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    Liverpool 1-0 Leicester City Match Report (Boxing Day)

    Christian Benteke scored his sixth goal of the season to help Liverpool return to winning ways and condemn Leicester to only their second league defeat of the season. The Belgian international struck with less than 30 minutes remaining to settle a hard-fought and evenly-contested game that ended in frenetic fashion with both sides having chances to score as the action moved from end-to-end.

    The Reds dominated possession and had more efforts on goal, although neither side managed to find their top form at any stage during the encounter. It was nevertheless a much-improved display by Liverpool, who showed no signs of being bullied by the in-form Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as their were six days earlier by Watford's Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. The vastly-improved defensive organisation allowed the home side the platform to edge what, for the most part, was a tight match and ensured the Foxes failed score for the first time in 19 matches.

    Leicester struggled to make any impression in the opposition's half throughout opening 45 minutes, but responded well to going a goal behind and did have chances late on to draw the match. They were perhaps fortunate, however, not to have lost by a heavier scoreline as Benteke initially declined to stroke the ball into an empty net in the final minute of stoppage time, allowing the away side the chance to retreat and block Belgian's eventual effort. The loss was Leicester's first away defeat of the season in the league and the only time that neither Mahrez or Vardy, who have scored 29 goals between them this season, featured on the scoresheet.

    Liverpool went into the match on a run of four games without a win, which included away defeats to Newcastle and Watford and draws against Swiss side FC Sion and West Brom. The made three changes from the 3-0 defeat against Watford, with Divock Origi replacing Lucas Leiva and Christian Benteke remaining on the bench for a second consecutive match. Simon Mignolet recovered from a hamstring problem in time to replace Adam Bogdan in goal, while Dejan Lovren returned from a knee injury in place of Martin Skrtel. Leicester, who were seeking a fourth consecutive victory and an 11th match unbeaten in the league, recalled Robert Huth following his one-match suspension to replace Marcin Wasilewski in central defence.

    The home side dominated in the first half and came close several times to taking the lead through Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Divock Origi. After only three minutes, Coutinho curled an effort just wide from 20 yards, while Adam Lallana hit the side-netting when he was well-placed to have troubled Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal. Emre Can was the first Liverpool player to seriously test Schmeichel, forcing the Dane to dive to his left to push away an effort from over 20 yards, while the former Manchester City keeper also did well to save low down at his near-post from Origi.

    The Foxes did finally come into the match towards the end of the first half and created their first clear-cut chance through Mahrez. After a one-two with N'Golo Kante on the edge of the area, the Algerian international weaved past Alberto Moreno and Lallana before unleashing one of his trademark left-footed efforts from 18 yards that needed to be pushed over the bar by Simon Mignolet. Leicester's response was short-lived and it was Liverpool who started the second half as the stronger team, aided by the introduction of Christian Benteke in place of Origi, who was forced off with a hamstring injury after 38 minutes.

    Benteke provided Liverpool with the attacking outlet they had been lacking for most of the first half and he issued Leicester with an early warning sign of his capabilities in the penalty area when he headed over Jordan Henderson's cross from eight yards. The Foxes failed to take heed and only three minutes later, the Belgian stretched to clinically prod home Firmino's cross right-footed from 12 yards. It was a reward for the patience that the home side had shown throughout the afternoon in breaking down a resilient Leicester team that had proved stubborn opposition.

    The goal seemed to stun the away side into life and they nearly equalised 10 minutes later through Nathan Dyer, who stabbed Christian Fuchs' cross towards Mignolet's near-post but the Belgian did well to save low down to his right, pushing the effort away. Andy King also missed a glorious chance to equalise when the ball fell invitingly to him on the edge of the six-yard box, but his effort was blocked by Emre Can. The German's intervention did not go unnoticed by his teammates, with Henderson congratulating the 21-year-old for denying what looked to be a certain goal.

    Further drama ensued when Leicester sent 11 players forward for a throw-in, including Kasper Schmeichel, in pursuit of a stoppage time equaliser, which allowed Liverpool the opportunity to counter-attack an unguarded net. When Benteke was presented with an open goal from mid-way inside the Leicester half, he elected to take three touches before shooting, allowing Wes Morgan the chance to retreat and block the Belgian's effort. As both managers shook hands on the touchline, the Foxes broke up the other end, with Andy King heading Marc Albrighton's cross over the bar from 10 yards in the final action of the game.

    It was a vital and well-deserved win for Liverpool, who not only arrested their recent slump but also moved within five points of fourth-placed Tottenham in pursuit of a Champions League place. Both Mamadou Sakho, who endured a torrid afternoon against Watford, and the recalled Dejan Lovren were both excellent in the centre of defence and provided Liverpool with the solid platform which allowed them to build. They restricted both Vardy and Mahrez to very little throughout, with the away side only coming into the match late in both halves and mustering just seven efforts on goal.

    Although Liverpool have played much better this season from an offensive standpoint, it was a victory for patience and endeavour and the margin of victory could have been greater than the eventual 1-0 scoreline. The match changed when Liverpool brought on Christian Benteke late in the second-half, offering the focal point in attack that Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino had been unable to provide. With Origi now a doubt with a hamstring injury and Firmino unable to replicate the form he displayed in Klopp's early days as manager, Benteke should get the nod up front for Wednesday night's trip to Sunderland.

    Leicester employed a game plan that has worked so many times this season, allowing the opposition to dominate possession, only to break quickly on the counter-attack with clinical precision. On this occasion, they weren't afforded the same kind of possibilities on the break, which was in no small part down to Liverpool's high-pressing game. Once they had conceded, their resistance had finally been broken and were always going to find it difficult to find a way back into the match. To their credit, they did throw men forward in the latter stages and could easily have taken away a point, which would not have been deserved on the balance of play.

    After Tuesday's encounter at home to Manchester City, they next face Bournemouth at home on Saturday afternoon, the same day Liverpool travel to West Ham in the lunchtime kick-off. The Foxes won't be too disheartened that their 10-match unbeaten run in the league has finally come to and end, which was always going to happen at some stage, and any small tinge of disappointment is only a sign of how far the club have come in such a short period of time.
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool 1-0 Leicester City Match Report (Boxing Day) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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