Liverpool looked all set to drop their first league points of the campaign, but the Senegalese star won a crucial last-gasp penalty to save the day
There are moments which can define a season, but you don’t expect them to arrive in October.
As James Milner stood with his hands on his hips, Anfield held its collective breath. The round ball was on the penalty spot, Kasper Schmeichel was stood tall, Liverpool hearts were in mouths.
They crave 19 more than anything else round here, but for now the Reds can be content with 17.
Their winning run continues. Leicester came to Anfield with form and confidence, Brendan Rodgers was greeted warmly. His team gave the league leaders an almighty scare, but eventually fell.
Thanks for the game, lads, but don’t think you’re getting the points.
The Reds’ victory, their 17th Premier League win in a row, was a narrow one but a precious one. Milner’s penalty hit the net in the fifth minute of stoppage time, after James Maddison’s 79th-minute equaliser looked to have ended the Reds’ perfect start to the league campaign.
Close, but no cigar. Liverpool have cleared the season’s first block of games in style, they head into the second international break of the campaign with a record of eight straight league wins and, for now at least, an eight-point gap over Manchester City in second place.
If Carlsberg did starts…
This was a tight one. Leicester came to play and have more quality than most sides who will come here this season. Rodgers has been building a fine football team, one which should have its eye on a top-four finish.
Liverpool used to be satisfied with that kind of ambition, of course, but not any more. Jurgen Klopp’s team have their sights set on the big prize, the one which has eluded England’s most decorated club for close to three decades.
With that in mind, this felt like a massive afternoon.
Where does this team find its reserves? Where does it pull these victories from? There was a moment, just a moment after Maddison’s equaliser, where Liverpool looked like they might just have run out of ideas. They wasted a free-kick, Trent Alexander-Arnold sent another cross into Schmeichel’s arms and the groans were audible.
Roberto Firmino was off, and so was Mo Salah.
Sadio Mane wasn’t, though. And when Liverpool needed something, their man for all seasons delivered.
Leicester will rue the hesitancy which led to the penalty, Schmeichel and his defenders getting in a tangle when one or the other should have cleared. In a flash, Mane was there. Marc Albrighton caught him. Penalty. Milner, after the cursory VAR check, did the rest.
Mane had some afternoon. He’d given Liverpool the lead five minutes before the break, latching onto a sublime Milner pass to slot home his 50th Premier League goal for the Reds. They have arrived in just 100 appearances.
Moved to the right wing for this game, perhaps with an eye on Leicester’s marauding left-back Ben Chilwell, Mane was in the thick of the action throughout.
He made more tackles than any Liverpool soccer professional – one in particular, on Chilwell, stood out in the first half – and contested more duels. He had as many shots on target as anyone, and ran further than any Red bar Milner and Fabinho.
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And there, in the 95th minute, he found the energy to be in the right place at the right time. Priceless, that’s what the Senegal star has been.
Klopp’s celebrations at the end told their own story. He knew how big a win this was, not just for today but for the weeks ahead. Big tests lie in wait for Liverpool after the international pause, but they’re ready for them.
They’ll need the two-week break to recover from this, you suspect!