Roberto Firmino doubles up for Liverpool’s emphatic win over Leicester

Sweeping from the Middle East to the English Midlands without missing a stride, Liverpool took a big step closer to adding that coveted Premier League trophy to their recently acquired world crown. As in Qatar, so in Leicester, as Roberto Firmino opened the scoring here. But Liverpool did not settle for merely beating their nearest domestic rivals. They crushed them as if issuing a warning to anyone who dares challenge their position.

James Milner scored from the spot before Firmino scored again and Trent Alexander-Arnold helped himself to a goal to go with a pair of assists. This was first against very distant second.

Liverpool’s lineup recognised the importance of this duel, with Jürgen Klopp fielding his strongest available team. Brendan Rodgers’ side had lost momentum over the last week, securing only one point from their last two games. There would be no better way for them to get back on track than by beating Liverpool. Rodgers aimed to achieve that by solidifying midfield, his only alteration to the team that started the defeat by Manchester City being the replacement of Ayoze Pérez with Dennis Praet. That entailed a change of formation, with Harvey Barnes on the right while James Maddison operated from the left, and replicated the lineup that Rodgers used at Anfield in October, when Leicester felt aggrieved to lose to a last-minute penalty by Milner.

Leicester’s approach did not look too clever in the second minute when Alexander-Arnold sauntered into open space wide on the right and unleashed a swerving shot that Kasper Schmeichel had to bat away. Liverpool, showing no ill-effects of their travels, were putting their hosts under severe pressure, making Leicester look sluggish. Jonny Evans should have been punished in the sixth minute when Georginio Wijnaldum pounced on a casual pass out from the back but Mohamed Salah lifted a shot over the bar from the edge of the area.

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The hosts mounted their first threat in the 10th minute, cannily working Jamie Vardy into a crossing position on the right. Andy Robertson turned the striker’s delivery out for a corner before Barnes could convert. But within seconds Leicester found themselves torn open at the other end, as Naby Keïta cut their defence with a pass from deep. Salah ran on to it and dodged the attempted challenge by the outrushing Schmeichel. Then, from an acute angle, the Egyptian tried to reproduce the geometric marvel that he summoned in the Champions League joust with Red Bull Salzburg earlier this month. But this time, even though he was able to use his preferred left foot, he could only dab the ball into the sidenetting.

As Liverpool continued to set an exhilarating tempo, Wilfried Ndidi was forced into an uncharacteristic error on the edge of his box but recovered sufficiently to get a touch on Jordan Henderson’s shot. That, though, demanded a rapid adjustment from Schmeichel, who parried well.

Leicester sprung a dangerous-looking counterattack in the 20th minute but it transpired to be nothing more than an opportunity for Joe Gomez to demonstrate impressive speed by keeping up with Vardy before Alisson ran out of the box to quash the threat with that serene manner of his. Then Liverpool asserted their supremacy at the other end. Alexander-Arnold collected the ball in an unfamiliar position on the left but treated it with his customary finesse, dropping a superb cross over Ben Chilwell and into the path of Firmino, who nodded home from close range.

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Leicester were still reeling from that when they gave up another opportunity. Schmeichel remained vigilant enough to deny Mané, who should have given him no chance from eight yards. But by now Liverpool were utterly dominant. Leicester made it to half-time without having mustered a shot but thankful they trailed by only one goal.

The half-time team talks did not exactly inspire a transformation but Leicester did, at least, muster their first shot of the game in the 46th minute, Youri Tielemans’ drive from the edge of the box ricocheting off Gomez and out for a corner. However, Liverpool pressed so intelligently and intensely that Leicester frequently struggled to make it out of their own territory.

Maddison seemed stranded in his outpost on the left and, what is more, he failed to stop Alexander-Arnold from cantering forward to deliver another elegant cross in the 52nd minute, but Ricardo Pereira made sure Robertson did not get on the end of it. Moments later Robertson dispossessed a defender near the Leicester corner flag and crossed for Firmino, who missed the target from six yards.

Praet flashed a shot from distance just wide as Leicester tried to revolt. As the hosts attacked more, Caglar Soyuncu twice had to stop Salah from profiting from counterattacks. The Turk was entitled to feel satisfied when Salah was substituted. But just seconds later Soyuncu inadvertently handled the ball from a corner by Alexander-Arnold. Milner hit his penalty down the middle with his first touch.

Soon Firmino highlighted the chasm between the teams by making it 3-0 from a cross by Alexander-Arnold. And then the young full-back emphasised the point by ramming a superb low shot into the corner of the net from over 20 yards.

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