Liverpool 2: Salah 20’, Coutinho 44’
Leicester City 1: Slimani 11’
It was an entertaining tussle between two Premier League sides before some tired legs and a balmy, humid evening took the air out of the fight somewhat, but Liverpool emerged on top. The Premier League Asia Trophy is about as close to a meaningless trophy as you can get, but Jürgen Klopp will no doubt be happy to wrap up a very long-distance excursion on a positive note, and should be even happier about how his new signings are coming along.
Both Klopp and his opposite number on the Leicester City bench, Craig Shakespeare, named starting XIs that you could reasonably expect to see on a regular matchday in the Premier League. The Reds started the match with Divock Origi furthest forward, and a dangerous trio of Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino behind him. Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani, Jamie Vardy, and Marc Albrighton all featured for Leicester City.
As befitting the level of enterprise hinted at in the starting lineups, the proceedings settled into a high tempo fairly quickly, in front of a loud, boisterous and decidedly pro-Red crowd. Coutinho directed affairs for Liverpool from a fairly deep position, and on a number of occasions was able to find Trent Alexander-Arnold in good positions on the right. The young fullback continues to make a solid argument for himself as a viable option to Nathaniel Clyne, and if he can improve on his final ball selection and delivery, may present the manager with a good problem this season.
As one might expect, Liverpool had the lion’s share of possession in the early stages, with Coutinho and Firmino looking particularly lively and offsetting a muted start from Gini Wijnaldum and Divock Origi. A couple of corners came to nought (already in mid-season set piece form no doubt), though the subsequent probing allowed Coutinho to test the range from his favorite position cutting in from the left. There was no joy this time but an early warning for Leicester City nonetheless.
Shakespeare’s side were clearly not here for the sightseeing, however, and after weathering the initial surge from Liverpool, Leicester City exerted some pressure of their own, with Mahrez and Albrighton causing early problems. The opening goal was a nicely crafted one, despite Liverpool’s somewhat lackadaisical defending. A clever reverse pass from Albrighton set Fuchs free and completely unbothered to the left of the penalty area, allowing him to place a perfect cross to Slimani at the far post. The Algerian forward outjumped James Milner to put Leicester 1-0 up.
It could have been a deflating setback, especially given how often Liverpool concede this type of goal - collapsing on slippery ball carriers while losing track of the supporting cast - but the Reds responded well. After smothering a Drinkwater free kick just outside the box, Firmino and Coutinho continued to find success ranging from the left.
Inevitably, Coutinho had a hand in the equalizer. In the 20th minute, Salah, who had enjoyed few opportunities to display his blazing speed thus far, laid the ball off for the Brazilian while cannily continuing his run. A pinpoint lofted pass found the Egyptian, who had eluded his marker, allowing him to head past a flailing Schmeichel. It was a more difficult chance than it looked, and it bodes well for the burgeoning partnership between Coutinho and the new signing. Game on.
The goal clearly injected a new degree of confidence for Salah. His teammates sensed it as well. Liverpool’s defenders and midfielders alike were now finding Salah’s runs time and again, and a clever Lallana backheel almost allowed Salah to unlock Leicester City once more. As a sneak preview of what Liverpool might look like once Sadio Mané is able to return to the side, this was a tantalizing sight for Reds supporters and a daunting prospect for opposition defenders. In case anyone else needed convincing, this was why Klopp was so intent on securing Salah’s services.
James Milner was forced off five minutes from the half-time whistle, the victim of a thigh issue that Klopp will hope is not serious. Alberto Moreno came on in his place, and Liverpool pushed on for an advantage before the end of the half. It came courtesy of Coutinho. After the Brazilian found Salah on the right, the ball was pinged about dangerously in front of the Leicester box before arriving back at Coutinho. Moreno made a decoy run on the left, affording Liverpool’s No. 10 just a yard more space - once the shot was unleashed, Schmeichel had little chance.
With a 2-1 advantage in hand, Klopp began ringing in the changes for the second half. Ragnar Klavan, Marko Grujić, Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson were called upon, while Origi, Matip, Firmino and Lallana came off. The reconfiguration caused Liverpool to stutter early in the half, particularly at the back, where Lovren and Klavan looked uneasy. Jamie Vardy had at least two decent chances to put Leicester level, but the combined attentions of Klavan and Karius were just about enough to defuse the threat.
With the pace of the match being dialed back, some newer faces appeared for Liverpool. Ben Woodburn, Joe Gomez, Dom Solanke, and Ryan Kent came on to see the match through to its end. Almost immediately, Solanke showed good understanding to combine with Moreno on a few occasions, but the young striker’s touch deserted him at inopportune moments. Without exactly fashioning a good shooting chance, Solanke did well to repeatedly make a nuisance of himself in that central position, and there’s some solid potential there.
Elsewhere, Grujić had a nice volleyed shot that was just off target, but otherwise was clearly still finding his role within the side (and perhaps a tooth after taking an arm to the face which drew blood). Klavan, like Lovren, wasn’t shy about trying to find Gomez or Moreno on the flanks, but the efforts were hit-or-miss. On the defensive end, his partnership with Lovren was far from convincing, but he made a couple of crucial interventions when Leicester had excellent opportunities to punish Liverpool on the break.
With the humidity starting to make its presence felt, the match meandered towards a conclusion that Leicester did not appear that invested in challenging. The referee called an end to the proceedings, and Henderson was summoned to lift the Reds’ first trophy of the new campaign. If the squad can build on the promise shown today, there are decent odds that it won’t be the last.