Amid excitement over Leeds United’s return to the Premier League, after the sleeping giant spent 16 years toiling in the relative obscurity of England’s lower divisions, defending English champion Liverpool looked like it might roll over the visitors early on at Anfield.
But the Reds’ thrilling 4-3 victory was anything but a walk in the park, with Leeds every bit as exciting as advertised. Mohamed Salah recorded a hat trick, converting the winning goal from the penalty spot with just two minutes of regular time to play:
Salah’s goal was his second from the spot on Saturday. In a nightmare start for Leeds, defender Robin Koch conceded a penalty less than three minutes into the contest. For a Reds team that tied the league record for home wins last season, it threatened to be a routine day.
Then former MLS first overall draft pick Jack Harrison equalized for Marcelo Bielsa’s side following a brilliant individual run, turning the game on its ear and foreshadowing the drama and sheer entertainment that was to come later on:
As much as it was a one-man show by Harrison, it also was just the sort of caution-to-the-wind counterattack that propelled Bielsa’s team to the second-tier Championship title last season, the sort of trademark play that has turned the Chilean manager into a god-like figure among Leeds fans.
Order was restored a few minutes later — or so it seemed — when Virgil van Dijk headed Liverpool back in front off an Andy Robertson corner kick:
Leeds’ defending on the play was atrocious. But it didn’t swing the momentum toward Liverpool the way one might expect.
Instead of hanging their heads, Leeds kept coming, Bielsa’s high press keeping the Reds from ever getting comfortable. Sure enough, Patrick Bamford picked off an uncharacteristically poor clearance from Van Dijk, the Premier League’s best defender, to pull Leeds even again.
Salah broke the stalemate shortly before halftime, this time from open play, with a wicked shot into the top corner of the net.
Yet Leeds managed get back on level terms at third time. Helder Costa threaded a pass to Mateusz Klich, who fired a worthy equalizer past Alisson:
Even with more than 20 minutes remaining, that strike looked like it would be enough to earn Leeds a point on opening day. It was no less than they deserved. But when marquee summer signing Rodrigo conceded another penalty, Bielsa’s men simply didn’t have enough time to come back yet again.
Liverpool will take the victory. For Leeds, it was a spectacular return to the top flight despite the late defeat, a performance against the champs that will serve as a stern warning to any Prem foe who dares to take the newcomers lightly.
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