If when it started, due to the extremely short break between last season and this one, it felt like maybe we never stopped, then this game did not necessarily dispel the illusion. It was certainly a terrific display of attacking football and shambolic defense on both sides, but with such intent and purpose that there did not appear to be any cobwebs that needed brushing off. And if I might have hoped that the thirty years wait finally ending a short while ago would bring some relief from the ever-present “heart palpitation syndrome” so well known to us Reds fans, then that particular phantasm similarly and quickly blew up in smoke.
All credit to the Peacocks and their illustrious manager; Marcelo Bielsa has always been one of those characters that make football better, and Leeds provided a delightful example of why this is so. While possessing a tremendous history, Leeds had spent a very long time in the lower tiers, including ten years in the championship, before finally making it back. To then get as your first game an away tie with a newly crowned Liverpool at Anfield must have felt as a bit of, well, proper welcome back to the premier league.
But those Whites lads didn’t blink nor cower. In fact, they just almost out-Liverpooled Liverpool.
To go even one down to the Reds at their fortress is in and of itself a demoralizing experience these days. You know Liverpool won’t give up that advantage easily. Statistically, it practically guarantees them the win. Tying the game is an achievement. To do it three times in one game is downright fantastical. Yet that is exactly what Leeds managed to do. Salah’s opening penalty came inside of the first five minutes, and it seemed like we were destined for a rout. Jack Harrison, in a Sadio Mane worthy sort of goal said “no!”. Robbo then opened the traditional assisting competition with Trent, giving Van Dijk his season’s first, and you would be excused to think that now, it must be all over. Yet it was the very same Van Dijk who shortly thereafter handed the ball to a grateful Patrick Bamford to tie again. As a side note, these are the kinds of mistakes that cost Liverpool the community shield not long ago, and they really must be corrected, and soon. Chelsea and Arsenal are up next, and they would not be so forgiving.
The action didn’t stop there. Mo’s second of the game, to give the Reds the lead once again, was a real peach of a strike. It reinforced just how much sharper he seemed in this game than his two front-three colleagues, who went on later to fluff some brilliant chances due to a lack of concentration in front of goal. Be that as it may, Liverpool was up a third time, and surely this would be it? Klopp would provide a deserved chewing to both of his centerbacks, things would stabilize, and we’d have ourselves a quieter second half.
Instead this game became an instant classic. Mateusz Klich’s third tying goal for Leeds was just as much of a beauty as Salah’s, and just as inexcusable as Bamford’s, defensively speaking. And the palpitations started. Minute after agonizing minute passed, the clock inexorably advancing towards what would be a huge opening day sensation. The Reds upped their intensity, but Leeds weren’t in the mood to give up, and could have gone one up themselves if not for a slight naivete.
It was maybe fitting that it took a bit of sloppy defending on the part of Rodrigo in Kloppage time to give Mo, easily my man of the match, his shot at a hat-trick. A confident conversion gave Liverpool the lead for the fourth and final time, and they somehow managed not to give it up again until Michael Oliver’s whistle sounded the end of the game. Three points in the bag, but with an extremely nervy display in the back, and one of which a, say, Manchester City would have taken much better advantage.
Still, I much rather have this kind of game to start a new season, especially when Liverpool still ends up with all the points. Based on this performance, it doesn’t take a footballing genius to predict that Leeds will do well this year, and Elland Road may well end up the sort of trap pit that many teams fall into and hurt themselves.
It’s good to back.