LONDON • Cracks finally appeared in Leicester City's armour as a 10-match unbeaten sequence that propelled them to the top of the Premier League ended in a 1-0 defeat at Liverpool on Saturday.
The surprise Christmas league leaders were subdued against an energetic Liverpool side, who deservedly took the points at Anfield courtesy of substitute Christian Benteke's second-half effort.
It was only Leicester's second league defeat of the season and the first time they failed to score - with deadly duo Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who have scored 29 of Leicester's 37 league goals this season, well shackled.
Manager Claudio Ranieri said England striker Vardy had been playing with a fever while Algerian Mahrez had been tired. Both players were substituted.
Leicester will have to recover quickly as they host Manchester City tomorrow, a side Ranieri described as "another big rock" in the way of Leicester's ambitions.
"We started to play too late. Liverpool pushed from the beginning and for this reason they deserved to win," said Ranieri, whose side have 38 points from 18 games, three more than third-placed City.
"We tried to do our best but maybe in the first half, we were too nervous to play our football.
"The second half was much better, but it is okay. Now we have to clean our mind and get ready for the next match."
While Leicester were given a reality check, Liverpool ended a three-game Premier League winless streak.
Saturday's win, a healthy response to the 3-0 drubbing at Watford last time out, left them on 27 points, five behind the top four.
Benteke made the difference in the second half, slotting home Roberto Firmino's cross to make Liverpool's dominance count.
"Beating teams at the top of the table is tough, so I'm very pleased," manager Juergen Klopp said. "We had a lot of patience. We deserved the three points."
The German said that he was happy with Benteke's form, despite the Belgian striker starting on the bench against both Watford and Leicester. He came on for Divock Origi, who pulled his hamstring in the first half.
"Christian is a class player. He came in, it wasn't easy... he fought intensively and hard for the team," said Klopp.
Benteke still squandered a golden chance in the dying moments, shooting at defender Wes Morgan after Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had gone up for a throw-in.
Klopp's only concern is the injury to Origi as Liverpool face Sunderland away on Wednesday.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE