In a breathless night of football, Liverpool beat Leeds 4-3 in a seven goal thriller at Anfield.
The Reds took the lead three times but were pegged back each time by Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds who ran them close all the way until the final game-winner came late in the day. What did we learn?
1. Mohamed Salah is an opening day wizard
In 2016, Mohamed Salah scored for Roma against Udinese. In 2017, Mohamed Salah scored for Liverpool against Watford. In 2018 Mohamed Salah scored for Liverpool against West Ham. In 2019 Mohamed Salah scored for Liverpool against Norwich.
Four games over four years have yielded four goals. Salah came into this season aiming to keep that streak alive and match Teddy Sheringham’s Premier League streak, and he did just that after four minutes by blasting home a penalty to open the scoring. Just short of the half hour mark he made it two with a staggering finish that was so perfectly aimed into the top corner that Leeds could have put Nigel Martyn and Paul Robinson in goal and it would have still gone in. And then as the match ticked towards the final whistle and a disappointing draw, Salah completed his hat-trick with another nerveless penalty to win the game for the Reds.
Five years. Five games. Seven goals. Mohamed Salah is an opening day wizard and he’s put Leeds and the Premier League under his spell.
2. Phillips shows a need for Thiago
Liverpool won the game but they did so through set-pieces. None of their goals were from open play and they weren’t exactly beating down the Leeds door either. Neither were they really able to dictate the tempo of the game as Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips did that with ease.
The recently-capped Englishman dominated the middle of the park with almost insulting ease given he was playing opposite PFA Player of the Year Jordan Henderson. Phillips’ laser of a pass for Leeds first goal was the highlight of an incredible display to which Liverpool had no answer – although that was entirely their own fault.
When a team showcases midfield excellence, Liverpool can struggle to respond in kind. It’s the only part of their team you could consider average. That is why the club have been linked with Thiago Alcantara, and why the Reds need to pull their finger out and sign the Spaniard. He is a world-class midfielder who can do everything you could want, and with him on the field the likes of Kalvin Phillips would find it much harder to play through the Liverpool midfield.
3. Van Dijk (and Liverpool’s defence) is mortal
Stop the presses! Van Dijk made a mistake! Besides the fact that his side conceded three goals at Anfield and that two of the goals were directly from Van Dijk’s zone, the dominant Dutchman made a direct error for the second goal. With a long ball arcing over his shoulder, the usually flawless Van Dijk nonchalantly flicked the ball right into the path of Patrick Bamford who finished well.
It was a shocking moment but honestly summed up Liverpool’s defence all evening long. The once-impassable Reds looked comically permeable. Every time Leeds sent men forward it looked like they could score; with their first goal resulting in some absurd bumbling from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, and then the second seeing Van Dijk’s mistake. Yes the Dutchman scored (twice, really) up the other end, but he looked like an ordinary defender at the back, and that’s worrying.
Obviously the Reds had the firepower to push through and pick up the win, but the Premier League champions looked decidedly mortal in defence for the opening match of the season, and that will give other Premier League sides much hope.
4. Bielsa puts the Premier League on notice
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE KING HAS ARRIVED.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Premier League debut has been hyped to the hills and back but today his side showed exactly why they need to be feared and why Bielsa has to be respected. Leeds took on the Premier League champions and more than matched them, leaving Anfield with more possession and a sense that they could have honestly won the game.
Obviously they lost thanks to an idiotic foul from Rodrigo giving away a late penalty. But their display was phenomenal and probably the only side who watched this display and didn’t break out in a cold sweat was Burnley, given Leeds’ inability to handle set-pieces. Can you imagine the Leeds players pressing Manchester United’s full-backs? Or running at the Arsenal and Chelsea defences?
Despite no longer squatting like Megan Thee Stallion for an entire game, he is still a fearsome presence and needs to be respected. He looked at the best the Premier League had to offer, took a team full of Championship players and one Valencia player and took them head on (and only lost because of the Valencia player!). El Loco has put the Premier League on notice. He’s here and he’s coming for you.
5. Liverpool still can’t lose
In 2019/20, Liverpool looked like they couldn’t lose (indeed they literally did not lose for 27 matches) and even though they ended the season with a more of a whimper than a bang (thanks to the massive lead they built-up), the mental strength they displayed to bulldoze the competition like they did made them seem like a kind of juggernaut that, when they had to go out there and win competitive games again, would just flick a switch and run roughshod over everyone.
That didn’t exactly happen, sure, but ultimately they won. Just like they did all last season. They kept on going and when they had to find a goal, they found a goal. Of course the penalty was fortunate but moments before than Virgil van Dijk scored a stunning goal that was ruled out for the softest of foul calls against the Reds, so they should have been ahead anyway.
Nothing is certain as far as the rest of the 2020/21 season goes, and whilst Liverpool definitely look more mortal than ever, they also still seem to be just as relentless and terrifying in attack as ever. And that doesn’t bode well.