HONG KONG: A moment of Philippe Coutinho magic lifted Liverpool to a 2-1 preseason victory over Leicester City in the final of the Premier League Asia Trophy on Saturday.
With Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp rejecting a big-money offer from Barcelona for Coutinho earlier this week, the mercurial Brazilian underlined his importance to the Reds with a flash of individual brilliance in Hong Kong.
The 25-year-old picked the ball up on the left of the area on the stroke of halftime, jinked his way inside and let fly with a superb right-foot strike that proved to be the game-winner.
“Everybody knows that Phil Coutinho is a key player for us,” Klopp told reporters.
“He loves the club, he loves the city — he is a fantastic footballer. If he is able to play like tonight, in a very difficult moment of the preseason after all the (training) sessions, that shows his big potential.”
Coutinho had earlier played the role of provider for new signing Mohamed Salah, dinking the ball on to the Egyptian’s head to cancel out Islam Slimani’s 12th-minute nodded opener.
Klopp was involved in a heated exchange with referee Bobby Madley in the first half, the German revealing his anger had been sparked by some close attention Coutinho was receiving from the Leicester defenders.
“These players make the difference. These players bring people to the stadium,” said Klopp. “That’s why have to look after them a little bit.”
Salah, meanwhile, again demonstrated that the club record $45 million Klopp paid Roma for his services looks money well spent.
His pace adding another dimension to Liverpool’s attack, the former Chelsea winger gave Leicester’s Christian Fuchs a torrid time until he was substituted on 65 minutes.
Klopp, whose side beat Crystal Palace 2-0 in midweek to reach the final, is still hoping to bring in Leipzig midfielder Nabi Keita, with Liverpool set to return with a final offer of around $97 million for the Guinea international.
For now, it was a case of job done for Liverpool in the Far East.
“It’s really pleasing,” said Klopp. “We’ve played two hard games in very difficult circumstances against very good opponents.
“Winning both games is a big thing. The boys did well.
“Yes we conceded a goal. But the line-up was my idea and it was clear that not everything in defence would work. We have big offensive potential but obviously we need to learn how to defend together.”
Palace won the third-place playoff earlier on Saturday, seeing off West Brom 2-0 in a testy affair that saw tempers flare as the players entered the tunnel at halftime.
The match was settled by Luka Milivojevic’s sweetly struck free kick on 11 minutes and a deflected Bakary Sako shot that found the net with three minutes left in the first half.