Liverpool's perfect start to the Premier League season saved by James Milner's late penalty

Liverpool's James Milner (left) celebrates after scoring his stoppage time winner against Leicester. (Reuters/Carl Recine)
Liverpool's James Milner (left) celebrates after scoring his stoppage time winner against Leicester. (Reuters/Carl Recine)

Just when it looked like Liverpool’s perfect start to the Premier League season was about to come to an end against Leicester City, the Reds got the sort of break that often defines championship seasons in a 2-1 win at Anfield.

Sadio Mane gave the Reds the lead shortly before halftime, but James Maddison scored the equalizer for Leicester with just 10 minutes to go, and the match seemed destined to end in a draw. Then in injury time, substitute Marc Albrighton took down Mane with a clumsy challenge.

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Referee Chris Kavanagh pointed to the spot, a decision that was upheld after video review. And veteran penalty kick specialist James Milner stepped up and cooly fired the winner to the right of Kasper Schmeichel, sending the Leicester keeper diving the wrong way:

Mane’s goal was his 50th in 100 Prem appearances for the club since arriving from Southampton three years ago. The Senegalese striker was Liverpool’s most dangerous attacking threat from the opening whistle, and he nearly scored moments into the contest.

Instead, the milestone strike arrived in the 40th minute after he ran onto Milner’s beautiful long pass, used his blistering pace to separate himself from the visitors’ retreating defenders and calmly slotted past Schmeichel:

This was far from a convincing performance by the home side, though, which has been short of its best-in-Europe form for a number of weeks now after dispatching all comers with ease over the first month of the new campaign.

The Reds relied on a goalkeeper’s error to take all three points at newly promoted Sheffield United last weekend, and they blew a three-goal first-half lead at home against FC Salzburg in the Champions League midweek before Mohamed Salah won it with a late goal. Two weeks before that. Liverpool also lost the first match of its Champions League title defense, 2-0 away to Italian side Napoli.

Leicester managed a 1-1 draw at Anfield last season, and Brendan Rodgers’ side played with confidence in the ex-Reds manager’s return to Merseyside. The Foxes’ equalizer was coming for much of the second half Saturday. So when Maddison found the net, it appeared that Liverpool’s luck — they’d won 16 Premier League games heading into the contest — had finally run out:

But once again, the trademark of any truly elite side is the ability to win matches they shouldn’t, to find a way to pick up points even during the stretches when they’re not close to their devastating peak. In three consecutive matches across all competitions, that’s what Liverpool has done.

And for a club looking for its first English title in 30 years, it’s not insignificant that they’ve found a way to pick up all six points in their last two outings in the Prem when they probably deserved no more than two. There’s a long way to go between now and May, of course. Jurgen Klopp and Co. will lose a league match eventually, and Manchester City still promises to pose a formidable challenge to retain their crown. But this is sure starting to feel like a season of destiny for Liverpool. Another week, another win.

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