Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

Liverpool break Leicester hearts as Brendan Rodgers remains Anfield’s nearly man

James Milner scores stoppage-time winner as Liverpool secure eighth straight league victory this season

Perhaps Brendan Rodgers’ first return was a day to underline his reputation as Anfield’s nearly man. The manager who almost won the title five years ago now has further experience of cruelty at Liverpool.

This was a tale of nearly and almost for him, a sting in the tale for two Cities, Leicester and Manchester, with Rodgers’ new charges seconds away from a precious point.

“To concede a 94th-minute penalty was difficult to take,” said Rodgers.

He was beaten by James Milner’s typically cool conversion, defeated by a goal from a man he signed and installed as vice-captain before he had played a game, losing to his successor and tenant, in Jurgen Klopp.

The German has become a different sort of nearly man: Liverpool’s eighth straight league win this season takes them to 17 in all, one off Manchester City’s divisional record. “We are not fussed by the winning streak,” said Klopp. But history beckons.

The last team to take points off Liverpool at Anfield were Leicester, but under Claude Puel in January.

Rodgers was set to emulate his predecessor until a moment of hesitation and confusion culminated in Marc Albrighton’s nudge on Sadio Mane.

Referee Christopher Kavanagh ruled it was a penalty. Up stepped Milner. Klopp’s fist-pumping celebrations in front of the Kop were still more exuberant than usual, a sign of how difficult this had been.

Rodgers, applauded by the majority inside Anfield before kick-off, departed with the two sets of players clashing. Appreciation had turned to acrimony, with Ayoze Perez feeling the celebrating Andy Robertson had goaded him.

To concede a 94th-minute penalty was difficult to take.

Leicester boss Rodgers

Leicester were aggrieved by the pivotal decision. “A very soft penalty,” said Rodgers. “I think Sadio Mane made the most of the contact.”

Klopp disagreed. “Obviously a penalty,” he said, after being heartened by Mane’s willingness to chase what seemed a lost cause. “You need someone who can keep his nerve and Milly is the right guy for that.”

But the Liverpool manager was irritated by the late loss of Mohamed Salah, hurt by Hamza Choudhury as Leicester sought to hold on to a point. “How can Mo be okay?” he said. “How did he only get a yellow card? It is dangerous as hell.”

Rodgers disagreed: “I don’t think there was anything malicious.” His side’s performance, he argued, left him proud. “We are very much on the right path,” he said.

Optimism is a common thread in his management but, on his Anfield return, there were echoes of his reign and differences from it. Klopp fielded Roberto Firmino on the left, the position to which Rodgers had exiled him.

The Northern Irishman’s Leicester showed more defensive discipline that his Liverpool often had. For 39 minutes, Leicester were flawless.

Yet they were undone by one counter-attack and one error. Jonny Evans was the culprit, failing to cut out Milner’s long pass. Mane sped past him to finish smoothly. Klopp’s front three, with Mane on the right, constituted a different type of squad rotation. Between them, they ought to have added more goals.

But Kasper Schmeichel’s saves sandwiched the half-time break. The first was from Mane, the second from Salah and superb. The Egyptian benefited from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s superb supply line: so did Firmino, but he shot wide. That profligacy was almost costly.

Adrian’s conclusion to his spell as stand-in keeper was a qualified success, ending happily. If he initially looked paralysed by indecision when Jamie Vardy bore down on his goal, he recovered to make a vital stop. Yet he felt at fault when James Maddison’s equaliser crept under his body but Milner rescued the win and extended Liverpool’s 100 percent start. “So far, so good,” said Klopp. “But 30 games to go.”

Updated: October 5, 2019 09:40 PM



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