Match fitness. Philippe Coutinho doesn’t quite have it after missing the end of pre-season and first month of the season to a Barcelona-induced back injury. And that meant that for the star Brazilian, last night’s League Cup tie was as much about gaining fitness for the league and Champions League as anything.
Still, the difference his removal after 45 minutes—planned to gain the player fitness while hopefully getting the visiting Reds the goal or two they’d need to win the night—was plain to see, and had Leicester City boss Craig Shakespeare feeling fortunate following a match that, in the end, his side won 2-0.
“It’s all about the result in football,” he noted following Tuesday night’s League Cup tie. “We led a charmed life in the first half and we know that our goal was under threat, so I was delighted to just get in at half-time—and then even more delighted to see that they had taken Coutinho off at half-time.”
Coutinho’s presence had helped Liverpool to dominate the first half, but their wastefulness in front of goal meant a level scoreline rather than a game that was already settled by the time the player was removed with an eye to the weekend’s league game against Leicester and next week’s Champions League fixture.
After being outplayed in the first, it helped Leicester to play Liverpool level in the second—and where Liverpool’s finishing had been cold, Leicester’s wasn’t. The hosts lost the first half on the run of play and drew the second, but where it counted they won the game and advanced in the cup.
“You worry about your team performance, and we asked the players to be more aggressive,” Shakespeare added. “We needed better hold-up play from the centre-forwards second half. We wanted to play on the front foot a bit more, but it’s all about staying in the game at times.
“For as much chances and possession they had, it’s up to the opposition to take them. They didn’t and then second half we really showed a lot of resilience and character to come back the way we did. I thought it was a real good second-half performance.”