Liverpool fans happy as ‘Orange’ reach Premier League Asia Trophy final with win over Crystal Palace
Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi on the scoresheet as Jurgen Klopp’s men record 2-0 at Hong Kong Stadium to set up a final with Leicester City, who earlier beat West Bromwich Albion on penalties
After all the promo junkets, marketing opportunities, “fan engagement” and “brand activation’, some football actually broke out around the Premier League Asia Trophy on Wednesday night – and it was the perfect result as far as locals were concerned.
For the Hong Kong crowd, this might as well be called the Liverpool Asia Trophy, and they were sent home happy after seeing new signing Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi score against Crystal Palace to send their team into Saturday’s final against Leicester City.
“It was an all-round good performance … because it’s been funny weather with rain and then the heat today it was tough for both teams but I thought both played well,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
“The atmosphere was really nice, we came in as the other game was still running, the boys had a look and were really impressed and were already looking forward to it. If you’re in a tournament you want to be in the final no matter what tournament it is ... we’ll try everything to win it in a nice stadium with a fantastic atmosphere.”
Despite their preparations being disrupted by rain, captain Jordan Henderson said: “We actually enjoyed the conditions, it’s been something different for us, it’s been a good test and for the lads, it’s been brilliant, we enjoyed the past few days.
“The weather hasn’t been great but we managed to train yesterday and we managed to play on the day and playing football and getting minutes so everybody is happy.”
Certainly almost every one of the 40,000 packed into the Hong Kong Stadium were. Most wore Liverpool red – or Liverpool white, or Liverpool neon orange, depending on whether they’d opted for home, away, or third kit – and the merchandising stands on the concourse were doing a roaring trade.
The majority in attendance had little interest in watching Leicester take on West Bromwich Albion in the earlier game despite the fact Leicester have actually won the title in the last 27 years.
They missed fine strikes from West Brom’s new signing from Southampton Jay Rodriguez and Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez, and a novel penalty shootout which Leicester won.
Thankfully, after days of torrential rain in the build-up, the day dawned hot and sunny and the showers stayed away. The much-maligned pitch cut up a little, but held up reasonably well, as it reasonably might, having been relaid at a cost of some HK$30 million after farcical scenes the last time this tournament was held in Hong Kong, in 2013.
Naby Keita’s agent was rumoured to be in the city as Liverpool continue their pursuit of the RB Leipzig midfielder – though the German club reportedly rejected a £70 million (HK$712 million) bid on Wednesday.
“Can you go higher?” a reporter asked.
Watch: Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace
“What is this, Vegas?” replied Klopp. “No wait, what’s that place – is this Macau?”
Keita may have to wait but it was the two signings Klopp has managed to seal this summer who caught the eye.
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Palace found it exceptionally difficult to contain the electric pace of Mohamed Salah in the 50 minutes he played and he was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.
Solanke came on in the second half and showed why Chelsea may reject losing the talented youngster as he opened his account with an excellent strike into the corner from the edge of the box, before Origi sealed the win late on.
“To get my first goal, I was over the moon,” said 19-year-old Solanke, showing an old head for the footballer’s cliche despite his tender years.
“As soon I played the ball, I had a bit of space, so the first thing on my mind was to get a strike in and I managed to put into the corner.”
Among the night’s ‘innovations’ were wristbands given to every fan that lit up when Liverpool scored, a novelty that had social media wits – especially those of an Everton persuasion – bemoaning the state of modern football.
Another novelty was the Leicester against West Brom penalty shootout, notable for following the ‘ABBA’ format the game’s rulemakers are trying out. They believe under the current, alternating ‘ABAB’ format, the first team to shoot has an advantage.
On this sample size of one, the theory held true as West Brom went first and lost, youngster Sam Field missing after six players from each team had scored, with Marc Albrighton sealing a 7-6 win.
“Sometimes from the fans’ point of view I wondered if they knew what the system was – I wondered if our players did – but if you want to try something new you’ve got to give it time,” said Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare.
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The penalty spot was significantly mangled towards the end of the shootout as the oft-criticised Hong Kong Stadium pitch cut up, but otherwise the surface was not a factor.
Rodriguez scored a superb goal on his debut for West Brom as he looks to get back into the England team having moved from Southampton.
Watch: Riyad Mahrez’s goal for Leicester City against West Bromwich Albion
“Jay’s strike was fantastic the lad was always a very good player he’s just had a couple of bad injuries that set him back and not really got himself in position to get a run of games,” said West Brom boss Tony Pulis.
“We’re hoping to get him back and get him fit because he’s a natural goalscorer.”
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Mahrez has been linked with Arsenal and Roma and certainly played like he was trying to impress potential buyers in an impressive 50 minutes or so.
“I know what Riyad Mahrez can do, we all know that,” said Shakespeare. “We know the situation but I’ve said before that Riyad since his return has been very professional in his attitude and I expect that to continue.”