Roberto Firmino netted a brace, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and substitute James Milner were also on the scoresheet in an inspired second-half display as Liverpool extended their commanding lead atop the Premier League to 13 points after a comprehensive 4-0 away victory over closest title rivals Leicester City.
A seven-minute blitz late in the second-half provided gloss on another dominant Liverpool display, as James Milner doubled their lead from the penalty spot a minute after being introduced. Firmino applied the finishing touch on another brilliant Alexander-Arnold assist, before Mane teed up the 21-year-old to fire home his first goal since September 22 against Chelsea.
With another impressive win under their belt, the Reds will hope history doesn’t repeat itself in 2020. Newcastle (95-96) and Manchester United (97-98) are the only sides in PL history who have relinquished a lead of ten points or more after Christmas. Although Jurgen Klopp described the festive schedule as a “crime” this week, his team responded emphatically after being crowned Club World Cup champions in Doha last Saturday.
Leicester, powered by Jamie Vardy’s red-hot scoring form and quality in all areas, were never expected to mount a serious title challenge. After taking just a point against Norwich, defending champions Manchester City and now the champions elect, it seems Brendan Rodgers will have to turn his attentions towards securing a UCL berth this term.
With all of that in mind, here’s a look at five talking points from Liverpool’s latest win:
#5 Roberto Firmino steps up as Mane wasteful, Salah struggles
On an evening where Mohamed Salah struggled before being replaced after 70 minutes and Sadio Mane was wasteful infront of goal, it was the turn of Roberto Firmino to prove their best attacker against a determined Leicester backline.
Salah struggled and could have no real complaints when substituted, despite looking in disbelief. Mane meanwhile, missed two big chances and still managed to create the assist for Alexander-Arnold, but this was very much Firmino’s time to shine.
His goalscoring contributions proved pivotal against Monterrey and Flamengo in Doha last week and the 28-year-old Brazilian continued his form with another impressive display on this occasion – helped by expert movement, anticipation and great deliveries into the box from wide areas.
He took the first well: timing his run well, leaping above Ben Chilwell at the back post to head beyond Kasper Schmeichel on the half-hour mark after Alexander-Arnold’s delicious curling delivery.
Completing his brace with just over 15 minutes to play, he effortlessly shrugged Ayoze Perez off-the-ball in midfield before feeding Milner and advancing beyond Wilfried Ndidi unchallenged in the area. Alexander-Arnold’s sweeping low ball flashed across the box and perfectly into his path, where he took one touch to control and another to wrongfoot Schmeichel by coolly guiding an effort into the far corner.
He should’ve had a hat-trick, but saw his earlier strike flash narrowly wide of the far post after Andy Robertson’s good work down the left. It was a good opportunity and unsurprisingly, Firmino went in search of his brace having fluffed his lines while the game was still in the balance – even if Leicester didn’t create much of note.
It’s the type of player he is and with Wolves, Sheffield United and Everton (FA Cup) to play in the next nine days, he’ll be licking his lips for more goals to continue his goalscoring momentum into 2020.
#4 Brendan Rodgers’ tactical gamble backfires when needed most
After their humbling 3-1 defeat by City on December 21, Brendan Rodgers knew changes had to be made if they were to get a result against Liverpool on this occasion.
He made one alteration to his starting XI, but shifted James Maddison onto the wing to accomodate Dennis Praet alongside compatriot Youri Tielemans in the centre of midfield.
That decision proved costly, as the Foxes were starved of their usual creativity and Maddison was isolated down the left flank – forced into more defensive responsibilities than the combination play and being given that licence to link midfield with attack.
Wilfred Ndidi was Leicester’s best player, but in Rodgers’ 4-1-4-1 formation, he sat too deep to get involved in a progressive sense which allowed Liverpool to target their wings – rather than attacking down the centre, unless there was a counter-attacking opening.
Harvey Barnes and Maddison completed 30 passes between them on either flank and it’s unsurprising both were replaced in the second-half. By that time, the damage was already done.
Neither Chilwell nor Ricardo Pereira had adequate defensive support to deal with Liverpool’s constant waves of pressure and the width they created – Robertson and Alexander-Arnold – were keen to punish them. They did precisely that, though the game could’ve been over long before it was.
#3 Naby Keita passes big test with flying colours
We’ve seen occasional flashes of the individual brilliance that saw Liverpool part with £63m for Naby Keita in July last year but injuries, inconsistent form and the Guinea midfielder lacking confidence at times has seen his progression stall under Jurgen Klopp.
Having impressed in Doha last week, the 24-year-old started alongside Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson against their closest title rivals and delivered another solid display that is sure to boost his spirits ahead of an important year in 2020.
He had 59 touches, won 10 of 16 duels contested, completed all six of his attempted dribbles, enjoyed 92.3% pass success (36 succcessful), made two interceptions, one tackle, key pass and clearance in 70 minutes.
Replaced by the dependable James Milner after that as Klopp freshened things up, it was certainly an encouraging performance from a player needing confidence after spending large periods of 2019 either sidelined through various injuries or struggling for form.
He expressed himself confidently in possession and was unafraid to take risks, running at Leicester’s midfield. We haven’t seen that often enough since his debut against West Ham in August 2018. If not for Salah’s rash decision-making after Keita’s defence-splitting pass early on, his contributions here would have been more appreciated.
#2 Jamie Vardy starved of service, Leicester creatively exposed
As mentioned earlier, Rodgers’ tactical plan backfired miserably and Leicester were left ruthlessly exposed by the league leaders. Jamie Vardy would have continued his excellent goalscoring form had he netted against Liverpool but on this occasion, the 32-year-old never looked like doing so – not for want of trying.
The league’s top marksman has 17 goals this term and Klopp would have been naive to send his side out without a special plan specifically to stop him. They ended up not needing to, as the Englishman only had 22 touches over the 90 minutes – instead cutting off the supply into him was more important.
Tielemans and Praet were seen as the deep-lying creators tasked with teeing up Vardy. Although both tried with varying degrees of success, they had to remain disciplined and were forced into more defensive work than they would have liked as Liverpool dominated possession from the early exchanges.
Vardy was forced to feed off scraps and not given chances to run unopposed in the final third, allowing Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez particularly to marshall him well.
#1 Trent Alexander-Arnold steals the show
On a night where fine margins could have been the difference between Liverpool extending their PL lead or losing ground on their rivals, Trent Alexander-Arnold really stepped up to the plate and reaffirmed why many already believe him to be one of the world’s best fullbacks.
It was his devilish cross which created the opener after 30 minutes – with Firmino and Salah both lurking at the far post, they couldn’t miss. Despite their chance creation and dominance in possession, Liverpool were still only 1-0 up though with 20 minutes to play.
It was Trent’s inswinging corner delivery which drew a penalty after Caglar Soyuncu’s handball and Milner made no mistake from the resulting spot-kick as they left Leicester stunned with three unanswered goals in quick succession.
Trent again set up Firmino, this time fizzing a low ball across the box. After patient build-up play, his delivery flew unchallenged into the Brazilian’s path and from such close-range, he converted to complete a straightforward brace.
His match stats, well, speak for themselves:
There was still ample time for him to turn finisher, scoring the fourth PL goal of his young career four minutes later – applying the finishing touch to a devastating counter-attack. Teed up by Mane, he steered his powerful effort beyond Schmeichel into the bottom corner from the edge of the area. Now with 22 assists in 73 top-flight appearances, Trent’s reputation as a chief creative threat continues growing with time.
Stats’ source: SofaScore