Liverpool ended a year they will remember with a night Wout Faes would love to forget. Leicester’s usually assured defender scored two ludicrous own goals that gifted Jürgen Klopp’s team a lucky victory and maintained their momentum in pursuit of Champions League qualification.
Brendan Rodgers’ team led through Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s early strike and were rarely troubled by a subdued Liverpool display until Faes sliced two goals into his own net in seven first half minutes. Both were easily avoidable and are destined to feature in classic own goal clips for years to come. “3-0 to the Leicester boys,” chanted the away fans, with some justification. That was one of their better offerings on a night when they spewed out the pathetic ‘feed the scousers’ and ‘always the victim’ chants at Anfield yet again.
Liverpool were grateful recipients of the Belgium international defender’s carelessness. The home side were erratic in possession and sluggish yet found themselves two points behind fourth-placed Tottenham following a fourth consecutive Premier League win. And with the promise of Cody Gakpo to come. The new signing from PSV Eindhoven was in the crowd to witness Darwin Núñez produce another influential but wasteful display, Trent Alexander-Arnold impressed throughout, and Liverpool improved after the interval without punishing one of several inviting openings.
Liverpool’s Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers on the center circle before kick off in a tribute to Pele from both clubs. Liverpool’s captain, Jordan Henderson, laid another wreath in memory of the club’s popular former striker David Johnson, who died last month.
Klopp had tasked his players with starting with the same intensity and sharpness that underpinned the victory at Aston Villa on Boxing Day. Leicester’s early struggles against Newcastle on the same day, when they found themselves two goals down within 10 minutes, was noted. But so much for the best laid plans. It was Leicester, called in on a day off by Rodgers to analyze their Boxing Day failures, who were positive, stronger and energetic from the first whistle. They led after four minutes when Dewsbury-Hall took full advantage of a rupture in the center of Liverpool’s defense.
The Leicester midfielder had plenty to do after Harvey Barnes and Patson Daka combined to turn Danny Ward’s goal-kick into his path. He skipped around Henderson with ease and suddenly, with Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip lured out of position, a chasm appeared. Dewsbury-Hall duly ran through it and scooped a finish over Alisson into the Kop goal.
Liverpool were momentarily stunned. Their sluggishness lasted much longer. Klopp had made one enforced change from the Villa victory with Harvey Elliott replacing Fabinho, whose wife went into labor shortly before kick-off. The contrast in performance level was stark, with Liverpool lacking cohesion and giving up possession cheaply.
Leicester lost Daka to an early injury sustained when trying to close down an Alisson clearance. The striker was replaced by Jamie Vardy, who almost made an immediate impact when breaking clear down the right and threading a fine ball towards Barnes at the far post. Alexander-Arnold flew in with a vital interception. From the resulting corner by Ayoze Pérez, the impressive Wilfred Ndidi was left unmarked at the back post but a deflection off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain diverted his header wide.
Núñez tried to inject much-needed menace into Liverpool’s display and Mohamed Salah went close after one marauding run by the Uruguayan international. Otherwise Rodgers’ compact team were comfortable. Enter Faes, and a truly inexplicable implosion.
Ward had already berated a Leicester defender for clearing at the near post when he had come to collect the ball when Alexander-Arnold swept a trademark cross towards the same spot. Leicester’s goalkeeper clearly shouted for the ball. Faes didn’t listen, or didn’t trust his keeper enough, and stuck out a leg to clear. He succeeded in sending the ball up and over Ward, who turned around in horror to see the woeful clearance kiss the inside of the far post and bring Liverpool level.
The home side’s good fortune and Faes’ embarrassment did not end there. Minutes later Núñez was played through on goal by an intelligent touch from Oxlade-Chamberlain. The forward beat the advancing Ward with a cool chip that curled away from the goal and on to a post. Faes was the first on the scene to clear. He sliced into his top corner. It was a farcical, comical ending to the first half, although no one of a Leicester persuasion saw the funny side.
The Kop shouted “shoot” whenever the Belgium international took possession in the second half but he avoided an unwelcome hat-trick. Henderson went close to adding a third when found unmarked inside the area by an Alexander-Arnold throw-in. Salah dragged a shot badly wide when played through by an exquisite, angled pass from Núñez, who lofted an excellent chance over Ward’s bar when found in space by substitute Naby Keïta. The Leicester keeper also denied Salah with a finger-tip save after more unselfish work by Núñez.
Leicester had opportunities too in an open, flowing second half. The best fell to Dewsbury-Hall when he sprinted into another gap in the Liverpool defense to meet Timothy Castagne’s cross only to miscue a header wastefully wide. A freakish seven minutes from Faes cost them dearly.