Liverpool Overcome Leeds To Start Title Defence With Win
A Mohamed Salah hattrick saw Liverpool begin their Premier League title defence with a 4-3 victory over Leeds at Anfield.
The Egyptian slotted two penalties, as well as a perfectly executed volley to add to Virgil van Dijk’s towering header against Marcelo Bielsa’s newly promoted Whites who equalised three times, through Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich.
Although looking uncharacteristically shaky at the back, the Reds — who conceded to all three of Leeds’ shots on goal — crafted several chances to win the game by a bigger margin and, on balance, were worthy winners in a game that was at times breathtaking.
From the off, it appeared as if Salah was the sharpest player on the pitch and it didn’t take him long to make his mark on the scoreboard. After only four minutes, the Egyptian combined with Sadio Mane inside the box and rifled a shot at goal that hit the arm of debutant Robin Koch.
Michael Oliver pointed to the penalty spot and Salah, with typical gusto, fired the ball hard and true and past Illan Meslier into the middle of the goal for the Reds’ opening goal of the season. The initial infraction, which deflected onto Koch’s hand from his thigh, may have appeared harsh, but — by the letter of the law — it was a penalty.
Not shaken by conceding, however, Leeds went in search of an equaliser and they had it not long after. Kalvin Phillips, who recently won his first England cap, picked out Harrison, the left-winger, with a sumptuous pass and the former New York City players exquisite first touch took him from the byline towards the centre of the pitch.
Evading apathetic attempts at tackles by both Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander Arnold, Harrison fired low past Alisson — who, judging by his own high standards, ought to have done better — and into the bottom left corner for the Yorkshiremen’s first Premier League goal since 2004.
A gripping first half would see three more goals, two for the hosts and one for Leeds.
The Reds added their second when Virgil van Dijk leapt powerfully, leaving the hapless Koch in his wake, to nod in Andrew Robertson’s out-swinging corner. The Dutchman’s header was too hot to handle for Meslier who was forced over his own line by the power of the contact.
Virgil van Dijk, however, would prove culpable for Leeds second equaliser. A long punt upfield — the sort of defensive task the number 4 would typically deal with in his sleep — was mis-controlled by the Dutch captain, an act that dumbfounded Alisson. Hesitant, the keeper was found in a poor position, and Bamford — not believing his luck — lifted the ball over the Brazilian to make it 2-2.
The best was to come last in a helter-skelter half. Salah, receiving the ball just inside the box after Robertson’s free-kick was cleared towards his vicinity, spectacularly fired an inch-perfect half volley into the top corner — leaving Meslier with zero chance — to send the Reds into the interval leading 3-2.
Leeds approach didn’t change in the second period and they had their third equaliser when the impressive Helder Costa played a through the eye of the needle through ball to find Klich — the raiding full-back — in the box to fire home low and hard past Alisson. The lack of midfielders tracking runs hampered Liverpool — with all three of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita guilty — and the Polish international arrived in the box undetected to finish.
Fittingly, given he was head and shoulders the best player on the park, Salah would have the last say. Substitute Fabinho, who was introduced to bring a modicum of stability to the too easily played through midfield, was upended in the box by a wild and brainless challenge by Leeds’ record signing Rodrigo.
Oliver had no hesitation to point to the spot and Salah, once again, beat Meslier from three yards to extend the Reds’ three year unbeaten run at Anfield even further and to get their title defence off on the right footing.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Substitutes: Matip for Alexander Arnold, Fabinho for Keita, Jones for Henderson.
Referee: Michael Oliver.