The aura of invincibility around Jurgen Klopp’s champions dissipated a long time ago, but as they were demolished with three Leicester City goals in seven minutes it was possible to wonder what might be left if their injury-cursed decline continues on the recent trajectory.
An astonishing climax to a gripping match saw Brendan Rodgers inflict a defeat on his Anfield successor that places Liverpool’s ambitions of a top four finish in real doubt, and asks all sorts of questions about their state of mind. In that period of disintegration, Klopp turned to argue with the Leicester entourage in the stand behind him at an otherwise empty King Power, Jamie Vardy strummed a guitar-substitute corner flag in celebration and the close-ups on Liverpool faces were pure dejection.
This is five defeats in the last ten Premier League games for the reigning champions, and this latest the third in a row for a team that cannot find its confidence again. There were other earlier chances for Leicester and Vardy in particular that hinted at the storm brewing and they came from Liverpool problems that will not be simply fixed. They have already tried to do so in their defence, where the hex continues, alighting now upon the shoulders of their young January signing, debutant Ozan Kabak.
The 20-year-old has walked into a club in crisis and brought with him his own uncertainty to the chaos. It was his disastrous convergence with goalkeeper Alisson, hardly riding a wave of confidence himself, that presented an unmissable opportunity to Vardy, for Leicester’s second goal. Before the game Fabinho and then another new recruit in defence, Ben Davies had reported injuries. For Klopp’s defenders, either the body is unwilling or the mentality is shot, and the consequences have been significant.
Not just in his defence either but also worrying signs from the midfielder Thiago Alcantara, an early-replacement for the injured James Milner, whose form recently after a long Covid-19 lay-off, and injury problems, has pointed towards a performance like this. He had a lamentable afternoon, trying to do the things that once came easily to him but at half the pace that Wilfred Ndidi was closing him down. It was not much better for Georginio Wijnaldum and as the game entered its critical stages Leicester were sharper in the big moments
There were so many of those big moments although, the second goal and Kabak’s mistake felt like the biggest as Youri Tielemans’ long ball dropped in behind the Liverpool defender and he unwittingly scooped it away from Alisson. “One thing we knew before the game is that Ozan is a good player but we know he is not used to all the things we do,” Klopp said. “When you know Ali, you know he’s an offensive-minded [goalkeeper] and that he comes out of his goal. When you are new together these things [misunderstandings] usually happen in pre-season.”
It was Kabak’s mistake but one suspects that it will stick long in the memory of Alisson, who needed a good game for his own peace of mind. The speed at which Liverpool collapsed once the long Var wait to confirm Leicester’s equaliser on 78 minutes had completed was startling. For a few minutes it felt as if any kind of error was possible in this team, and Klopp’s players seemed to channel that uncertainty too.
As for Leicester, the opposite was the case: they seized the day. The combinations of that English front three of Vardy, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes, the game’s outstanding player, was ultimately too much for Liverpool’s fragile defence to handle. Brendan Rodgers would later say that the plan for his team in the event they were trailing in the latter stages was to switch a diamond midfield, and a front two of Barnes and Vardy, and the effect of that change was explosive.
They had created chances in the first half for Vardy including one sensational first time flick by Maddison to open up the pairing of Jordan Henderson and Kabak. Vardy struck that one against the bar. Even between the second and third Leicester goals, Alisson made a pair of fine saves from Barnes and Vardy. They came alive in the closing stages of the game once more and Liverpool could not live with them.
Asked to concede the title, Klopp reluctantly did so but when the post-match Zoom calls concluded it was notable that no-one had asked Rodgers the opposite: could his Leicester side win it? It can be hard to see beyond Manchester City in their current form and yet Leicester are staying the pace behind them The disappointment last year of missing out on a Champions League place has passed and Rodgers’ players have taken another step forward.
“There is no doubt the players are showing maturity and consistency,” Rodgers said. “I said last season that this group has big potential and needs time and consistency. Just missing out last year has helped And this year we are seeing them cope better. We lost players through injury but we have been able to cope and adapt. There are 14 games left and we will fight to the end and see where that takes us.”
They came for Liverpool in the last 20 minutes. A goal behind, Leicester were first denied a penalty by Var when Thiago was adjudged to have fouled Barnes just outside the area. Maddison whipped in the free-kick which appeared to elude all, even the lunge of Daniel Amartey, whom Var checked was onside.
It had taken Liverpool 67 minutes to open the scoring when a brilliant set from Roberto Firmino had created the space for Mohamed Salah to shape a shot around Kasper Schmeichel. Three minutes after that Maddison equaliser, Vardy pounced on Kabak’s mistake. The young Turkish defender on loan from Schalke was beaten again moments later by Barnes after the excellent Ndidi had won possession again in midfield. So much to put right for Klopp, so little time. After RB Leipzig in Budapest on Tuesday night it is Everton who visit Anfield on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp is annoyed with Var
"We concede a goal that was a real tough one to take. It was a turning point in the game. Even when we thought... I saw it now a couple of times and the moment when they stop the situation to see who is onside or offside, he didn't even touch the ball, it's still an individual decision, and that's really hard. It looks like a clear offside for me.
"We tried everything. it's not that we didn't try. We were confident, Ali was confident, I didn't hear him shouting, Ozan doesn't know in that moment is he coming is he not coming and that leads to the second goal. The turning point was the first goal.
"They were lucky to win today, they know that, they deserved the three points."
James Maddison interview
"We know when we play Liverpool it's going to be tough, they can do both parts of the game very well, they can build, they can pass. We're a top team now with quality, if we get chances we can put them away. The more they start going for it the more it opens up for Barnesy.
"Anthony Taylor looked lost to be honest. Daniel claimed the touch and he got a little flick on it but it turned out to be onside."
On the Liverpool mistake for the second:
"It's just one of them things. You can't look too much into it."
What went wrong?
I really need to look the game again to give a definitive analysis of what happened there but it seemed like Liverpool just lost their balance and fell off their chair after going ahead.
It's terrible defending individually but worse is as a team. They really lack the defensive midfield anchor with Henderson playing in centre-back, and playing such an attacking system requires a high line, but without confidence and conviction in the centre-backs' mentality little gaps start appearing. Kabak was unlucky that Alisson decided to run 40 yards off his line to try and clear the ball for the second goal, and defenders were caught dizzy for the third.
What a win for Leicester and a huge defeat for Liverpool. The title is almost certainly gone now and Klopp might even worry that he's in a battle for the top four now. They're still more than good enough to achieve that but Leicester can absolutely believe they are a Champions League level team now.
84 mins - Leicester 2 Liverpool 1
Oh my god WHAT A SAVE! Alisson has just denied - somehow - Vardy another open goal with a rapid recovery off the floor to dive and save off the line. Leicester almost score a third as the red defence is being torn apart way too easily but that save... wow. Unbelievable.
WOWOWOWOOWOWOWOWWWWW!!!! WHAT A MISTAKE BY ALISSON!
Leicester 2 Liverpool 1
A ball over the top from Tielemans, Kabak looks panicked, Alisson comes miles off his line and collides with the defender, the ball drops to Vardy and he has an empty goal to run into! He won't score an easier goal.
65 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
Henderson is raging with his available passing options, angrily shouting at Jones and Robertson for failing to give him a shout when he gets the ball at the back. He clearly wants to get involved higher up the pitch and has started moving into midfield when he can.
Most of his annoyance seems to be at Jones, who just isn't really in the game. He looks nervous or... just a little off it today.
51 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
Evans goes all the way up for a free-kick and has to jog aaaaaaaall the way back when it's headed away. He's definitely not quite right.
Maddison wins another free-kick and Evans goes up again, after going to the referee to tell him to watch how he's being blocked in the box by Liverpool players. Clever.
It doesn't matter in the end as Alisson smothers a low cross in the second phase.
Liverpool out early
Leicester leave Liverpool out on the pitch for a good minute or two before they leave the changing room. Most of Leicester's attacks in that first half were focused on the left - Rodgers seems to think Alexander-Arnold is the weakness. It's also where Barnes is playing. And Pereira. So maybe I'm reading too much into that.
