Fabinho gamble backfires as Thiago missed
Long gone are the days when Jurgen Klopp entrusting the defensive midfield role to Fabinho would be considered anything like a gamble.
But the Liverpool boss was undoubtedly tempting fate somewhat by naming the Brazilian – again available after three games out following a bout of coronavirus – in the starting line-up here.
With the yellow card amnesty only due at the end of the week, another booking for Fabinho would rule him out of Sunday’s blockbusting visit to fellow title contenders Chelsea.
Certainly, there were hearts in mouths when, in the opening moments, the midfielder caught Hamza Choudhury but avoided a caution from referee Michael Oliver.
However, Fabinho appeared hesitant too many times against a hardly overly-combative Leicester, epitomising the strange lack of conviction that coursed throughout Liverpool’s performance.
It was indicative the Brazilian lasted barely an hour before being replaced, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain having already been given the hook from the engine room after an even more underwhelming display.
As Jordan Henderson toiled to little reward, clearly Liverpool missed the steadying influence and metronomic passing of Thiago Alcantara, once again absent, this time with minor muscle soreness.
The Spaniard would have at least brought composure to the increasingly frantic efforts of the Reds, neither James Milner nor Naby Keita showing any sign of improving matters from the bench.
Alisson blameless but defence exposed
Alisson Becker was not in a good place when Liverpool last journeyed to the King Power Stadium.
The goalkeeper went into the February fixture having suffered a nightmare second half the previous weekend with two mistakes that helped Manchester City romp to a 4-1 triumph at Anfield.
And the gloom was deepened with a foolish sprint from his area to collide with on-loan centre-back Ozan Kabak and gift Leicester City the second of three goals inside seven dreadful minutes as the Reds saw three points vanish into nothing.
Thankfully, those days are firmly behind the Brazilian, even if the error that gifted Tottenham Hotspur a draw after his previously outstanding performance in his last outing underlined the perils of life as a goalkeeper.
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Here, though, his sole contribution was to pick the ball out of the back of the net after being beaten by Leicester’s only shot on target by substitute Ademola Lookman.
It was a poor goal for the defence to concede, Trent Alexander-Arnold – otherwise easily Liverpool’s best player – pulled out of position, the already-booked Joel Matip unable to tackle Lookman and Virgil van Dijk strangely standing off as the winger raced into the area.
Alisson was left with bitter taste of defeat again. This time, however, it was not of his making.
Unhappy Christmas once again
So, Liverpool end 2021 in the same manner they started it – with a poor defeat at a team they should be knocking over with ease.
And if the loss to Southampton back in January exposed the fault lines that were starting to appear in the Reds’ edifice, the worry will be this latest poor reverse is in danger of doing likewise.
Liverpool haven’t played well for a number of weeks, chiselling out wins against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Newcastle United without ever convincing.
Thankfully, though, the Reds are in a very different state than where they were almost 12 months ago.
And that context mustn’t be lost amid all the doom, this only Liverpool’s second defeat in their last 37 competitive matches.
Nevertheless, there’s every chance Klopp’s men could be 12 points adrift of Manchester City when they step out at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Liverpool will never wave the white flag. That just isn’t in their style.
But this Christmas period is in danger of again threatening their presence as genuine title contenders. They cannot afford to start 2022 as they did this year, that’s for sure.