In Jurgen Klopp’s eyes the £75m that Liverpool are paying for Virgil van Dijk is “not nice” but Mohamed Salah represents “a catch” at £36.9m. It was not hard to agree with both assessments as the Egypt international continued his prolific form to inspire an outstanding Liverpool comeback against Leicester City.
Salah struck two more superb goals to overturn Jamie Vardy’s early opener at Anfield and take his season’s tally to 23 in all competitions. In doing so, the summer signing from Roma equalled Roger Hunt’s record from 1961-’62 as the most goals by a Liverpool player before the new year. Klopp celebrated wildly on the final whistle as Claude Puel suffered his first defeat in seven encounters with the Anfield club. The response was justified. This was a hugely impressive display and show of character from a Liverpool team that can surely only improve with Van Dijk on board.
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 Joel Matip’s mistake that was ruthlessly punished and demonstrated every Liverpool centre-half is threatened by the enhanced competition.
Leicester capitalised brilliantly 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 into midfield. Vicente Iborra won their challenge and swept an exquisite ball behind Andrew Robertson into the path of Riyad Mahrez. The Leicester winger squared first time and there was Jamie Vardy, so often Liverpool’s nemesis, arriving ahead of Matip to convert 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 went unrewarded until Salah levelled in style early in the second half.
Leicester had opened brightly with Demarai Gray and Mahrez quickly into their stride but Vardy’s third-minute strike was to be their high point. Puel’s teams are renowned for organisation and defensive discipline yet, with Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho dropping into space and exchanging audacious one-twos, Leicester were frequently prised apart by Liverpool’s excellent reaction. It was an achievement by the visitors to hold their lead up to half-time.
Mane of Liverpool runs with the ball under pressure from Daniel Amartey of Leicester City. Photo: Getty Images3
Mane of Liverpool runs with the ball under pressure from Daniel Amartey of Leicester City. Photo: Getty Images
The home side created eight good openings in the 20 minutes that followed Vardy’s breakthrough. Due to some wasteful finishing from Salah, solid defending from Kasper Schmeichel and Harry Maguire, and a correct offside call against Sadio Mané, Liverpool were unable to take any.
Salah should have levelled swiftly when found inside the penalty area by Mané’s low cross from the left. Iborra missed his attempted interception, granting the striker time to pick his spot, but his effort was placed wide of Schmeichel’s goal as Maguire closed in.
The former Hull City defender denied Salah with a fine recovery tackle inside his area as Liverpool’s leading goalscorer raced through. Schmeichel saved well from Coutinho, James Milner and Firmino, Mané converted Robertson’s cross but was a yard offside as he did so, while Salah sliced wide when released behind the Leicester defence.
The pressure was unrelenting from Liverpool and their refusal to be disheartened by the wasted chances was impressive. 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 arrived seven minutes after the restart and characterised a confident display. Firmino and Can were involved before Mané sent Salah darting into the area with a delightful back-heel. He evaded challenges from Christian Fuchs and Daniel Amartey and, with Schmeichel advancing, fired a low left-foot shot through the keeper’s legs.
Leicester also responded well to conceding and almost regained the lead when Wilfred Ndidi curled a shot a fraction wide of Karius’ goal. But with Coutinho causing mayhem with a series of impudent flicks over the visiting defence it was the hosts who continued to carry the greater threat.
The winner also stemmed from a first-time flick into Salah, this time from Milner, but there appeared no immediate danger with 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.