Liverpool dented Leicester City's Cinderella run at the top of the Premier League by beating the Foxes 1-0 at Anfield on Boxing Day. Substitute striker Christian Benteke grabbed the goal for manager Jurgen Klopp's men.
But Benteke almost spoiled his day with an inexplicable miss in stoppage time after Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had gone up front to attack a late throw-in.
Liverpool's defensive resolve won the game. Sky Sports Statto noted how rare Leicester's failure to score is in the context of this season:
Klopp had picked an attacking lineup against the in-form Foxes. He brought natural striker Divock Origi into the starting XI and supported him with a trio of mercurial playmakers, led by Brazilian maestro Philippe Coutinho.
Liverpool's official Twitter feed provided the team news:
Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri flanked prolific striker Jamie Vardy with wingers Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton. Japanese forward Shinji Okazaki also provided support. City's official Twitter account detailed the full starting XI:
The home side tore into Leicester immediately. Alberto Moreno set up an early chance with a raiding run, but Coutinho lashed his shot wide. Then Mamadou Sakho had to block off Mahrez after a typically lightning-fast Leicester break.
Knowing Mahrez's threat, the Reds were trying to swarm on him in numbers, but it wasn't working, as James Sharpe of the Leicester Mercury noted:
The pattern for a frenetic game of end-to-end attacking had been set. Liverpool put Leicester under plenty of pressure at the back, with Wes Morgan making a desperate block.
Origi was denied after a stylish Liverpool move. The young Belgian was very bright early, something that impressed James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo:
Unfortunately, Origi was soon withdrawn after picking up a problem. Fellow Belgian Benteke replaced him.
Sharpe felt the change favoured the away team:
At this point, the pace of play slowed somewhat. The game sank into a back-and-forth of Liverpool pressing, while the Foxes lay in wait, ready to strike on the counter.
Mahrez again wriggled free to force Simon Mignolet into a smart stop just before half-time. What had been an initially bright and energetic half slumped to a limp and goalless end.
Liverpool had bossed the ball for most of the opening 45 minutes, with midfield man Jordan Henderson especially busy:
Leicester started pressing a little higher after the break. Sakho was nearly forced into a couple of costly errors thanks to the pressure.
But it was Liverpool who opened the scoring. As Sharpe had anticipated, his confidence regarding Benteke's arrival came back to haunt him when the ex-Aston Villa man prodded home a Roberto Firmino cross:
Pearce described how the goal was fashioned. He commended on the stylish build-up play:
This is the kind of combination-passing Klopp preaches. The Reds were moving the ball quickly and staying fluid with their movement.
For Benteke, the goal ended a prolonged drought in the league, according to Squawka:
The goal also prompted Ranieri into a pair of significant changes. He swapped out Okazaki and talisman Vardy for bullish target man Leonardo Ulloa and winger Nathan Dyer.
Mahrez soon followed Vardy to the bench, giving way for too-little-used Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric.
Coutinho flashed a long drive over, and Ranieri's changes struggled to make an instant impact. Henderson then inexplicably tried to square to Benteke instead of scoring himself.
Liverpool then had to hang on as Leicester pushed. But their attacking play was too rushed and erratic to make any half-chances count.
Benteke still had time to miss an open goal, but his comic moment couldn't endanger the outcome.
Ranieri didn't waste time addressing why he'd taken off Vardy with City trailing:
He also revealed Mahrez wasn't struggling:
The Italian felt his team took too long to pose a consistent attacking threat, although he failed to provide a reason for the timidity going forward, according to Tony Barrett of the Times:
But Ranieri also believes Leicester's late surge might have merited an equaliser:
As for Klopp, he felt his team was tactically spot on:
The German also praised Benteke:
But he sounded a little more downbeat about Origi's status:
The defeat ends Leicester's blistering run, but the Foxes stay top. As for the Reds, this is a welcome three points at home for Klopp. He now has Liverpool just two points behind hated rivals Manchester United and a place in the top six.