LONDON • Leeds waited 16 years to get back into the Premier League in order to compete with the best and while they suffered a 4-3 loss to Liverpool, it was clear from Saturday’s showing that Marcelo Bielsa’s side are an exciting addition to the English top flight.
They came back three times to equalise against the champions, they enjoyed more possession and played with a relentless verve and energy and without the slightest hint of stage fright at Anfield.
The only pity was that this pulsating encounter took place in an empty stadium as this was exactly the kind of clash that would have had the fans on their feet.
It can come across as patronising when a winning manager praises defeated opponents, but Jurgen Klopp’s post-match comments were a sincere appreciation of the Whites’ approach to the game.
“Leeds are special,” said Klopp. “I congratulated every one of their team, what a team they are. Unbelievable. I will watch them quite often during the season.
“What a game, what an opponent, what a performance from both teams. A proper spectacle, I loved that.”
Bielsa’s side defended with a deep line but while other teams often park the bus at Anfield, Leeds took the game to the Reds.
It is an approach which stretches the field, creating open areas which can be very risky against a team of Liverpool’s quality.
But it worked, for the most part, because Leeds covered so much ground with their work rate and because they had the skill to move the ball swiftly through the lines.
“I said before the game, we will all struggle against them, 100 per cent, because the way they play is just uncomfortable. It is different to all the other teams,” said Klopp.
His men dropped points at Anfield just once on their romp to a first league title in 30 years last season and the hosts made the perfect start when debutant Robin Koch handled the ball for Mohamed Salah to rifle home from the spot.
What a game, what an opponent, what a performance from both teams. A proper spectacle, I loved that.
JURGEN KLOPP, Liverpool manager, who thoroughly enjoyed his team’s 4-3 win over the Whites at Anfield.
Jack Harrison then equalised before Virgil van Dijk played both hero and villain by heading home and then laying a second equaliser on a plate for Patrick Bamford.
Another Salah strike again restored Liverpool’s lead before half-time and even after Mateusz Klich levelled for a third time, the Egypt forward had the final say with a penalty two minutes from time to complete his hat-trick.
Leeds’ £27 million (S$47.3 million) record signing Rodrigo came off the bench, only to end up tripping Fabinho in the box in what was a disastrous debut.
However, manager Bielsa refused to point the finger at the Spain forward, even though he cost his side a share of the spoils. “You can’t blame one player for the defeat, even if he made an error.
“I can never be happy in defeat… (but) on the whole, though, Liverpool were superior.”
It was probably a fair assessment but after watching their first outing of the season, pundits feel other Premier League teams will not be looking forward to their encounter with Leeds.
Said former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness: “You can say that Liverpool were not at their best but they were not allowed to be at their best. Leeds hunted them down for a large part of that game. I don’t think they enjoyed the experience.”
In yesterday’s early game in bright sunshine at the Hawthorns, a header by debutant full-back Timothy Castagne and two penalties from last season’s EPL top scorer Jamie Vardy gave Leicester a 3-0 victory over newly promoted West Bromwich Albion.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS