When Jurgen Klopp warned us that his side would attack this season’s title rather than defend last season’s red-decorated one, no one thought that his players would take his words quite so literally. While last season’s Liverpool took until December to ship more than one goal, the Reds managed this unenviable feat on opening day of the new campaign, conceding three against newly-promoted opposition, no less. Performances will have to improve drastically if this team is to match the standards set last season.
The first Leeds goal was a defensive calamity, with all of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and Alisson arguably culpable – although great credit must be awarded to Jack Harrison for that mazy run. The second was little more than a defensive howler from a lackadaisical Virgil Van Dijk. Concerningly, however, Leeds’ third was a result of the Liverpool midfield lacking diligence in tracking the goalscorer Mateusz Klich, a recurring theme throughout the afternoon. If Liverpool are to continue to pursue this high defensive line, the likes of Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson will have to up the ante when it comes to their defensive work ethic, a quality that keeps them in the side at the expense of more creative midfielders like Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
And despite scoring four, not all was rosy in the attacking department for Liverpool either. Whilst Mohamed Salah was certainly firing on all cylinders, Roberto Firmino’s poor form in front of goal continues to be a cause for concern. It’s games like these where it’d be necessary to bring on a pure-blooded, out-and-out No.9 to bury one of the numerous chances Liverpool crafted in the final half-hour. The dearth of options on the bench to challenge Firmino, whom admittedly looks too comfortable at times, only further highlights Liverpool’s well-documented pecuniary problems.
Of course, a game that adds three points to the board can’t yield exclusively negative takeaways. The good news is that Salah looks to be very much on the ball. After what was, by his sky-high standards, a fairly underwhelming finish to last season, the Egyptian now looks like a man on a mission. If he can come anywhere close to replicating the goal tally he racked up in his first season at Anfield, it can only be a good thing for the Reds.
And in even better news, it looks like this Liverpool side haven’t lost the never-say-die mentality that they’ve developed over the last two years. As the game wore on after the final Leeds equaliser, Liverpool physically and mentally broke the visitors down, creating enough chances to be able to say that the eventual winner was deserved. Reds fans should take heart from the visible anxiety that grew amongst Leeds players towards the end of the game – it’s been a while since Liverpool had that effect on other teams.
At the end of the day, though, there’s plenty of room for improvement – and plenty of need for it. It’s Chelsea at the Bridge up next, and whether or not you buy into the hype, the Blues are quite incontrovertibly a better side than Leeds. Liverpool will have to shore up defensively against Chelsea’s star names – the lacklustre errors made against Leeds can’t afford to be repeated this weekend. The same is true of those at the other end of the field. Sadio Mane and Firmino need to find their scoring boots, and fast.