Game of the Champions: Liverpool FC 4-3 Leeds United

Submitted by Zahid Haque

We waited 30 years to win our 19th league title. With each year that passed by, the more boisterous and unbearable our celebrations were going to be. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans and we are still yet to celebrate the massive achievements of last season.

We have all heard or read the stories of the 80s Liverpool FC teams repeatedly winning the league. The legend that is Ronnie Moran was quick to bring legends such as Alan Hansen, Ian Rush, Jan Molby et al. back down to earth and prepare for the next season. That was the Liverpool way and in some ironic way that philosophy albeit enforced as carried us into the 2020-21 season.

First game? Game of The Champions.

Two teams that stormed to the top of their respective leagues last season. Two of the world’s best managers. Two legendary histories in European football. Two teams that have had their prides hurt by the clubs in Manchester as their dominance faltered. Two teams that have played ‘Heavy Metal’ football. This game had the same anticipation as Avengers:  End Game.

For the neutral, this game was a great advertisement for the Premier League (to use the old cliche). For the neutral – and even Leeds supporters – this game was amazing. For Liverpool fans, I fear it may have raised concerns that this will be another season with a roller coaster of emotions.

For all the beauty, guile and intensity of our attacking play, our defense did everything they could to undo it. Liverpool were first out of the gate, as within four minutes, Salah deservedly put us in the lead via a penalty.  And unlike penalties given at Old Trafford, there was nothing controversial about this one: Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips had his arm outstretched, giving Michael Oliver an easy decision to make.

At 1-0 up after four minutes, with Liverpool completely dominating play, you would be forgiven if you thought we would win this 5- or 6-0. It seemed our defenders had a different mindset, as both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez were made to look like Championship defenders. Jack Harrison picked up a great pass from recent England debutante Phillips and put a low shot past Alisson. 1-1.

Ok, Liverpool have been here before – so they decided to take the lead again. This time Virgil Van Dijk obliged with a powerful header, assisted by Andy Roberson’s corner kick. 2-1. Back to some normality.

Then the abnormal happened:  Stuart Dallas hit a searching long ball for Patrick Bamford. Van Dijk got there first, as expected… and then what can only be described as a move from the Alberto Moreno School of Defending, Virgil attempts to hook the ball clear to Robertson. And, just like all the times Moreno attempted a clearance, it led to disaster:  Bamford collected the ball and clipped it past Alisson. 2-2.

At this point, I was pretty sure Michael Edwards was trying to find a buy-back clause for Lovren.

Three minutes later, Salah calmed our nerves again by scoring a thunderbolt of a goal. Robertson’s free kick was headed clear to the last person Leeds wanted: Mohammed Salah. Salah somehow managed to get the ball onto his left foot, and almost tore the roof off the net. Get in! 3-2.

Half time.

The second half carried on in the same insane pace as the first half, but with less goals. TAA got lucky with his own goal being correctly being disallowed for off-side. On came Fabinho for Naby Keita: the midfield looked a bit more solid now. Curtis Jones came on for Jordan Henderson.

Now for the second craziest part of the game: following a throw in, Liverpool lose possession of the ball to Mateuz Klich. Klich passed to Helder Costa, who duly slips it back to him, and GOAL! Klich smashes in his own volley past Alisson. 3-3!

After this, it was time for Liverpool to go again at full throttle. Another goal for the Reds – Virgil Van Dijk with the fourth… or so we thought. VVD’s goal was correctly disallowed (Ed.: Questionable. This foul was soft at best) due to a foul by Jones on Koch. I felt like we had been here before, pre-2018 – it was going to be two points dropped, and I will have to avoid reading the headlines for a week…

Leeds finally brought on their record new signing, Rodrigo. At this point Liverpool had set up camp in the final third of the pitch, launching wave after wave of attack. The pressure finally prevailed, as Fabinho was brought down by Rodrigo in the penalty box. This was another easy decision for Oliver to make. Up stepped the King of Egypt: with a potential for a hat trick, no one dared take the penalty away from him. Mo smartly slotted to the keeper’s left. 4-3!

With only two minutes left plus stoppage time, Leeds looked too tired to come back by this point. The final whistle still could not come soon enough for Liverpool.

When the whistle finally does come, a huge sigh of relief is let out from Liverpool fans. Leeds came to play this match, and set down a marker. And I must give all due credit to them – Bielsa is a tactical genius and his brand of football will definitely shake up a lot of the Premier League clubs this season. On today’s showing they proved that they can – and will – go toe-to-toe with any team in the league. Based on today’s performance alone, I envision a top six finish for them.

Liverpool, on the other hand? Another Jekyll-and-Hyde performance. They had beautiful attacking play, but the defenders just received a huge reality check. Gomez has been poor since Sterling did him at Etihad during Project Restart. I would be very surprised if Matip did not come in to partner Van Dijk against Chelsea. TAA looks a shadow of himself.  Maybe a nine day rest after playing back-to-back internationals and facing Leeds today will do him the world of good. Virgil? We thought the mistake versus Arsenal at The Emirates during Project Restart was a one-off. This is another a HUGE one – Virgil needs to realize quickly that any opponent he faces is going to try doubly hard against him to prove themselves. Such is the standard he has set for himself. Robertson was probably the only defender who can come away from this match confident with his performance.

In regards to the team selection, I do not believe this was the game for Henderson to come back into after a bad injury. The pace was too fast and intense for him. Milner or Fabihino may have been better options in hindsight.

I can only hope that we get ourselves together as an intense unit again quickly. The match against Chelsea next week will be an enormous test on our defense.

Three points in the bag, though – that is all that matters. 37 more games to go.