The 2019/20 season was huge for both Liverpool and Leeds United. The Reds won the Premier League title for the first time since 1990, their 19th league title overall, and in a manner so convincing that it had Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, arguably the hottest prospect of world football right now, heaping enormous praise on Jurgen Klopp and his men.
On the other hand, Leeds won the Championship and are now back in the top flight after an absence of 16 years. Led by the fantastic Marcelo Bielsa, they’ve been playing some very exciting football and have found their way into the hearts of many football neutrals.
It was therefore expected that when these two teams meet in the opening round of 2020/21 at Anfield, they would provide the spectators with a match to remember, and it’s fair to say that their seven-goal thriller delivered big-time. Mohamed Salah scored a hat-trick for Liverpool along with Virgil van Dijk’s header, with Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich all on target for Leeds.
Leeds came to Anfield to win
Liverpool’s home record in the Premier League is truly impressive. This game was the 60th in a row they played at Anfield without a single defeat.
However, Bielsa and his men obviously weren’t held in too much awe by this piece of stat. They played their own game from minute one to minute 94, managing to top the English champions for possession (52%) in their own home, which not many teams have been able to boast about since Klopp came to Merseyside in 2015.
Bielsa arranged his team in a 4-1-4-1 shape and the lines were kept very close. The players ran all over the pitch like there was no tomorrow, rarely leaving any space for the hosts to exploit. But what impressed the most was arguably the way they were willing and always found ways to threaten the goal of Alisson Becker in a blink of an eye. Midfielder Kalvin Phillips showed brilliant passing ability, while striker Patrick Bamfort constantly played off the shoulder of the last defender and made runs in behind. Practically every mistake by Liverpool was severely punished, and all three of their shots on target hit the back of the net.
Van Dijk is only human
A lot has been said about Virgil van Dijk since his £75 million move from Southampton to Liverpool in January 2018. Rightly close in the running for the Ballon d’Or last year, he finished only behind six-time winner Lionel Messi. Many believe him to be the best defender in the world, and his usually composed approach, enormous strength, aerial ability, surprising skill on the ball and pace, as well as continuous availability, certainly put him in that bracket. The Netherlands captain hasn’t missed a league game for Liverpool in over two seasons now, and it can be said that his arrival, along with that of goalkeeper Alisson, transformed the Merseysiders from a team that simply plays attractive football and can surprise anyone, into genuine, ruthless champions.
But the 29-year-old centre-back hasn’t been looking his best since football came back from the Covid-19 lockdown. Against Leeds he made a howling mistake which enabled Bamford to score the visitors’ second goal of the match in the 30th minute, and it wasn’t the first time we’ve seen something like that from him either. Naturally it can all be put down to an expected degree of rust at this point, and it only goes to show that even the best players in the game are still only human.
Salah loves season openers
It’s fair to say that Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino didn’t have the best of games either. Not through lack of effort certainly; Firmino was once again excellent in dropping deep to link up play, but in the final third, his well-documented unselfishness went perhaps too far on several occasions, when he simply refused to finish attacks on his own and insisted on setting up his teammates. Mane worked really hard as well but the ball just wouldn’t go where he wanted it to in some crucial moments, and he simply wasn’t causing the Leeds defence the trouble he is usually capable of making.
The one who did was Mohamed Salah. Always in the right place at the right time, the Egyptian’s performance was fantastic. He fully deserved his hat-trick, even if two of his goals came from the spot. It has to be said at this point that neither of the penalty decisions from referee Michael Oliver could have been contested on any grounds – they were clear as day, and Salah dispatched them with supreme confidence.
The one goal he scored from open play was probably the prettiest moment of the game as he slammed it into the top corner from just inside the box.
Salah has now become only the second player in Premier League history to have scored in four consecutive season-opening matches, after Teddy Sheringham in 1995. He now has 97 goals in 154 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool, along with 41 assists.