Patched-up Liverpool eases to statement win over Leicester

Sports

Liverpool’s Diogo Jota, center, celebrates after scoring his sides second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

So much for Liverpool struggling under the weight of its growing injury list.

Deprived of top scorer Mohamed Salah, captain Jordan Henderson and three-quarters of their first-choice defense, the champions still easily dealt with Leicester — the team that came into the weekend in first place in the Premier League — in an impressive 3-0 win at Anfield on Sunday.

In fact, so intense was the pressing, so threatening was the team’s attacking game and so comfortable was the pieced-together backline, you’d never know this was a makeshift lineup fielded by Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp.

Leicester, coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, had won all four of its away games this season but was two goals down by halftime following an own-goal by Jonny Evans in the 21st minute and a glancing header by Diogo Jota in the 41st.

With that goal, Jota — signed from Wolverhampton in the offseason — became the first player in Liverpool’s history to score in his first four home top-division appearances.

Liverpool struck the goal frame three times in the second half — twice through Roberto Firmino and then through Sadio Mane — while a defense that contained midfielders James Milner and Fabinho never really looked like conceding, shackling the threat of danger man Jamie Vardy.

Firmino got the goal his overall display deserved when he headed in a corner from Milner.

It was a statement performance from Liverpool, on a weekend Manchester City and Manchester United — two of its possible title rivals — again failed to impress. The champions climbed above Leicester and into second place, behind Tottenham only on goal difference, and are now unbeaten in their last 64 home games in the top flight, which is a club record.

While injured center backs Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are long-term absentees, Klopp might be able to welcome back Salah for next week’s trip to Brighton if the forward returns a negative test following two positive tests for the coronavirus during the international break.

PEPE RED

Signed for a club-record 80 million euros ($89 million) in the offseason of 2019, Nicolas Pépé continues to do little to justify the price tag.

The Ivory Coast international was handed just his second start in the league this season in an away match against Leeds and failed to take his chance, getting a red card in the 51st minute for headbutting home left back Ezgjan Alioski in an off-the-ball incident.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta saw his players battle — while riding their luck at times — to eke out a 0-0 draw and didn’t mince his words about Pépé’s conduct.

“It is unacceptable. Unacceptable,” Arteta said. “At this level you cannot do it.”

Arsenal has failed to score in four of its last five league matches — its only goal in that period came from the penalty spot — and is languishing in 11th place.

Leeds struck the goal frame on three occasions in the second half.

CALVERT-LEWIN DOUBLE

Dominic Calvert-Lewin cannot stop scoring. Fulham cannot stop failing from the penalty spot.

Calvert-Lewin took his goal tally for the season to a league-high 10 by netting twice in Everton’s 3-2 win at Fulham as his team rebounded from three straight losses.

Abdoulaye Doucoure scored Everton’s third goal to make it 3-1 before Fulham was handed the chance to reduce the deficit from the penalty spot. However, two weeks after Ademola Lookman failed with an attempted “Panenka” in stoppage time against West Ham, Ivan Cavaleiro slipped as he was about to shoot and kicked the ball against his standing foot and over the crossbar.

Aleksandar Mitrovic has also missed from the spot this season.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek did later score for Fulham, which slumped to its seventh loss of the season, as Everton moved into sixth.

WILDER DEFIANT

Sheffield United spent the majority of last season being a surprise challenger for the European places.

A year on, the team is in a relegation fight and is still without a win after nine games.

West Ham consigned United to an eighth loss of the season by winning 1-0 at Bramall Lane thanks to a second-half goal by Sebastien Haller, who lashed a shot high into the net from the edge of the area.

The hosts are in last place on just one point, leaving the position of their manager, Chris Wilder, under scrutiny.

“I haven’t had the sack in 20 years — 911 games, if you hadn’t noticed — (so) I don’t fear it,” he said. “I need to be careful because I don’t want to come across as arrogant and look like I think I’m untouchable, but I don’t feel it should be asked given the journey that we have been on over the last four years.

“We were in (third-tier) League One when I arrived and now we are in the Premier League.”

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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