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Liverpool v Leeds United A Liverpool Perspective
Well that was some game! A great end-to-end spectacle of exciting attacking football, despite neither team being fully fit, but they still kept going. As usual with half fit players, it was a game littered with mistakes, but that is why it was exciting. You just have to hope that games continue to be so entertaining when all the teams are up to full fitness.
If they can keep up this intensity throughout the season, then they are going to give teams a torrid time. The problem comes if they do what Norwich, Huddersfield and many others down the years have done and lose that approach. That all-action style added to Bielsa’s tactical tweaks are the only hope they have of staying in the league this season. The players have improved a lot under his coaching, but in essence they are still a very thin midtable Championship side performing above expectations because of Bielsea. If they let the plaudits go to their head, they could struggle.
With Bielsa in charge I expect quite the opposite, though the shortened season and possibility of losing key players to quarantine/self-isolation periods could well cost them. They just have to keep faith with the methodology and keep plugging away, no matter how difficult things get and they will be fine.
They do have issues defensively, not just their open, attacking style, but a lack of real defensively minded players in midfield. Phillips is a very good playmaker who can spray the passes around brilliantly, but he lacks mobility and does not yet have good enough reading of the game to make up for it. Their real Achilles’ heel though is set-pieces. They are going to concede a fair few this season due to an inability to defend them unless something changes.
Klopp – he took a big risk starting with Wijnaldum, Keita and Henderson in the centre of midfield and it nearly cost Liverpool all three points. Nearly is the important word, the team still got the 3 points and the players took a step forward in terms of fitness. This was always going to be a difficult game, all teams are going to one to put one over on the champions and LFC were coming into it nowhere near fully prepared for the season. It is not just them in this position, but being defending champions is a much more difficult mindset to approach games with than going out to beat the reigning champions.
When changes were needed Klopp made them and they benefitted the team, Fabinho in particular changed the game and it was good to see Jones being the one to come in. That will be a huge boost to him that he was chosen over the other options on the bench.
Alisson – considering the number of goals in the match, Alisson had very little to do overall really. One-on-one with Bamford aside, it is difficult to think of anything else he had to do. Leeds were very clinical, for once, though it must be said Alisson at his superhuman best would likely have saved at least one other shot. Clearly not 100% yet and so not quite superhuman yet.
Alexander-Arnold – woefully short of match fitness as he returns from injury and it was glaringly obvious. It was like he was running in treacle with diving boots on while towing David Batty’s caravan behind him at times. Harrison was able to torment him simply because he was struggling to run. That was a good run out to get him closer to full fitness.
Gomez – started off badly but grew into the game and got better and better. Brought the ball out from the back really well and did as much as humanly possible to cover for Trent and Virgil’s off day. Once he moved over to right back, he completely shut down that flank, for both of the minutes he was there. It did make me wish he had perhaps moved there sooner, but Trent needed the fitness work.
van Dijk – he truly is human and showed all the fallibilities of a human for once. That arrogant composure for once was his undoing and he was (and I can’t believe I am typing this) one of the worst players on the pitch. He was caught ball-watching, made a sloppy error and generally looked like his head was not in the game at all. Luckily he is such a threat in the opposition box and scored a goal, so his day was not a complete washout. From a Liverpool perspective, you just have to hope that was a lack of match sharpness but this has been a worrying trend in recent months. His performances have been declining alarmingly from the incredibly level he set when first arriving. Maybe this is the wake up call he needs to rediscover his form and get back to being the world’s best centre-back.
Robertson – looked fresh and fired up, playing really well, with his customary energy and verve. Tsimikas is going to struggle to get much football if Robertson continues like this.
Keita – I suppose someone had to make Virgil’s game look better and that someone was Keita, who was quite simply abysmal. Shirked challenges, ducked out of the way of Leeds passes he could have blocked, bottled out of headers and generally hid in a cowardly fashion on the pitch. The press failed because of him on more than one occasion. I really was disgusted with his performance. Keita was the very definition of an empty shirt. It was no surprise he was hooked with less than an hour gone. How much longer are we going to have to wait to see the Keita that impressed so much in the Bundesliga?
Henderson – another who was clearly miles away from full fitness and played well within himself. There was no drive and rampaging runs forward as we see when he is at his best. That hour or so in his legs will have done him the world of good.
Wijnaldum – so often Wijnaldum has games where he is utterly anonymous, this was one of those but added to it there were moments where he just looked like he was playing well within himself. One such came in the first half when Trent was caught up field and he was ‘chasing’ back. Well I say chasing, it was more sort of gently jogging in the same general direction as the Leeds attacker. Normally he would have sprinted, closed him down and seen out the danger. I am hoping he was just not fit either because the alternative is that his heart is no longer in it.
Salah – without a doubt the best player on the pitch. The left side of Leeds’ defence will be giving thanks they will not have to face Salah every week. He looked absolutely at it and gave them a roasting. His commitment to his trade shone through as he was not lacking sharpness at all, despite staying back at Melwood during the international break.
Mane – there were flashes of the Mane Liverpool fans know and love, including a lovely nutmeg on Ayling after drawing the Leeds player right out of his half, but they were just flashes. Not at his best, but still a handful for the defence. He was clearly struggling for fitness as the second half wore on, there were a couple of times he did that little stumble people do when they are trying to go on a run but their legs are on the verge of giving out.
Firmino – miles off full fitness, though it is usual for him at this stage of the season. Bobby always seems to take a bit longer than the rest to get up to speed. He was still at the heart of the moves and produced some of his trademark Brazilian flair, but it was far from him at his best.
Fabinho – replaced Keita in the 59th minute and it changed the game. Liverpool looked so much better with him there, though that could probably be put down in large part to it being Keita that went off. He controls the midfield and made it much more difficult for Leeds to play through.
Jones – Henderson went off to be replaced by Jones in the 66th minute. Once again he impressed, without doing anything special this time. Looks very much like a natural player in that midfield.
Matip – only came on in place of Alexander-Arnold in the 89th minute, so never had time to impose himself on the game.
Written by Tris Burke September 17 2020 15:50:32