By Jürgen Klopp’s admission the £75m that Liverpool are paying for Virgil van Dijk is unpleasant but Mohamed Salah represents “a catch” at £36.9m. His valuation of the Egypt international appeared sensible, even understated in the perverse world of football economics, after Salah inspired an outstanding Liverpool recovery against Leicester City.
“The best reaction since I’ve been here,” said the Liverpool manager, who celebrated with characteristic abandon on the final whistle and with good reason. Salah struck two more superb goals to overturn Jamie Vardy’s opener at Anfield and take his season’s tally to 23 in all competitions. No Liverpool player has ever scored more before new year, the former Roma winger equalling Roger Hunt’s record from 1961-62 before departing with a limp that makes him a doubt for the New Year’s Day trip to Burnley. Salah encapsulated Liverpool’s quality throughout.
Klopp’s team showed why Van Dijk has been bought at such expense when conceding cheaply and early but their comeback was hugely impressive in terms of performance and character. The result bodes well for a Liverpool team that can only improve with the defender on board and Claude Puel had no complaints over his first defeat in seven meetings with the Anfield club. “Liverpool played their best today,” said the Leicester manager.
His Liverpool counterpart commented: “You don’t want to go 1-0 down but if you do you want to see a reaction and it was fantastic. Not one player reacted in a negative way. We kept on going, created, created, created, and played brilliant football. Everyone in the stadium thought ‘Wow, what a game’ and 100 per cent it was one of the best since I’ve been here so far.”
The world’s most expensive defender had only just taken an executive seat in the main stand when Leicester took the lead thanks to another lapse in the rearguard that he has been bought to improve. Dejan Lovren may be the man with most to lose following the Holland international’s acquisition but it was Joël Matip’s mistake that demonstrated every Liverpool centre-half is threatened by the enhanced competition. Leicester punished the error superbly, in fairness.
Matip was under no pressure when he took the ball from Loris Karius, back in the team as Klopp rotated his goalkeepers, and sold Emre Can short with a careless pass. Vicente Iborra won the midfield challenge and swept an exquisite ball behind Andrew Robertson into Riyad Mahrez. The winger squared first time and there was Vardy, so often Liverpool’s nemesis, arriving ahead of Matip to score from close range.
It was Vardy’s seventh goal in eight appearances against Liverpool – becoming the first Leicester player to score in five successive meetings between the clubs in the process – and only the fourth league goal that Klopp’s team have conceded at Anfield this season. It was also the cue for Liverpool to deliver a rampant response, albeit one that was littered with missed chances and good saves from Kasper Schmeichel until Salah levelled in style. It was an achievement by Leicester to hold their advantage until the interval.
The pressure was unrelenting from Liverpool and a refusal to be disheartened by wasted opportunities was as impressive as their performance. Merited reward finally came from the devastating feet of Salah with his 22nd and 23rd goals of a remarkable debut season in red.
Liverpool’s equaliser reflected the confidence running through Klopp’s players. Roberto Firmino and Can were involved before Sadio Mané sent Salah darting into the area with a delightful back-heel. The summer signing evaded challenges from Christian Fuchs and Daniel Amartey and, with Schmeichel advancing, fired a low left-foot shot through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Similarly to Liverpool, Leicester responded well to conceding and almost regained the lead when Wilfred Ndidi curled a shot a fraction wide of Karius’s goal. But with Philippe Coutinho causing mayhem with a series of impudent touchesover the visiting defence it was the hosts who continued to pose the greater threat. The winner also stemmed from a first-time flick into Salah, this time from James Milner, but there appeared no immediate danger with Harry Maguire towering at his back. In an instant, however, Salah was gone, rolling the big defender brilliantly before placing his latest precise finish into Schmeichel’s bottom corner.
“I think Mo can keep this standard but I also think all the boys can keep this standard,” said Klopp. Anfield could be in for a treat when Manchester City arrive in a fortnight.
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