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Priceless Coutinho covers up Liverpool's defensive cracks

September 23, 2017 6:47 PM
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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.

"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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Reds’ rearguard held on to depart Leicester with a 3-2 win, but the foundation for the much-needed victory was constructed by Coutinho.

Liverpool could not contemplate losing their stardust for this season, and anyone who questioned why they didn’t cash in on him received a very clear answer on Saturday evening.


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