Leeds United go toe to toe with Premier League champions and look right at home
13 Sep 2020 10:12 am, by YorkshireSquare
Sixteen years of pain and suffering, sixteen years of waiting for our return to the top-flight and it didn’t disappoint one bit! The moment the fixture list was released it all started to feel real, away at Anfield to the Champions of England on the opening day of the Premier League season, it couldn’t get any more real than that. What’s more, it felt like a free shot. No one could realistically expect us to get anything from the game, not given the way Liverpool ruthlessly dispatched Norwich on the opening day of last season. It was an opportunity for Marcelo Bielsa and this Leeds side to show the world what they are capable of on the biggest stage and they certainly did that. As Jürgen Klopp mouthed after the final whistle; “Wow!”
Even with the pressure off, the news that Liam Cooper was injured and Leeds would line up with a 21 year old making his first start at centre back and a new signing who has been at the club a matter of days in the heart of defence against a strike force of Mané, Firmino and Salah made me slightly fearful. A feeling compounded after just three minutes as the ball ricochet up into Robin Koch’s arm and Michael Oliver pointed to the spot to give Liverpool a penalty. A penalty which should never have been according to IFAB rules, but hey, we’re Leeds and we don’t expect these kind of things to fall in our favour anyway. The imperious Mo Salah stepped up to hammer the ball home and a little piece of me died inside.
But Leeds had come to play and play they did. Kalvin Phillips proved to any doubters what he can do when played in the correct position, his beautiful ball out to the left wing was controlled by pillow footed Jackie Harrison who cut in past Trent Alexander-Arnold, beat two more defenders before planting the ball low past Alisson to bring the scores level. I unleashed a “Get In” that Noel Wheelan would have been proud of as the four-year-old sat next to me was ejected from the sofa through the sheer force of the celebration. It was a goal of Premier League quality, a goal any of the top teams would have been proud of. Leeds were not rattled by the early penalty, they were intent on playing the king of high pressing, high tempo, counter attacking football we have become used to and I loved it!
Our achilles heel, our kryptonite has always been set-pieces and when Andy Robertson stepped up to deliver a corner it was no great surprise when the domineering Virgil van Dijk headed powerfully home having lost his marker Robin Koch, Illan Meslier could do little to stop it. Leeds won’t meet many players like Virgil van Dijk this season but defending set pieces remains a concern for Leeds. But van Dijk’s confidence would be his undoing ten minutes later as he nonchalantly miscontrolled a high ball which Patrick Bamford dispatched into the net in true Jermaine Beckford style to bring the scores level again. Having fluffed a similar opportunity earlier it was great to see Bamford hit one early and the reward was his first Premier League goal since 2017.
A set-piece was again to be our undoing just three minutes later. This time Liverpool’s free kick lofted into the box was cleared by Pascal Struijk but only as far as Mo Salah who volleyed the ball high and powerfully into the top corner. Meslier got close to it, but not close enough. Despite the score line Meslier was having a good game and pulled off a brilliant save to prevent a Struijk own goal. He displays a confidence beyond his years and whilst I was having a cardiac arrest as he played the ball out from the back with three of the leagues best strikers hunting him down, he showed nerves of steel and a composure often lacking in the man he displaced between the Leeds United sticks.
The second half was a much tamer affair, but Leeds reignited this just after the hour mark with another goal of sheer quality. Mateusz Klich laid the ball out to Helder Costa before breaking into space with Leeds attacking the Liverpool penalty area in numbers. The ball in from Costa was perfect and Klich controlled beautifully before volleying home to level the scores for a third time. Liverpool may hold the Premier League crown, but it was Leeds United who were scoring quality goals worthy of champions and Mateusz Klich continues to prove Thomas Christiansen wrong with an expectational Premier League debut proving he is not out of place at this level in the slightest.
As the game went on Liverpool pushed Leeds back as Marcelo Beilsa’s side struggled to break out of their half, the withdrawal of Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich may have played a part in that but Rodrigo showed glimpses of what we can expect whilst Tyler Roberts proved he can offer something at this level. Leeds deserved a point, there was even a sense that we could sneak a win but that came to an abrupt end as a clumsy Rodrigo challenge gave Salah the opportunity to give Liverpool the lead from the spot, an opportunity he took graciously. I’ll be honest, it hurt! To have been in the game for so long, but to have come away with nothing really hurt.
As the evening went on the hurt dissipated, I’m just immensely proud of the performance Leeds put in and buzzing for the season head. We went toe to toe with the Champions of England and didn’t look out of place, a draw would have been a fair result, we could have even won it! Without Salah it would have been a different story for Liverpool, he was outstanding but Pascal Struijk and Luke Ayling kept Mané and Firmino quiet for most of the game. Mateusz Klich looked like he’d been playing in the Premier League all his life and Harrison and Costa were a nuisance to Liverpool’s, supposedly world class, wing backs all game.
What’s more Leeds scored the better goals, Liverpool were pushed hard all game and restricted to set-pieces whilst Harrison and Klich’s efforts will be worthy contenders for goal of the season. Liverpool may have taken the points but Leeds will come away with the plaudits, the world has stood up and taken notice, there are many teams who will come away with a bloody nose from Leeds United this season.