Liverpool v Leeds United: Champions survive huge scare from Bielsa's impressive upstarts
Mohamed Salah scored a hat-trick, including two penalties, as Liverpool snatched victory, but Leeds took plenty of credit away from Anfield.
Hat-trick hero Mohamed Salah saved the day for Liverpool after promoted Leeds gave the champions a huge scare in a 4-3 thriller on the opening day of the Premier League season.
The Reds striker struck a decisive 88th-minute penalty, his second spot-kick of the game at Anfield, to ensure last season's all-conquering side started the new campaign on a positive note.
In a battle between last season's Premier League and Championship winners, Salah's first two goals and one from Virgil van Dijk were countered by Leeds' replies from Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich.
A sub-plot to this Merseyside showdown was the tactical battle between managers Jurgen Klopp and Marcelo Bielsa, and the latter looked like coming away with a point until Rodrigo fouled Fabinho, allowing Salah to slot home and win the game.
3 - Leeds are the first promoted side to score 3+ goals away at the reigning champions in the Premier League since Hull lost 3-4 vs Man Utd in November 2008. Fearless. pic.twitter.com/6LRwOeRYui— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 12, 2020
Liverpool were awarded a penalty in the third minute when Salah's shot struck the outstretched right arm of Leeds debutant Robin Koch, via the unlucky defender's knee. Salah took responsibility from 12 yards and lashed his penalty high into the net, down the middle.
A sublime leveller from Leeds arrived in the 12th minute after new England cap Kalvin Phillips fed Harrison on the left. Harrison skipped infield, fending off Trent Alexander-Arnold, before drilling past Alisson from the edge of the penalty area.
The hosts restored their lead in the 20th minute when Van Dijk sprinted away from Koch and headed in Andy Robertson's corner from the left.
Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier made a fine save to spare Pascal Struijk the embarrassment of an own goal, tipping over after the defender deflected Robertson's cross, and the visitors briefly drew level for a second time when Bamford seized on sloppiness from Van Dijk to slot in.
Salah fired Liverpool 3-2 in front in the 33rd minute of a wild first half. With Robertson's free-kick into the heart of the penalty area only half-cleared, Liverpool's Egyptian striker had space and time to pick his spot and blaze a shot high into the right corner.
Those first-half strikes made Salah the first Liverpool player to score on the opening day of four consecutive Premier League seasons, and only the second player from any club to achieve the feat, after Teddy Sheringham's run from 1992-93 to 1995-96.
Leeds brought on record signing Rodrigo for his debut with half an hour remaining, and he would be involved later, but it was Klich who struck their third equaliser of the game in the 66th minute.
He took on a clever pass into the penalty area from Helder Costa on the right and smashed a shot into the left corner as the ball sat up perfectly. Leeds looked poised to hold on, only to be stung so late, an early warning of the challenges that lie ahead for them.
35 - Liverpool have now won each of the last 35 @premierleague games in which Mo Salah has scored - he has overtaken Wayne Rooney's competition record of 34 consecutive wins when scoring from September 2008 to February 2011. King. pic.twitter.com/7wkA9Dmywz— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 12, 2020
What does it mean?
This was the seventh time in the Premier League era that a promoted team have travelled to face the reigning English champions on the opening day of the season, and the outcome means the title holders have now won all of those encounters. This seven-goal thriller could have gone either way, but Liverpool’s proven fire-power got them out of trouble, with Salah a familiar hero.
Bielsa's boys win possession battle
This was always an area to watch, with Liverpool's typical dominance of possession expected to be challenged by Bielsa's well-drilled Elland Road outfit. And a 51 per cent split of possession for Leeds showed where one of their major strengths lie. Liverpool had 22 shots to Leeds' six; however, former Liverpool player and manager Graeme Souness said afterwards on Sky Sports: "Leeds have made a real statement. Leeds hunted them down today."
Salah the saviour
Two penalties in a hat-trick may dilute its value to some, but Salah was an all-round top performer for Liverpool and fought for his reward. He made more passes (44) in the Leeds half than any Liverpool player, Opta statistics showed. He also had more touches (87) than anyone else in red, and took nine shots at goal, with five of those blocked.
Key Opta Facts
- Liverpool extended their unbeaten home league run to 60 games (W49 D11) – only the third ever run of 60+ unbeaten home games by a side in English top-flight history, after Chelsea's run of 86 ending in October 2008 and Liverpool's run of 63 ending in December 1980.
- Leeds United are the first promoted side to score 3+ goals away at the reigning champions in the Premier League since Hull City lost 4-3 vs Manchester United in November 2008.
- This was only the second ever Premier League game played on the opening matchday of a season to see five goals scored before half-time, after Manchester United 5-1 Fulham in August 2006 (4-1 at half-time).
- Liverpool have conceded 3+ goals in back-to-back home league games for the first time since September 1982.
- Mohamed Salah is the first player ever to score on the opening day of four consecutive league seasons for Liverpool; he is only the second to do so in the Premier League for any club, after Teddy Sheringham (1992-93 to 1995-96).
Liverpool look sure to face a stiff test when they travel to take on potential title rivals Chelsea on Sunday, September 20. Leeds have an EFL Cup tie next, facing Hull City on Wednesday at Elland Road.
- Journalist at JJA Sport Studio: Football / Soccer
- Leader columnist department
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