Classy Coutinho and Salah paint Hong Kong Red as they lift Asia Trophy
Brazilian attacking midfielder a sight to behold as he treats capacity crowd at Hong Kong Stadium to a dazzling display; new Egyptian signing finds the target too as Merseysiders defeat Leicester City 2-1 in final
Maybe it was because European giants Barcelona fired the starting gun in what is likely to become a summer-long pursuit of the magical Brazilian earlier this week, but a full-house of almost exclusively Liverpool supporters inside Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday night wanted to make sure Philippe Coutinho knew how much he meant to them.
The 25-year-old responded in kind as he treated the 39,498-strong So Kon Po crowd to a mesmerising display of attacking wizardry during Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Leicester City to claim the English Premier League’s Asia Trophy.
With the crowd booing anyone who went near to him, wildly cheering his every touch before the frenzied celebration of his scintillating winning goal, it’s highly likely the 25-year-old got the message.
— Nicolas Atkin (@NicoSCMP) July 22, 2017
Coutinho was a joy to behold. Sublime, pin-point accurate cross-pitch passing, devilish off-the-ball movement and dizzying dribbling was all complemented by flicked through balls so deft, they almost caught out his own teammates. At one point, Riyad Mahrez was booked for simply hauling the forward to the ground after he had twisted the Algerian inside out.
Luckily for Liverpool, one such through ball was read perfectly by record-signing Mohamed Salah who combined superbly with the man-of-the-match as the Reds fought back from 1-0 down to claim the trophy after Islam Slimani had put the Foxes ahead against the run of play after 11 minutes.
Following a period of sustained Liverpool pressure, a cross from Leicester’s Christian Fuchs found Slimani who beat James Milner too easily at the back post and headed past goalkeeper Loris Karius to give the Foxes an early lead and stun the crowd.
The goal sparked Liverpool into action.
Salah’s equaliser came after a splendid piece of play on the edge of the Leicester box. The Egyptian played a ball in to Coutinho and continued his run before nodding in a perfectly weighted dinked return from the Brazilian past Kasper Schmeichel.
Coutinho’s winner on 43 minutes was a thing of beauty: a trademark run drifting in off the left flank allowed him to beat two men and flick the ball on to his right foot before thrashing in a swerving effort past the outstretched arms of a helpless Schmeichel on 43 minutes, and the crowd went ballistic. In truth, the Foxes defence allowed him a suicidal amount of time with the ball at his feet, but the finish was sensational nonetheless.
When he made way to a standing ovation on 57 minutes, it was crystal clear how important the maverick Brazilian is going to be to Liverpool’s title aspirations this season, and it was underlined how strong Liverpool must be in their resolve to rebuff the advances of the Spanish giants this summer.
“Phil Coutinho is a key player for us, no doubt,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp after the match. “And I know that he feels more than fine and comfortable in Liverpool.
“He loves the club, he loves the city — all that is clear. But that he’s able to play as he did tonight in very, very difficult moment of the pre-season is good to see.”
Leicester toiled but after taking off the tireless Jamie Vardy on 70 minutes, they never looked like getting back into the game. The England striker was a constant thorn in the side of Liverpool’s centre-back pairing of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, especially in the first half, and could have had a hat-trick but for a couple of marginal offside calls and some fine goalkeeping from the Liverpool No 1.
After a raft of substitutions after half-time, the game inevitably descended into an altogether more scrappy affair, but Liverpool maintained the upper-hand and were good value for the win.
Earlier, Crystal Palace secured third place in the tournament after an ill-tempered play-off ended 2-0 to Frank de Boer’s men. Luka Milivojevic and Bakary Sako netting in a fiery encounter which saw two West Brom players yellow-carded.