Well, the last few days have been a whirlwind, and unfortunately, there hasn’t been much positivity within it all.
The European Super League has dominated the headlines and the conversations within the game, and generally within sport, whilst everything else has subsequently taken a back seat. Even a major domestic fixture such as this one between Leeds and Liverpool was given minimal screen time and conversation during the scheduled programming.
It is bad enough that this stature of game has had to be played behind closed doors, but with the extra weight behind it after Liverpool’s confirmed involvement within the breakaway league, this game would have been domestic spectacle that thousands of fans within Elland Road should have enjoyed.
But after the English clubs officially pulled out of the proposed new competition on Tuesday night, the result of the game once again became relevant.
But the Reds’ chase for a top four spot looks bleak once again after a lack of concentration in the dying embers of the game denied them maximum points and gave their rivals a significant boost.
Klopp’s side generally dominated proceedings in Yorkshire and deservedly had the lead but were left to rue missing big chances and promising positions, as Bielsa’s side slowly but surely worked their way back into the contest in the last 15 minutes. With two minutes remaining of normal time the home side equalised, to the annoyance of Liverpool’s manager. It was the last thing he needed.
It is unacceptable that the Super league talk overshadowed events on the pitch, to a point that not many people cared about the match at all. It is depressing and not the way football should be.
Trying to focus on the events within the game itself, Liverpool took the front foot and pressed Bielsa’s side into several mistakes in the opening period. Chances would fall to Thiago, Milner, Firmino and Jota throughout the first half, but each failed to penetrate Illan Meslier’s goal. However, it wouldn’t be long after till the deadlock was broken.
After being given time to play out from the back, Kabak found Jota in the middle of the pitch. After the Portuguese held off the challenge of Phillips, he wonderfully pierced the Leeds defence with a whipped pass to find the on-rushing Alexander-Arnold. The England international then laid it on a plate to a wide open Sadio Mané to tuck home his first Premier League goal for three months.
It was a deserved first half lead for the Reds but one that was not safe unless a second followed soon. Klopp’s side continued their dominance into the second half in search of a contest-killing goal, but dominance failed to materialise clear cut chances.
With Leeds throwing caution to the wind in the final 15 minutes, Liverpool retreated to work on the counter, but found themselves desperately holding on for the win. Alisson made several wonderful saves to keep the Merseysiders ahead, whilst Patrick Bamford struck the Brazilian’s crossbar.
It had looked that Klopp’s side had managed to secure the three important points to take them back into the top four, but Leeds centre-back Diego Lllorente had other ideas, planting home a header with minutes remaining. It was a major blow and one the Reds could not resurrect in the added time that remained.
The sides shared the spoils, but the points will do more for Leeds than the Reds. It was a chance for Liverpool to take control of the Champions League spaces again. Instead, the result left breathing space for Leicester and West Ham to capitalise during the mid-week fixtures, though luckily Chelsea also dropped points to Brighton.
Wins for each side could signal the end of a top four place for the defending Premier League Champions that, despite all the injuries, would signal a season of major underachievement. Klopp will now hope that opponents of those sides do Liverpool a favour, whilst he gets his own team back on the winning trail.
Klopp made two changes from the team who drew with Real Madrid during the past week. Nat Phillips suffered a hamstring injury during training, so Fabinho slotted back into defence and Thiago came into the midfield. Whilst up top, Mohamed Salah was rested, with Diogo Jota given a starting berth.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
AlissonEmbed from Getty Images
Despite having to make only one save up until the 75th minute, the Brazilians performance was monumental, and in the end, kept the Reds in the game. Some of the saves he made in the final 15 were stunning, where very few would have been able to deny the attacking threat of Leeds.
Over the last couple of weeks, questions had been asked of Liverpool’s number one after some questionable saves/performances against Real Madrid (A) and Aston Villa. He responded with a dominant showing that was close to perfection, with his defenders letting him down at the last minute, as they were unable to nullify the Leeds threat from a corner.
His most impressive stop actually came in the first half where – after a mistake from stand in centre back Fabinho – Alisson saved the day by denying what looked a certain goal as Leeds went clean through on his goal. This clearly boosted his confidence, and when he was called into action consistently throughout the latter part of the contest, he was there to keep the Reds ahead.
He is such an important part of this successful team and despite the year they have had, moving forward he will be an even more imperative part of Klopp’s side in search of more major trophies. Hopefully, it will be the Premier League and Champions League titles that he will be chasing over the next few years.
Sadio ManéEmbed from Getty Images
It was positive performance and goal that he thoroughly needed and could be the catalyst for him to return to his best form. He wasn’t perfect but the signs were there that the more flexible attacking formation against Leeds worked in his favour, and saw him cause Luke Ayling several problems throughout the night.
My personal favourite part of his play during the game was his hold up and ball retention. This has vanished out of his game over the last four months, but against Leeds he was strong and picked the right pass every time. His pace also returned as he was consistently in behind the high Leeds backline, which caused Bielsa to adjust his tactics around the hour mark. The pace, power and desire looked like it had returned and it really brought a smile to my face.
His goal was taken well but what will get overlooked was his movement and reading of the game. As soon as Jota turned to make the pass to Alexander-Arnold, the Senegal international was already rapidly making his way into the opposition area, knowing an opportunity was incoming. When the ball reached the England right-back, Mané had got himself in front of the Leeds centre-halves and thus in the perfect position to tuck home into the empty net, sealing what was a wonderful move from back to front.
This was a positive step for the 29-year-old. There was lots to be pleased about in his 80-minute cameo and will give him some belief going into the run-in. This is not to say he didn’t make mistakes, as there were several, but it is now on the winger to work on these in training before he takes the field again on Saturday lunchtime against Newcastle. If these are removed from his game, Steve Bruce’s side might be in trouble.
Ozan KabakEmbed from Getty Images
As my colleague Don perfectly put in his player ratings piece, “Looked a £50million defender first half and the kind of player you wouldn’t spend a fiver on after the break.”
It was truly a tale of two halves for the Turkish international, who was calm and composed in the first half – also starting the move that ended with a Reds goal. Whilst in the second period, he looked like he hadn’t played football for Liverpool before, as he took too many touches, went long with almost every pass and was weak in the challenge as Llorente equalised for Leeds.
The latter example is the main reason he has landed on the loser’s column, as his attempt to battle with the Spanish centre-half, was truthfully non-existent. It was a really poor attempt at manoeuvring the Leeds player out the way and the on-loan Schalke player should have judged it a lot better than he did. Instead, the ball flew past the helpless Alisson, putting some of his fine saves earlier in the game to waste in the meantime.
It was frustrating to see this second half meltdown because we know how good he really is. Considering his age and the situation he has had to come into, he has been absolutely marvellous. Without the blossoming partnership that himself and Phillips have put together, Liverpool would be in a situation where Europa League football might be out of site.
I think we need to count this down to 45 minutes to forget and something hopefully we won’t see again for the rest of this season. This aside, at £18million it would be foolish of Liverpool to pass up on the opportunity to sign this young star and, having been implemented into the Klopp style of play and at the age of just 21, you can only see him getting better and better.
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