Liverpool’s prospects of qualifying for next season’s Champions League took a hit after a 1-1 draw with Leeds United at Elland Road.
Sadio Mane’s first-half goal gave the visitors a deserved 1-0 lead at the interval, but after a meek and insipid second-half display from the Reds, Leeds — through Diego Llorente’s header — deservedly claimed a share of the spoils.
Whether it all matters is up in the air, given that the preamble to the game was dominated by the bombshell dropped on European football on Monday. Twelve top continental clubs — including Liverpool and the other members of England’s “big six” — agreed to form a breakaway Super League which would replace the Champions League.
Under the rules of the competition, the founding clubs would be guaranteed their places in the lucrative competition for at least twenty years, regardless of whether they finish in the top places in their domestic leagues.
Liverpool started the game like it did matter, however, and they dominated the ball and looked to attack at every opportunity. The earliest chance came the way of Roberto Firmino, but the Brazilian couldn’t lift the ball over Illan Meslier from a touch angle.
With Ozan Kabak, Thiago Alcantara, Trent Alexander Arnold and Diogo Jota all impressive, the Reds finally capitalised on their ascendancy on the half hour mark.
A sumptuous ball from Jota, a pass that completely bisected the hosts defence, found Alexander Arnold on the edge of the Leeds box. With Meslier rushing to close down the angle, the right-back squared to Mane and the forward has the easy task of tapping the ball into an empty net for a goal which Liverpool merited.
More half openings came, mostly through the good work of Jota, but Liverpool couldn’t add to their goal and went into the break 1-0 to the good.
Whether it was fatigue or knowing that this game — along with the rest of their campaign — was ultimately pointless, the Reds started the second half ponderously and slowly. A recurring feature was their inability to stitch moves together with pass after pass failing to find its intended recipient.
Leeds, in contrast, were sharp and full of running. Alisson — who would become increasingly busier as the second period went on — saved well from Jack Harrison after home team knitted together a dangerous move down the left-hand flank.
Another chance when Kalvin Phillips long ball over the top found Patrick Bamford and the towering forward’s first touch put him through into the box. Hitting the ball early, Bamford’s effort smacked off the crossbar and the away team breathed a sigh of relief.
With Leeds committing every man to attack in order to salvage a point, they left themselves vulnerable to the counter-attack. Replacement Mohamed Salah — who was given a rare rest — ought to have killed the game as a contest when Thiago’s inviting pass sent him through on goal, but the Egpytian fired harmlessly wide.
Sensing their opportunity, the home team increased their tempo and they duly rewarded three minutes from time when Llorente rose to nod in a corner to give Leeds — on the balance of the second half — a more than merited draw. Actually, given how listless Liverpool looked in the second half, they could have gone on to claim all three points.
We still don’t know whether it matters, but the distraction of the European Super League would be a nice excuse for the Reds’ players who were all subpar in the second half.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Fabinho, Kabak, Robertson; Thiago, Wijnaldum, Milner; Mane, Jota, Firmino.
Replacements: Oxlade Chamberlain for Jota, Salah for Mane,