Liverpool caused heart rates to soar as they were made to work for the three points against a plucky Leeds side, and it left a lot to discuss post-match.
For much of 2020, Jurgen Klopp‘s side have had little on the line when they take to the field such has been their dominance – but it all changed when Leeds arrived in town.
An intense and topsy-turvy clash would follow and see the visitors peg the reigning champions back three times, with Mohamed Salah the match-winner as his steely disposition from the spot secured his hat-trick and a 4-3 win.
There is, of course, leniency for a sub-par defensive performance with it only being the first competitive fixture of the campaign but it left a lot to be desired.
Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) is joined by Samuel Cox (@samueljessecox) and The Redmen TV’s Jack Gill (@jacklfcgill) to discuss the highs and the lows from Liverpool’s victory and the issues in defence.
SAMUEL: The biggest winner of this game were the fans watching at home, with a battle of the high press – Klopp vs. Bielsa.
You do not want to concede goals like that every week but I for one thoroughly enjoyed the rollicking end to end contest; it was a feast of high-pressure attacking football.
Salah was back to his best with an opening day hat-trick and it was very much return of the king after an indifferent pre-season we can thankfully all now forget about.
We might later reflect on this game as the beginning of another magical season for Mo, which would frankly be the greatest gift this match could provide for Liverpool’s season going forward.
JACK: It was one of Salah’s best performances in a Liverpool shirt and I’m running out of superlatives for the Egyptian, he’s just absolutely phenomenal.
It was another champions-like win for Liverpool, not the greatest of performances, which we will talk about later, but the Reds didn’t lie down and found a way to win as we have done so many times over the last couple of years.
I thought Curtis Jones and Fabinho looked good when they came on as well. Curtis was excellent in pre-season – one of our stand out players and looked good on the ball in the half an hour he got last night.
He’s come on leaps and bounds in the year or so and absolutely deserves the game time in the first team that he is beginning to get.
JOANNA: Can’t disagree with what both Samuel and Jack have said about Salah, he was simply sensational and far and away the best player on the pitch.
Where others looked every bit of it being the first game of the season, he glided across the field with an expert touch and left no doubt with his strikes, pace and precision in abundance.
For the neutral, it was one for the books but my heart was not quite ready to be working in overtime after a long period where the pressure on a result was absent.
It was a welcome sight to see Jordan Henderson back in the starting lineup, although acceptably rusty, and I thought Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane were both bright throughout and our attacking performance was just let down by a final finish from a number of players.
Overall, a stern test was passed, three points are in the bank and now it’s onto the next one.
SAMUEL: The defensive efforts will obviously be questioned after Liverpool conceded three goals, but Klopp rightfully highlighted Leeds‘ efforts post-game.
Sometimes you must give the opposition credit. Bielsa’s game style is notoriously difficult to play against and Leeds chased Liverpool players around the pitch like rapid dogs all match.
They have the youngest squad in the Premier League and they appear willing to run through walls for the Argentinian manager, who is quickly acquiring messiah-like devotion among Leeds supporters.
Pleasingly, Liverpool largely matched their energy and intensity, even as it forced a few errors, but ultimately Liverpool had a bit more polish and guile, finding the late winner.
JACK: It wasn’t the greatest performance at all, was it?
Defensively I think we were pretty shambolic but we have to remember that this defence didn’t play together at all throughout pre-season and are bound to be a bit shaky.
Vast improvement is needed though as we have difficult games coming up first against Chelsea and then Arsenal so we will need to be a lot better at the back against sides of their quality.
Credit to Leeds though, I thought they were very good and gave us a real game. They won’t struggle in this league that’s for sure.
JOANNA: You definitely have to give Leeds credit, they played with no fear and forced Liverpool’s defenders into making careless decisions.
Like Samuel and Jack rightly mention, it’s early doors and mistakes and a degree of disorganisation is expected, but the defence remains the glaring cause for concern – as it did towards the back end of last season.
Three shots on target and three goals for Leeds, not ideal. Concentration and positioning across the line is out of sync and the midfield did not exactly help either.
There will be better days and to win when we’re not at our best is always welcome.
And what is your verdict on Liverpool’s defensive struggles, should we be looking at Matip starting?
SAMUEL: Liverpool’s defence were clearly not at their best, with Trent complicit for the first goal and Van Dijk giving away a rare gift for the second, while the third could be attributed to an oversight by the midfield in tracking a run.
Furthermore, you would have usually expected Alisson to perhaps save at least one of the three goals on another day. However, it must be said Leeds took their limited chances brilliantly, with three goals from just six shots.
On a more positive note, Robertson and Gomez were largely excellent, while Van Dijk was a huge presence in the opposition penalty box from corners.
Given the short pre-season and recent international break, I would treat this game almost like a tune-up and back the first-choice defensive back four to make the necessary improvements for the next game.
JACK: As I alluded to I don’t think it’s something that we need to be pressing the panic button about just yet but we do need to see a vast improvement.
I think picking out individuals isn’t right because as a collective we weren’t good enough defensively yesterday, and it’s not a problem that Joel Matip by himself will fix.
Though we’ve not been at our best defensively for a while, we have world-class defenders at this club and I’m confident it’s an issue that can be sorted quickly, which it needs to be with Arsenal and Chelsea on the horizon.
JOANNA: In the Premier League if you’re even just half a percent off your game you’ll be punished, and it feels at times complacency creeps in and we pay the price.
There’s no doubting the quality of our back-line but we’ve kept just one clean sheet from our last eight competitive fixtures and the players have never looked more unsure of themselves in the small moments.
I’d back the back five who started against Leeds to improve as the weeks go by as consistency can play a key role, but should Joe Gomez continue to struggle I would be tempted to draft Matip in – but he too will need time after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
As I noted before, the midfield did not help against Leeds as the gaps were far too big and gave them licence to attack the space.
No overreaction is necessary but it is something to keep an eye on as I’m not sure I want to go back to the days where we use the outscoring the opponent approach.