Liverpool were far from their best in an empty Anfield but they roused themselves to see off a fiercely competitive Leeds United side.
Liverpool’s title defence got off to an entertaining start as they saw off Leeds United 4-3 as the away side found an equaliser three times to give the reigning champions a fright.
The new season was only a few minutes old when Leeds new boy Robin Koch got his Premier League career off to the worst possible start. The German international gave away a penalty for handball after his outstretched arm blocked Mohammed Salah’s shot and the Egyptian thumped home the spot kick.
Leeds’ Hélder Costa had a goal disallowed soon after but the newly-promoted team were level within ten minutes with a great strike from Jack Harrison. The champions were soon back ahead through Virgil van Dijk after the big Dutchman evaded the attention of Koch from a corner. Far too easy from the new Leeds man and a debut to forget.
At his best Van Dijk makes elite football look incredibly easy but his relaxed style cost his side a goal as he failed to clear a long ball over the top from Stuart Dellas. The Liverpool defender tried to flick it away but only succeeded in prodding it into the path of a grateful Patrick Bamford, who slotted past Allisson.
Four goals within the first half hour in Anfield’s first fixture of the new season but the home side edged ahead with ten minutes of the first half remaining as Salah smashed home his second. Andy Robertson’s cross was nodded away from danger but Salah pounced on the loose ball and sent it crashing into the top corner.
The pace of the game slowed notably in the second half as defences sought to stop the rot. Liverpool carved some decent chances for Salah and Sadio Mane but Leeds maintained a threat on the break throughout. The away side levelled up for a third time midway through the second half after a great goal from Mateusz Klich. The midfielder broke through the Liverpool lines and fired a great finish into the far corner.
Neither side could find the break-through until the final stages when Rodrigo marked his Premier League debut by dangling a leg toward Fabinho in the box. The penalty gave Salah the chance to complete his hat-trick and the Egyptian duly obliged. A chaotic start to the season for the champions but plenty to build on for Bielsa’s men.
Bielsa sticks to his principles
A trip to the champions is the toughest test on paper for any newly-promoted side but Marcelo BIelsa’s Leeds were never likely to change their style. The aggressive, ball-playing tactics made them one of the best teams to watch in England last year and they caused Liverpool problems constantly. Kalvin Phillips followed up his first England cap with an impressive performance at Anfield, the deep-lying midfielder’s long diagonal ball setting up Jack Harrison for their first. Both Harrison’s and Klich’s goals were strikes of real quality and Leeds’ will certainly cause Premier League sides problems this year.
Disjointed pre-season takes its toll
Both teams finished their 2019/20 seasons in late July and have had little time to prepare for the new campaign with the recent international break. The less-than-ideal preparations seemed to take its toll with a number of avoidable mistakes from both sides. Koch only signed for Leeds in late August before going away with the German national team and his unfamiliarity with the system showed at times. A number of the goals were the result of defensive errors and neither coach will be particularly happy with their backline. Liverpool looked imperious for much of the last season at home but looked vulnerable against Leeds, although the lack of atmosphere must have taken the wind out of the home side’s sails. New signing Rodrigo looked sluggish and gave away a clumsy penalty with minutes remaining.
Reds’ full-backs struggle to impose themselves
A huge part of Liverpool’s success in recent years has been their full-backs who function as wide play-makers, launching attacks and pushing the side forward. Since the start of the 2018/19 season no Premier League players have racked up more assists than Trent Alexander-Arnold (25) and Andy Robertson (24). The left-back provided the corner for Van Dijk’s goal against Leeds but the full-backs were peripheral for much of the game. Leeds’ high-octane pressing game deprived them of the time and space that they usually enjoyed and they were not as effective as usual. Klopp will hope that teams do not follow their lead for the rest of the campaign