Priceless Coutinho covers up Liverpool’s defensive cracks

Even before the ball had evaded Kasper Schmeichel and curled neatly and typically into the corner, the away end at the King Power Stadium filled the ground with his name.

And so, on the day where it leaked that Barcelona had allegedly guaranteed Philippe Coutinho €115 million over five years had he transfered to them this summer, the Brazil international demonstrated why Liverpool rebuffed the Catalans, telling them he was priceless.

Liverpool 12/1 to beat Newcaste 3-1

Philippe Coutinho Liverpool Leicester

“No sum will lead us to reverse our decision,” was sporting director Michael Edwards’ emailed response to Oscar Grau, the chairman of Barca’s board of management.

Why?

On 22 minutes, Wilfred Ndidi was booked for slicing down Alberto Moreno 25 yards from goal and as referee Anthony Taylor pushed the wall back for the free-kick and the travelling contingent voiced their olé olés, the playmaker picked his spot and visualised his strike.

Coutinho took a little run up, belting a beautiful curler over the wall and into the bottom left corner. He spun away, arms outstretched encouraging more noise from the Liverpool supporters as he screamed in celebration and relief.

Since coming off the bench in the 2-2 Champions League draw with Sevilla – the 25-year-old’s first competitive appearance for the club this season as he nursed a back injury and agitated for a move to Camp Nou – Jurgen Klopp has been seeking to restore the attacker’s match sharpness.

Philippe Coutinho Liverpool Leicester

On Tuesday night, against the same opponents on the same ground, Coutinho had looked nearly there – so much so that Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare admitted his withdrawal at half-time was soothing.

Four days later, in his third game of the week, he was again the difference – and decisive to Liverpool ending a four-match winless run.

“We think we did it right that we gave him 45 minutes in midweek so he could get more rhythm and it wouldn’t be too intense,” Klopp said.

“It was not too good for the game in midweek to take him off to be honest, but it was perfect for today. He can be happy with his performance and I’m very happy with it.”

By the time Schmeichel picked his free-kick out the back of the net, Coutinho had already delivered a stellar inswinging cross beyond the far post from just outside the area for Mohamed Salah.

HD Salah Coutinho Liverpool celebrate

The Egyptian fooled Ben Chilwell and squeezed a header in from a tight angle having put a rebound wide minutes before as Emre Can struck the post.

The No.10 and the speedster, who combined so wonderfully in pre-season, were at it again and despite starting aggressively, Leicester found themselves having to chase the game.

As has been the case against the Merseysiders, though, if you apply even a little bit of pressure, they will conspire against themselves at the back.

Shinji Okazaki thought he had reduced the deficit on 40 minutes, but it was ruled out as Harry Maguire was offside from the free-kick as he flicked on.

With half-time approaching and Liverpool 2-0 up, Roberto Firmino wasted a chance to add to their advantage by driving a first-time shot with his left just wide.

And that bit of profligacy – a mark of the side since the international break – would be regretted as Leicester did get on the scoreboard.

Simon Mignolet excellently denied Jamie Vardy, but as he came to clear the resulting corner, Okazaki impeded the goalkeeper by holding onto his arm and then reacted quickest when the ball dropped to tap it in.

Simon Mignolet Liverpool v Leicester

Liverpool were furious with the officiating throughout that entire stanza of play as they headed into the interval.

In the second half, both sides had periods of joy in what so often descended into utter chaos. Jordan Henderson thought he killed the game off on 68 minutes after stealing possession and setting Liverpool on the break through Coutinho, who fed Daniel Sturridge.

The England striker drove the ball on and supplied the Reds captain, who made it 3-1. Klopp fist-pumped wildly on the touchline, but would soon fly into fury.

Just a minute later, Marc Albrighton beat Joe Gomez down the left and crossed beyond the far post to Demarai Gray. He controlled and sent a stunning effort Mignolet’s way, which the Belgian thwarted, but Vardy was left unmarked to head into an empty net.

The madness was not over yet as the forward won a penalty shortly afterwards as the keeper clattered into him. Mignolet has several weaknesses, but saving from the spot is not one of them as he demonstrated again – keeping out more kicks than any other gloveman in the Premier League since his move to Liverpool in 2013.

Jamie Vardy Leicester City 2017

A shout for an Emre Can handball was waved away as Taylor’s decision-making was flawed in the fixture.

It was a far from perfect showing from the visitors, too, but Klopp believes they are navigating the right course. 

“We play good football in general. We are in a good way,” he said. “We do a lot of things that you do when you’ve worked a little bit longer together. Yes, we still have issues. Yes, we lose challenges.

“Yes, because of the defence discussions it doesn’t help a lot if you make a mistake in defence, but it still will happen with all different line-ups, we will concede goals in the future.

“A little bit too much today, maybe one for sure too much and one goal you can concede at Leicester. We could have defended better before they could cross around the second goal, that’s the 100 per cent truth.

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“In modern football that’s maybe rare, I’m not sure, but we want to be successful together. That means we always feel bad together when it’s not that good. We’ve felt quite average the last few days, and today much better.”

A large part of that is owed to Coutinho contrusting the foundation for a much-needed 3-2 victory.

Liverpool could not contemplate losing their stardust for this season, and anyone who questioned why they didn’t cash in on a player Henderson summed up as “fantastic, who produces magical things at crucial times” received a very clear answer on Saturday evening.

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