45 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
Evans fouls Mane and might have picked up an injury in doing so. Not sure if it's an impact from bringing down Mane or if he's tweaked a calf muscle. Either way, Liverpool have a free-kick.
Alexander-Arnold hits the wall. Evans is limping heavily. Not sure he'll make the second half.
43 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
Leicester's passing is too slow and Liverpool are able to press up onto every player the ball is hooked towards... but all of a sudden they knock it forward early. Maddison plays a brilliant backheel volley to move the ball forward to Vardy, who gets in behind and shoots with power at goal... and hits the bar! Henderson is furious that the offside flag didn't go up but I'm not sure Vardy was off in the first place.
29 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
WHAT A SAVE! How did Firmino miss? Liverpool are able to get the ball into the six yard box, Henderson is on the overlap (he's a centre-back today...) Firmino comes in and shoots from about a metre away from Schmeichel, who saves brilliantly with a strong hand. Henderson was offside so it wouldn't have counted anyway.
23 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
Leicester press high, win the ball and Barnes finds Maddison... but he loses control and Liverpool break! Alexander-Arnold runs through the middle, threads Salah in behind, he is played wide and chips into the middle... and Amartey rescues the defence with a brave, important slide tackle to stop Mane having a tap in.
17 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
Mane has figured out that he can outpace Amartey and has started taking him on the outside. That could prove problematic for Leicester. Liverpool win a corner, which turns into another corner.
Thiago is getting ready to come on and replace Milner who seems to have a muscle injury.
The corner comes in, goes to the edge of the box and Salah fires miles wide and high.
10 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
MO SALAH IS IN BEHIND! It's a great run, he brings the ball down, gets to the box and just can't quite get it under control and then, inevitably, falls to the floor when he realises the chance is gone. There's nobody close to making contact though so no foul is awarded and Leicester get a goal kick. Salah wasn't playing for a penalty there but he does that an awful lot.
7 mins - Leicester 0 Liverpool 0
Soyuncu has just raced into midfield to make a slide tackle and I think Amartey has been told he'll be doing that a lot today, because he then steps over to cover the centre-back space. I wonder if that's a bit of man marking going on. Rodgers is a zonal man, you see.
Playing out from the back
Liverpool did themselves in against Man City with a couple of mistakes from the goalkeeper leading to the match getting away. Thom Gibbs reckons Alisson should have just booted it away...
Klopp's interview summed up
He reckons Leicester are "a really strong side, a good football side, dangerous in counter-attacking situations."
It's not hugely revealing but regardless of who Liverpool play they tend to set up in the same way. The only realy difference in play is how cautious they are with their passing and forward runs. I'd expect a more balanced approach than the rock n roll ATTACK style we were used to last season.
Leicester vs Liverpool
Hello there! It's a big Saturday afternoon game between two teams fighting for a top four spot. This match is, when you think about it, pretty massive. We all know about Liverpool's problems and we've all seen what Leicester can do - neither is going to win the title, and even this individual game is incredibly difficult to call.
The best place to start is with the teams then:
It looks like Leicester have a back three today in a 3-4-3 system but that could change during the match if Daniel Amartey is moved around and helps out in midfield. I think it might specifically be set up this way to double up on Mane and Robertson on the Liverpool right.
Speaking of, Jurgen Klopp has gone for his usual 4-3-3 but with ANOTHER new centre-back partnership. Kabak starts alongside Henderson at the back in a pairing that Jamie Vardy will be absolutely desperate to isolate and get in behind.
Here's what Klopp's had to say about this game:
"We know we are not completely clueless but we know we have to be successful in the future and that's what we'll try to be.
"I don't get the noise around the results to be honest. Whatever you wrote, I didn't read it. But I know what the situation is and I talk about results.
"Even though I know the reason why we are not flying, I expect us to win more games than we have. That's what I am concerned about.
"We will try our absolute best to make the best season from now on. We will go for it. That's our job."
Kick off is 12:30pm, follow all the action with us right here.