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Leeds’ firm Phillips warning met with equal fear of Salah’s “priceless” knack

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As Liverpool prepare to visit Leeds on Monday evening, we get the lowdown on Marcelo Bielsa’s exciting team and what makes the Argentine so special.

The Reds exited the Champions League on Wednesday, meaning a trophy-less season at Anfield is now confirmed.

It’s now back to focusing on the top-four battle in the Premier League and Liverpool have a mouthwatering fixture to look forward to next.

Leeds produced a sensational win last time around, winning 2-1 at Man City, despite playing with 10 men for over half the game.

That highlights what a threat they could be to Liverpool, with their relentless running and attacking football a match for anyone on their day.

Ahead of the game, we spoke to Leeds fan and writer Charlie Smith (@CharlieSmith118) to hear about the allure of Bielsa and how Monday’s game could pan out.

 

How would you assess Leeds’ season to date?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah during the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 4-3. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The fact that we sit comfortably in mid-table, have stuck to our attacking principles and are safe from relegation with seven games to play highlights how well we’ve acclimatised ourselves to life back in the Premier League.

It’s everything any Leeds fan could’ve wished for in our first season in the top flight since 2004.

 

Is this a team that can push for European football next year?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Leeds United's Jack Harrison scores the first equalising goal to level the score at 1-1 during the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 4-3. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Realistically, a top-10 finish next season would be seen as a success.

First and foremost, it’s vitally important the club continue to establish themselves as a Premier League outfit and a key factor in that would be keeping Marcelo Bielsa for a fourth season.

If we can make some more shrewd signings in the window and keep our key players fit – something we’ve struggled with this campaign – then I wouldn’t rule out a top-eight push next year.

 

What is it that makes Bielsa so special on and off the pitch?

Marcelo Bielsa has agreed a new deal with Leeds (John Walton/PA)

He has completely transformed the mindset of the players, staff and supporters alike.

Since his appointment in 2018, every single player he has worked with has improved both on the pitch and in the way in which they conduct themselves away from football.

Not only has he driven the club from mid-table mediocrity in the Championship to a team with the potential to challenge for major honours in the years to come, but he has managed to bring a sense of community and togetherness back to the club.

 

Who have been Leeds’ three best players this season?

Leeds United's Raphinha during the Premier League match at Elland Road, Leeds.

There are so many names you could throw into the hat.

Illan Meslier has been outstanding in the sticks and won us points on many occasions, Liam Cooper and Luke Ayling have effortlessly made the step up to the Premier League and Kalvin Phillips has been our linchpin in the holding midfield role.

For me, though, and I think I speak on behalf of most Leeds fans, Stuart Dallas, Raphinha and Patrick Bamford have been our three standout players this season.

Dallas plays an 8/10 every game, the addition of Raphinha has added genuine star quality to our team and Bamford’s tally of 14 goals and seven assists speaks for itself.

 

Switching our attention to Liverpool, why do you think they have struggled?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 13, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané looks dejected after the FA Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For me, there have been a number of reasons why Liverpool have struggled this season.

Firstly, the sheer number of injuries to key men has certainly had an impact, resulting in some players being forced out of position.

I feel the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have really dropped off this season – cue them combining for a goal on Monday – which has placed all the attacking pressure on Mo Salah’s shoulders.

Finally, having no fans at Anfield for the majority of the season has surely had an effect on Jurgen Klopp and the players, especially after missing out on celebrating last season’s title win with them.

 

Do you think they will secure a top-four finish?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (L) with match-winning goal-scorer Trent Alexander-Arnold after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It seems as if there are six sides battling for two places, but I still think they will sneak into the top four at the end of the season, which would be a solid achievement given the circumstances.

Liverpool only have to play one side above them from now until the end of the season and could end up playing a number of teams with nothing to play for in the closing weeks of the season.

That, in my view, could prove crucial.

 

Looking ahead to Monday’s game, who do you fear most for the Reds?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Liverpool's goal-scorer Mohamed Salah during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It has to be Salah.

He has been the Reds’ main man again this season and always seems to have that priceless knack of grabbing a goal out of nothing.

It doesn’t help knowing he netted a hat-trick against us way back on the first weekend of the season, too!

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

File photo dated 10-08-2019 of Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips (Tim Goode/PA Wire/PA Images)

Whenever it comes to Leeds, I think the key battle is always in midfield. Allow Phillips to play his natural game and you could quite easily see us getting on top.

Should Liverpool dominate proceedings in the middle of the park with the likes of Fabinho, Thiago and Gini Wijnaldum, however, I fear it could be a struggle at times.

 

Finally, hit us with your prediction…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) celebrates with team-mate Xherdan Shaqiri after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I will go with an entertaining 2-1 Liverpool win with plenty of chances.

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