Liverpool analysis – Mohamed Salah fears eased as new crowd favourite emerges at Anfield

Salah and Mane fears being eased

The imminent departures of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to the Africa Cup of Nations continue to loom large for Liverpool.

But if this rollercoaster evening proved anything, it was the Reds’ supporting cast are primed to step into the breach.

Certainly, Jurgen Klopp will hope Diogo Jota can continue his goalscoring run into the New Year, the Portuguese having now netted in three successive games and notched seven in nine.

His latest, a superb strike across Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel after emerging from the bench at half-time, was then followed by the decisive penalty, a further example of Jota’s happy knack of contributing key moments.

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The latter wouldn’t have been possible without Takumi Minamino’s dramatic 95th-minute equaliser, reward for an improved second-half showing although the Japanese will be grateful Jota was able to succeed where he couldn’t in the shoot-out.

And then there was Roberto Firmino, making his first start in seven weeks but easily the classiest operator on the field.

All this without Divock Origi, the matchwinner at Wolverhampton Wanderers and AC Milan before being struck down with injury.

Whenever they leave, Liverpool will miss Salah and Mane. Which team wouldn’t?

But it would be disrespectful to those that remain to believe the plug is about to be pulled on the Reds’ hopes of domestic success this season.

Billy the kid growing up

One affectionately afforded moniker was all it took for Billy Koumetio to find himself instantly on the radar of Liverpool supporters.

But there’s a reason why Jurgen Klopp nicknamed the centre-back “Billy the Kid” after impressing during pre-season 18 months ago.

Koumetio only turned 19 last month, a mere pup despite a physical prowess that makes it easy to forget his tender years.

After a first senior appearance in the Champions League last December as a second-half substitute in the dead rubber at FC Midtjylland, the youngster has been developing away from the first-team glare at the Academy where he has experienced the inevitable bumps in the road of every fledgling player.

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And there have been easier tasks for a full debutant than being asked to help quell the threat of seasoned striker Jamie Vardy and in-form Patson Daka.

So it proved. But while one iffy pass into midfield almost gifted Leicester a goal, Koumetio demonstrated sufficient composure and confidence to suggest there will be further senior opportunities.

Alongside the youngster, Joe Gomez was every inch a player whose first-team opportunities have been limited in recent weeks, alarmingly rusty and too often gifting possession.

But Ibrahima Konate, the half-time replacement for Koumetio, continued his recent impressive form with another no-nonsense, assertive performance. The Frenchman is a crowd favourite in the making.

Williams change pays off

There’s a bit of recent history about Wales international full-backs being transformed into rampaging wingers.

Just ask Gareth Bale.

So it wasn’t entirely surprising to see Neco Williams pushed into a more advanced role down the right flank after impressing during a number of cameos this campaign.

But while Williams had a hand in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal, the experiment didn’t quite work with Conor Bradley, making his home debut at right-back, struggling to cope with Leicester’s rapier-like thrusts and unable to forge an understanding down a misfiring flank.

With Tyler Morton also finding it tough going in midfield, there was a lop-sided look to the Liverpool approach.

While that changed with youngsters Koumetio, Morton and Bradley all being removed at half-time in favour of experience, another key was reverting Williams to right-back, the Welshman hugely improved in the deeper position and more regularly working into dangerous areas.

Williams, as Klopp later insisted, has the attributes to play more offensively and could well be utilised there again in the future.

Full-back, though, is his best position. At least for now.

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