When Liverpool took the pitch against Leicester City on the penultimate day of 2017, few fans suspected that it would be Philippe Coutinho’s last match for the Reds. Of course there had been rumors swirling, including the very public rebuff of Barcelona’s less-than-generous offer over the summer.
Coutinho, for his part, shook off the “back injury” that sidelined him for the start of the season, and played some stunning football for Liverpool in the fall of 2017. But as was often the case with Coutinho, it was boom or bust for The Magician. When he was on it the goals and assists flowed. When he wasn’t, the offense sputtered.
On that day, Liverpool found themselves a goal down early under the Anfield lights. A third minute Jamie Vardy goal ensured that Liverpool would be chasing the game against their resolute guests.
It was a frustrating first half. Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah each spurned chances, and Philippe Coutinho resorted to taking low-percentage chances from outside the box, as was his M.O.
On another day it could have been “one of those days.”
But it wasn’t.
Mo Salah made sure it wasn’t.
The Egyptian King had a great start to the campaign, scoring an astounding 15 goals in 20 league matches. But he hadn’t yet really grabbed a single game by the scruff of the neck, and dragged Liverpool over the line. In that second half, he did.
Salah scored two outstanding goals, one on 52 minutes, and the match winner on 76 minutes. On the second, future Manchester United player Harry Maguire practically ripped Salah’s shirt off him. No foul was given—naturally—but it didn’t matter; Salah shrugged off the challenge and scored the winning goal.
The goals were Salah’s 16th and 17th of the campaign, one in which he finished on 44 goals in all competitions, and set the Premier League record for goals in a season with 32. His season was about to go from great to one of the all-time greats. One that will be remembered for generations.
This might be me reading too much into the situation, but I truly believe that Salah looked at the soon-to-be departing Coutinho and thought, “I’ll just have to do this myself.” So he did. And he hasn’t stopped firing since.
In the final minute of regulation Klopp subbed Couts off, to give him one, final, Anfield send off. He even had to encourage him to give (the weakest ever) clap towards the Kop. It was a moment when many fans started to fear the worst about Coutinho’s future. In that moment, they would have been right to worry about Coutinho’s departure. But they would have been dead wrong to worry about Liverpool’s future.