Maybe Brendan Rodgers got it right when he rested Steven Gerrard on Saturday. Reduced to a late cameo on the 16th anniversary of his Liverpool debut, the former England captain returned to the team re-energised on a night when he inspired his club to a second win in the space of four days. Rolling back the years in an advanced attacking role, Gerrard registered his first goal in 12 appearances as Liverpool gave their season a shot in the arm and piled the misery on Leicester.
It was not quite as comfortable as the scoreline suggests, with Leicester continuing to make life awkward for Liverpool even when they were reduced to ten men, after Wes Morgan was given a straight red card for a professional foul on Rickie Lambert. Liverpool had to endure some anxious moments, but the pressure valve was released when Gerrard escaped on the left to play a part in Liverpool’s third – a move that finished with Jordan Henderson despatching Raheem Sterling’s backheel.
At that point there was no way back for a Leicester team that had started brightly and taken the lead when Leonardo Ulloa’s shot struck a post and went into the net off Simon Mignolet. Rodgers’s side were soon level, however, through Adam Lallana – his 50th league goal but only his second in Liverpool colours – and it was Gerrard who turned the screw in the second half with his fourth of the season.
Liverpool had made the worst possible start and once again Mignolet was centre stage for all the wrong reasons. While no blame could be apportioned to the Liverpool goalkeeper for the own goal that gave Leicester the lead in the 21st minute, his actions moments earlier would have done nothing to instil confidence in a brittle defence that never looked comfortable.
There appeared to be no danger when Glen Johnson, playing at left-back, rolled the ball back to Mignolet. Ulloa was not exactly putting Mignolet under great pressure on the edge of his own penalty area, but after opening out his body to try and find Martin Skrtel with what should have been a routine pass, the goalkeeper slovenly and criminally gave the ball straight to Esteban Cambiasso. Leicester could not have picked a better player to receive possession in that situation, but the Argentinian, with the goal at his mercy, stroked the ball wide of the post.
It was a reprieve for Mignolet, whose distribution has come under the microscope after poor mistakes against Crystal Palace and Chelsea led to goals, but good fortune deserted him moments later. Running onto Riyad Mahrez’s neat pass, which exposed the oceans of space that opened up on the Liverpool left, Jamie Vardy struck a shot on the run that Mignolet got a hand to but was unable to prevent from veering towards goal.
Skrtel was well-positioned to clear off the line with a header but Ulloa reacted quickest to the loose ball, retrieved it perilously close to the byline and turned to hit a low shot from the corner of the six-yard box that cannoned off the near upright and stuck the prone Mignolet on the back of the head before rolling into the net. It has been that sort of season for the Belgian.
Liverpool, for whom Gerrard returned to the starting lineup in a more attacking role that saw him deployed behind Lambert with Sterling and Lallana either side of him, needed a swift response and they got it with a goal out of nothing five minutes later.
Gerrard’s free-kick was only half-cleared and when Lucas Leiva floated a cross into the area, Morgan, tussling with Lambert, won the header but was unable to get any distance on the ball. Credit to Lallana, who was onto the ball in a flash, striking a sweet left-footed volley from 12 yards that flashed past Kasper Schmeichel in the blink of an eye to bring Liverpool level.
There was nothing particularly fluent about Liverpool in the opening 45 minutes, but the visitors began with greater belief after the interval and took the lead through a familiar face. Henderson and Lallana were involved in the build up before Gerrard picked up possession 25 yards from goal and released Sterling. When the winger’s low centre was only half-cleared by Morgan, Gerrard was waiting to pounce and there was never any doubt that his first-time shot, from about 12 yards, was going to end up in the back of the net.
Back came Leicester. Ulloa, lively throughout, played a lovely give-and-go with Cambiasso, whose delightful flick created a shooting chance that the striker curled wide. Leicester’s task, however, was about to get much more difficult. Skrtel’s header ought to have been dealt with by Morgan but the centre-half under-hit his back pass and, with Lambert threatening to get away from him, resorted to pulling the Liverpool forward back. Lee Mason, the referee, reached for the red card.
The game was up for a brave Leicester side when Schmeichel could only parry Gerrard’s deflected cross and Henderson, set up by Sterling, emphatically swept home.