Coutinho announces his return in style, as Liverpool win wild one at Leicester
LEICESTER, England -- Three thoughts on Liverpool's 3-2 win over Leicester at the King Power Stadium in the Premier League.
1. A hard-fought win for Liverpool
Liverpool lack consistency, are defensively suspect and waste too many opportunities to turn their possession into goals, but they certainly give the spectator value for money. An extraordinary evening in Leicester brought scores of chances, five goals, a penalty save and a tense finish. More importantly for Jurgen Klopp, it brought three points for Liverpool.
Klopp has taken some heavy criticism recently as the goals-against column continues to tick over, and some of these concerns have been justified. But his team are five points off the top with 32 games left to play. It is hardly a crisis. Had this game gone the other way, and that could so easily have been the case, they might have been looking at a troubling few weeks. Liverpool were 3-1 up with 21 minutes left, but conceded immediately afterwards and were indebted to Simon Mignolet for his penalty save on Jamie Vardy. But as the pressure intensified and the home supporters at the King Power Stadium roared, Klopp's side held their nerve.
The opening exchanges threatened to vindicate his critics. Riyad Mahrez should have given Leicester the lead after six minutes, but contrived to blast the ball wildly over the bar when Mignolet had saved Vardy's effort from a narrow angle. Seven minutes later, Mohamed Salah spared his blushes, missing an even easier attempt when he hacked the ball wide of an open goal after Emre Can had rattled Kasper Schmeichel's post.
But Salah would make amends two minutes later. Coutinho bobbed and weaved on the left flank and then whipped a cross at the far post. Salah lost the attentions of Ben Chilwell and stretched to head the ball home.
Typically, Liverpool did their best to offer Leicester a route back into the game. Mignolet dawdled with the ball and lost possession when Vardy put him under pressure. The ball fell to Shinji Okazaki but Mignolet recovered to deflect his effort wide.
A clumsy foul by Wilfred Ndidi on Alberto Moreno earned Liverpool a direct free kick and the midfielder a yellow card, but the eventual cost was far higher. Coutinho stepped back, appraised the situation, strode forward and sent the ball whistling into the top corner. Schmeichel had no chance.
Leicester weren't going to give up of course. They might have been back in the game before half-time when Okazaki headed past Mignolet when he appeared to have been played on by Jordan Henderson. But the linesman appeared to have already flagged for Harry Maguire being offside.
But Okazaki was not to be denied. As half-time approached, he tugged at Mignolet at a corner, preventing the Belgian from reaching the ball. Maguire slipped it back into the 6-yard box and Okazaki just stretched out a toe to get it over the line as Mignolet returned the favour by dragging him back. Henderson led the protests of the Liverpool players, but referee Antony Taylor was not to be budged. It was the 28th set-piece goal conceded by Klopp's Liverpool, though in this case, it wasn't his team's fault.
Henderson restored the two-goal advantage midway through the second half only for Leicester to instantly hit back. Had Vardy converted his penalty, you wonder if Liverpool could have held out against what would have seemed irresistible momentum. But Mignolet read Vardy's intentions perfectly. Liverpool may be many things, but they are rarely dull.
2. Coutinho well handled
It was easy to be cynical when Liverpool insisted that they would not sell Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona this summer for any price. How many clubs have played that game in the past to boost the fee? But not only did Liverpool stand their ground, they quickly reintegrated the Brazilian into the first team too, with no recriminations and no judgement. At least in public anyway. How wise a policy it has proved. A trip to Leicester is never an easy proposition, especially for a team with a leaky defence. Coutinho, with one assist and one glorious goal, gave Liverpool a two-goal cushion by the midway point in the first half.
After two decades of player power, it seems that the clubs are finally clawing back control. Coutinho was not the only high-profile wantaway player to be lashed to the wheel this summer. Unfortunately for Liverpool one of the others was Virgil van Dijk...
3. Poor old Leicester
Craig Shakespeare must be cursing his luck. Handed a hideous start by the fixture computer, his team have done enough in games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool to take anywhere between three and seven points. But they've ended up with none and they are stuck towards the bottom of the table with only one win to their name. It's a false position.
Vardy is back to his best, a horrible, tenacious striker to play against who delighted in tormenting the nervous Dejan Lovren throughout this game. Okazaki, forever underrated, was similarly devoted to harassing the Liverpool defence. They didn't enjoy too much possession, but their chance total went into double figures long before the end of the game. Nor can there be any questioning their character. They kept fighting where other teams would shrivel up and die. But they just cannot catch a break. It will happen. Someone soon will bear the brunt of their frustration. But it was not Liverpool.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.