Liverpool should be celebrating the new year with three more points and its eyes peered on a bright future. Instead it lives with a new sense of disappointment over familiar failings.
Liverpool and Leicester City played to a 2-2 draw in a New Year’s Day Premier League game Friday at Anfield. Liverpool led by two goals at halftime after Steven Gerrard converted two first-half penalty kicks, but Leicester City wrenched back control of the game and erased the Reds’ advantage with two goals in under two minutes midway through the second half. The shell-shocked Reds responded with late improvement, but it wasn’t enough to score (or claim to have merited) the game-winning goal.
The result represents a missed opportunity for Liverpool. A win would have extended its winning streak to the three Premier League games — for the first time in 2014-15 — and helped it climb from eighth place in the standings. The Reds instead must digest the fact that the league’s last-placed team outplayed them for large stretches of the game and snatched a deserved point from their New Year’s Day visit to Anfield.
The most important moments fell in each half. The first gave Liverpool hope better days to come, as referee Mike Jones controversially awarded the Reds penalty kicks in the 17th and 39th minutes. Gerrard showed his legendary prowess from the spot in dispatching both.
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Gerrard and Liverpool thrived from the penalty spot last season, but Thursday’s spot-kicks were just their second and third in the first 20 games of the new campaign. Additional penalty kicks were on Liverpool’s Holiday Wish List. We asked on the Reds’ behalf. They reaped the benefits against Leicester City.
However, the Foxes have dreams of their own salvation (from relegation), and they stormed over Liverpool in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Strikers David Nugent and Jamie Vardy each nearly scored before they combined at the top of Liverpool’s penalty area to craft the Foxes’ opener. Nugent made it 2-1 Liverpool with a wonder-volley in the 58th minute. Winger Jeffrey Schlupp tied the game for good with a well-taken goal less than two minutes later.
The speed and ease with which Leicester City canceled out Liverpool’s lead should have been the most distressing aspect of the game for home fans. Liverpool’s defensive vulnerabilities were apparent early on, but the goals (and sequences leading up to them) confirmed that Reds’ confidence and assurance didn’t return for good in their short revival in late December.
Adam Lallana left the game in the second half with an injury, adding to manager Brendan Rodgers’ woes. Defenders Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho looked like they might do the same at times in each half.
However, Leicester City’s control over proceedings was most troubling. Liverpool’s new system produced high-intensity, chance-packed performances in four of its last five games (Friday’s win over Burnley being the exepction), but the Reds didn’t meet that standard against Leicester City.
Liverpool starts 2015 in the same position — both in league and metaphorical terms. The Reds must improve and sustain any gains through May. If they don’t, 2014-15 will be characterized as a missed opportunity, which Liverpool-Leicester epitomizes.
Thumbnail photo via Peter Byrne/The Associated Press/Press Association