
At the top of the end of the pitch, he failed to get anything going, as he continuously lost possession and struggled to manufacture any chances for himself or his fellow teammates after the third minute. This was pretty hard to watch as Robertson was actually more of a danger down the left than he was.
His frustrated figure once the final whistle blew spoke a thousand words. He knows that he is not performing to the levels that he and the club currently expect and this is affecting the team quite considerably.
This was another off day for the Senegal international which is starting to worry some Liverpool fans. His form this season, compared to every other season he has played at Anfield, has been extremely poor. However, with the return of European football just around the corner, this could give 28-year-old the perfect platform to bounce back. A major performance in Europe’s premier club cup competition could provide the catalyst for him to return to his deadly best, and reinvigorate the Reds strike force for the remainder of the season.
VAREmbed from Getty Images
We are once again talking about the system that is ruining the game that we know and love. To be transparent, the VAR system itself isn’t the problem, it is the people using it and the incompetence that they continue to show on a weekly basis.
It has been well documented that Liverpool are one of the worst affected sides in the league when it comes to these decisions and clearly this doesn’t help when writing this segment. However, taking away bias, if the decision had gone against Leicester in this game, I would still be talking about it in this column, as another game falls victim. It continues to spoil games and I can see why managers are consistently pulling their hair out.
Many players, managers and fans have actively displayed their displeasure through interviews, online and through Match of the Day, showing people within the game no longer want it.
What summed up the lack of joy in VAR was the description by Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti on why he didn’t celebrate his sides FA Cup winner against Tottenham. The fact he thought that VAR would find a way of ruling it out speaks volumes.
It is only fair that it remains for the rest of the season, but at the conclusion of the campaign it will give the Premier League and the leagues lawmakers the opportunity to remove it from the game. Personally, it is removing my enjoyment, to a point that I am debating stopping watching football altogether. Hopefully, they can see sense and make the right decision.
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