Football Features

“The most unappreciated player on the planet” – Five things learned as Liverpool smash Leicester 0-4

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:20, 26 December 2019

In a stunning night of football, Liverpool lashed Leicester 0-4 at the King Power Stadium.

The Reds ended the Boxing Day fixtures by knocking the life out of Leicester in their own back yard to further solidify their status as champions-elect. What did we learn?

1. Trent Alexander-Arnold, first of his name

It’s hard to describe who Liverpool’s most important player is because the quality is spread so evenly throughout the sharp ends of the pitch. Is it one of their fabulous front three? Or Virgil van Dijk? How about Alisson? They’re all immense players in the peak of their careers. But how about Trent Alexander-Arnold? The 21-year-old right-back who is the surgeon’s scalpel of Liverpool’s creative edge.

Alexander-Arnold now has 17 Premier League assists in 2019. No other player in the division has more. That’s correct, a right-back has more assists than literally every other player in the Premier League. He’s the set-piece wizard for Liverpool, which helps, but it’s because his crossing is so supremely accurate that the Reds have built their attack around getting him in position to deliver a cross.

Today against Leicester was a win dominated and delivered by Alexander-Arnold’s right foot. The first goal was a delicious in-swinging cross from the left-flank that Roberto Firmino headed in. The second goal was a penalty awarded after Caglar Soyuncu “handled” Alexander-Arnold’s cross. The third goal was another Firmino finish, this time from Alexander-Arnold lasering a cross low to his feet. And the fourth goal? The fourth saw Trent himself race onto a pass and stab it home from 20 yards out.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, first of his name, king of the right-backs and the goal creators, Lord of Liverpool and ruler of the Premier League.

2. Jimmy Milner: straight to business

James Milner came onto the pitch after 70 minutes. Literally less than a minute later the Reds won a penalty after a questionable handball decision. Milner, of course, stepped up to the plate as he always does. This was a crucial moment in the game because for an hour Liverpool had been superb and dominant, but one error let Leicester back into the game and with the score at 0-1, the match was perfectly poised and the Foxes could have turned it all on its head. The Reds caught a lucky break with the penalty, and now Milner had a chance to dead the match, and of course he did so with supreme confidence. His first touch and he scored a pivotal goal in the match that effectively sealed Liverpool’s league title. This man gets straight to business.

3. Bobby Firmino coming up big again

One player scored the stoppage time winner in the Club World Cup final with a finish so deft it basically didn’t even happen. One player scored the extra-time winner with a cold-as-ice finish, dropping a defender to the turf. One player scored the opening goal against Leicester with a towering back-post header. One player scored the third goal against Leicester, controlling a low cross then hammering the ball into the roof of the net.

All of those goals scored by one player. The same player. Roberto Firmino Barbosa de Oliveira, the most unappreciated player on the planet. Yes, he gets praised, but he’s easily the equal of any striker in the world today considering his all-around impact. A genius who often sublimates their own personal glory to benefit the team but is someone that is perfectly capable of stepping up and scoring when his side need him most in whatever way his side needs him to score. An absolute wizard.

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4. Leicester’s big six blues

Leicester have been sensational so far this Premier League season. The Foxes are currently second and although they could drop down to third if Manchester City beat Wolves, they have been an outstanding side in terms of both performance and results.

Well, except when they face the big boys. Leicester have won just two of their seven games against the big six sides, and given that those were against Spurs and Arsenal it’s hard to look at them as exceptional victories and more like doing what is expected.

The Foxes can never seem to play their natural game when they face the best sides. Now, obviously the first explanation for this is that the quality differential is what does for them, but this edition of Leicester can match up with the underperforming Manchester United and the young and rugged Chelsea, yet they failed to beat both sides. There is an inferiority complex at play, you can see it in their play. Leicester don’t believe they belong on the big stage, they still think of themselves as plucky underdogs, and so they often play like them.

5. Liverpool turned off the autopilot

Liverpool are absurdly good. They’re so absurdly good that they’re basically autopiloting the Premier League. Beyond a couple of games, the Reds have never really turned it on in terms of the division. Today was one of those games, as the Reds rose to face one of their biggest challenges this season and ended up winning it with the biggest win of the season.

Liverpool turned off the autopilot and took Leicester to pieces; there was never any chance of Leicester getting into the game. Every team needs a slice of luck and in Liverpool’s case it was the penalty decision; but in truth even if that penalty hadn’t been given, Liverpool were so, so much better than Leicester for the 70 minutes before it was given. They are by far and away the best side in the Premier League and will be worthy champions when time turns their 13 point lead into mathematical certainty.

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