A month after stunning Manchester City, Leicester City again left their mark on the title race by holding Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield in a resolute display on Wednesday.
The hosts were off to the perfect start when Sadio Mane opened the scoring with just two minutes gone, finishing expertly into the bottom right corner after a gorgeous sequence of passes between himself, Andrew Robertson and Roberto Firmino.
Liverpool dominated the early stages of the half, controlling possession but were limited in terms of chances created, with a crucial Kasper Schmeichel save from Firmino soon after their only joy in the opening quarter of the game.
Leicester gradually worked themselves back into the contest and were left ruing a huge chance to equalise when James Maddison spurned an open header on the cusp of the six-yard box.
The equaliser did eventually come, and it was one that the Foxes’ play merited as Harry Maguire ghosted into the Liverpool box to tuck home following a recycled set piece on the stroke of half time.
The Anfield groundsmen whisked away the snow in the Kop end penalty area ready for the hosts to mount their charge for a winner, but it never eventuated as the larger of the goalscoring opportunities in fact fell the visitors’ way, most notably when Alisson scrambled away a potential Firmino own goal from point-blank range.
Leicester at it again
In a whirlwind four day stretch just before the new year, Claude Puel engineered two incredible wins for Leicester, the first all but discounting Chelsea from the title race, while the second sent shockwaves through the competition as it handed Manchester City their second defeat in under a week.
Once again the Frenchman has led his team into battle and taken points away from top six opposition, and indeed top placed competition, as his team exercised his game plan to perfection in order to take a point away from Merseyside.
So well known is the threat that Liverpool pose from wide areas, with Mane, Mohamed Salah at times operating on the right hand side, the impressive Xherdan Shaqiri and occasionally Firmino taking up positions on the byline, but they were dealt with superbly by the visitors.
Beginning the game with Maddison on the right hand side, Demarai Gray on the left and Marc Albrighton through the centre, Puel quickly shuffled his pack after going behind, swapping Maddison and Albrighton in order to utilise the latter’s experience and defensive discipline to cope with the rampaging runs of Robertson down Liverpool’s left-flank.
Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira were arguably Leicester’s two best players and two of the top performers on the pitch all together as they repeatedly stifled Liverpool’s attacks from wide areas and broke to good effect when their team won the ball.
The defensive shape from the Foxes remained staunch and seemingly impenetrable for the duration of the 90 minutes, and held firm when Liverpool pressed desperately for a winner, ultimately earning them what was a deserved point.
A missed opportunity
With City stumbling at St James’ Park 24 hours earlier, the Reds knew a win would propel them seven points clear at the top of the table and in an increasingly prosperous position, but failed to capitalise on that chance.
Pep Guardiola’s side are set to endure a mammoth seven day stretch in the context of their season as they prepare to face Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea within one week, and with potential to drop points there a Liverpool win may well have gone a long way to a potential coronation come May.
Liverpool laboured through this encounter, however, and with all things considered were not deserving of the victory as Leicester matched their intensity, frequently beat the Reds to the football in midfield and showed a great desire to take something from the match.
Salah was rather ineffectual, as were the substituted Shaqiri and Naby Keita in a performance that never really seemed to catch fire amidst the snow-laden Anfield pitch.
In coming away with a draw, Liverpool have still finished this round of matches further ahead of City than they were when they began it, however the opportunity to make their lead a three game cushion at the top of the table is one that has been regretfully passed up.
Injuries and suspensions hold Liverpool back
As Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez remain on the treatment table, Nathaniel Clyne was playing for Bournemouth in their demolition and Fabinho was only good for the bench having been ill during the week, Reds captain Jordan Henderson was forced to deputise at right-back.
Putting in a solid shift considering his inexperience in the role, this eventuality did more harm to Liverpool’s midfield rather than the defence, as influential figures Henderson and Fabinho were not able to play through the centre and patrol the middle of the park as they so often do.
Thankfully, Jurgen Klopp did welcome back Georginio Wijnaldum from injury, but missed the services of vice-captain James Milner after his sending off last time out against Crystal Palace.
That left one naturally more defensive minded midfielder in the matchday squad, being Wijnaldum, as the likes of Keita, Shaqiri and Adam Lallana all offer more going forward than they do without the ball.
This turned out to be a potential handicap to Liverpool’s hopes of securing victory, as they failed to well and truly hold down the midfield for the entire match, lacking slightly in guile and power through the centre.
All of Liverpool’s players are set to return within the next month at the very longest, and with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain believed to be nearing a return much sooner than first thought, Klopp could be able to call upon his full complement in the run-in to the season, sure to be a massive boost in their hopes of lifting the trophy.