Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Mohamed Salah hits hat-trick as Liverpool beat Leeds United in seven-goal thriller

Remarkable game at Anfield sees the Premier League champions made to fight all the way by Bielsa's newly promoted side

It took Marcelo Bielsa until he was 65 to reach the Premier League but a belated arrival made an immediate impact.

Bielsa’s Leeds, and Bielsa’s bold blueprint, brought the season’s first classic. Sadly for him, Leeds lost it, the champions beating champions of the Championship.

Liverpool’s winning start owed much to a sharp, scintillating Mohamed Salah, whose hat-trick made him only the second player, after Teddy Sheringham, to score on the opening weekend in four consecutive Premier League seasons.

He bookended the game with clinical penalties, added a brilliant strike in between and decided a thriller.

Liverpool had been pegged back three times, losing leads, but not losing to Leeds.

It was testament to the promoted club’s attacking intent and Bielsa’s considerable ambition that they had the ball in the Liverpool net five times, even if, as both sides had two goals disallowed, Illan Meslier had to retrieve it from his own net six times.

The breakneck pace of both sides reflected the two managers’ philosophies. It was breathless stuff, with high defensive lines and difficulties at the back for both sides contributing to the excitement. Errors were married with attacking excellence to provide entertainment.

Liverpool amassed 22 shots but Alisson did not register a save as Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich, three of Bielsa’s second-tier stalwarts, all struck.

They acquitted themselves well but two newcomers had tougher days.

Leeds’ club record signing Rodrigo came off the bench in a costly cameo, chopping down Fabinho for Salah to score the late winner.

It also amounted to an unfortunate start for Leeds’ most expensive defender since Rio Ferdinand.

Robin Koch was involved in two goals inside 20 minutes. He felt luckless for the first as his debut turned sour within three minutes when Salah blasted a shot that deflected off his knee on to his arm for a contentious penalty that was converted emphatically.

Leeds had set-piece frailties at times in the Championship but an arrival was culpable when they conceded from a corner. Koch lost Virgil van Dijk when he met Andrew Robertson’s corner with a towering header. Salah’s second, and Liverpool’s third, was rifled into the roof of the net.

Yet Leeds hit back three times. The on-loan Manchester City midfielder Harrison became their first scorer at this level since Alan Smith in 2004. It stemmed from a glorious long pass from Kalvin Phillips.

The ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ picked out the surging Harrison, who took it down with a beautiful touch and drilled a low shot under Alisson.

There was soon a second. Bamford was profligate last season and Van Dijk almost immaculate, but each confounded the stereotype.

The Liverpool defender was guilty of a casual touch when he intercepted Harrison’s up-and-under, presenting the ball to the Leeds striker, who dinked in his shot.

After Salah’s second, Klich, who had been loaned out until Bielsa arrived, brought them level for a third time with a burst into the box to meet Helder Costa’s pass. He dispatched a half-volley.

Leeds had two goals chalked off for offside – Costa when he thought he had scored their first equaliser and Harrison when it seemed he had their third, Trent Alexander-Arnold inadvertently heading his lob into his own net.

Though it eventually mattered not, Liverpool were also frustrated twice: Sadio Mane is not renowned for scoring from 35 yards and, sadly for him, a rarity did not count after Robertson was offside while Van Dijk thumped in from a corner, but only after Curtis Jones had impeded Koch illegally.

Nor did the action end there. Meslier made fine saves from Mane and Gini Wijnaldum and a brilliant stop to spare Pascal Striujk from the ignominy of a spectacular own goal.

The rookie was making just a third league start as Liam Cooper was injured. Perhaps it was a good game for a defender to miss, but if it was one for the neutral to savour, Salah could also enjoy it.

Updated: September 12, 2020 11:50 PM

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