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Liverpool experience doses of pleasure and pain but onwards Reds must go

Harvey Elliott and the prospective severity of his ankle injury overshadowed a multitude of positives at Elland Road but forward we must go, writes Steven Scragg.

We went into this one having overcome standoffs with the Brazilian FA and FIFA over the right for Alisson Becker and Fabinho to take part, while Naby Keita was rendered available only after being airlifted from the midst of a coup d’état.

Brazil stamped their foot, FIFA listened and pondered and a power dance-off then took place. Call me a cynic here, but this was nothing more than Nike being outraged that their flagship international football shirts weren’t being worn during the international break by many of the highest-profile players the nation has to offer.

Football not in the name of sport, but as product placement.

The problem for Nike is that what they really needed on Sunday afternoon was for some of the highest-profile players Liverpool have to offer to be wearing a ‘swoosh’ on their flagship club football shirts.

Football not in the name of sport, but as product placement.

Finally, Liverpool’s uneasy union with Nike has come up with something positive.

As preparations for a trip to West Yorkshire go, they proved to be a bit ‘out there’.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 12, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah goal during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Leeds United have gone through something of an aesthetic refit. Marcelo Bielsa has successfully shaken off the ‘Dirty Leeds’ trademark that was branded on the club for well over half a century or so.

Suddenly, Leeds have become one of the most interesting concepts in the English game. Purveyors of a bold brand of football that is fast and skilful. Hugely watchable, they have morphed into a favourite of football hipsters everywhere. This has been disorientating for those of us that have lived in other eras during which Leeds have swung from brutal to agricultural and back again.

Don’t get me wrong, some past visages of Leeds have also been able to play the ball very well too, even the Don Revie version. They just as likely play the player as they would the ball, however. Even Brian Clough called them out for it.

A polarising football club. While part of me is happy to see them back at English football’s top table, another part of me isn’t so sure if it will be all that bothered if they do succumb to the much mooted ‘second season syndrome’.

Very much a real thing after a first season back, in which adrenalin can take a newly promoted team a long way, there is often a lull in the second season which can be fatal to hopes of a prolonged stay in the Premier League. Sheffield United were the latest victims of this phenomenon.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 12, 2021: Liverpool's Harvey Elliott receives treatment for an injury before being carried off during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Talking of victims, some of the Leeds faithful completely embarrassed themselves with words chanted, while others were wonderful in their reactions to the stricken Elliott as the teenager was removed from the pitch on a stretcher and into a presumably elongated road to recovery.

A particularly galling loss, Elliott was on the brink of being replaced by Jordan Henderson when he sustained his injury. It was a needless challenge more than anything. Out of proportion with its situation and positioning on the pitch.

Much has been spoken in disapproval of the new refereeing mantra to allow games to flow. I am by no means an apologist for referees, but on this one, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I’m not against the spirit of the concept of a freer-flowing game though, although I think ignoring injury causing challenges should not be part of the shortcuts to a less fragmented game, no matter if they are generated by malice or chance.

On this occasion, it was blatantly clear that Elliott was in significant trouble. Football is a physical game; football happens and injuries will occur, some of them very serious ones. It is within the nature of the game, but there are better things football can do to tighten itself up when it comes to the flow of the game than waving aside players when they are crumpled to the turf with their foot pointing in the entirely wrong direction.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 12, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp consoles substitute Ibrahima Konaté after witnessing a bad injury to team-mate Harvey Elliott during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Elliott has started the season with a rich degree of maturity which has allowed Jurgen Klopp to ease Thiago and Jordan Henderson back after their involvements with Euro 2020(21). In recent seasons, this type of job — a massively crucial one — has fallen to James Milner.

We should be bouncing away from Sunday in at least a glass half full mood with a 3-0 victory, all be it one that could/should have been double that amount, against a team who offered us generous helpings of space yet shifted the ball around impressively when they could gain possession of it.

Sadio Mane was stunningly profligate yet again although, hopefully, the goal he did eventually get will break the floodgates. He wasn’t alone in missing opportunities that seemed nailed on goals, however.

As the old saying goes, it’s a bigger worry not to create chances than it is to miss the ones you do create. There is sleight of hand within this saying, though. If we are going to have any chance to reclaim the Premier League title then we are going to need to be far more ruthless in front of goal.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 12, 2021: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Liverpool FC at Elland Road. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Yet, there was much to love about Sunday. Joel Matip was magnificent, his part in the opening goal the stuff of all self-respecting playmakers. Thiago was displaying his football as art, Fabinho was both destructor and constructor, while Henderson was pinging some stunning passes from deep during the final third of the afternoon. Trent Alexander-Arnold simply continued to embarrass a nation that doesn’t want to or perhaps doesn’t have the intelligence to get what he’s all about.

Onward we move, without Elliott for now, and into a reunion with AC Milan on Wednesday evening. Up the Reds.

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