Joy and sorrow swirled in the West Yorkshire air as Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah reached a significant milestone and Liverpool signalled their title intent but lost their teenage midfielder Harvey Elliott to a potentially serious injury.
By the time Leeds were reduced to 10 men after Pascal Struijk’s dismissal for his part in that incident, Marcelo Bielsa’s team were already heading for a defeat which leaves them still seeking their first win of the season.
With a first-time swipe of his left foot, Salah registered his 100th Premier League goal, the Egyptian arriving in precisely the right place at the right time to arrow Trent Alexander-Arnold’s near post cross beyond Illan Meslier.
That cameo served as a rebuke to those Leeds fans who had delighted in serenading Alexander-Arnold with choruses of “You’re just a shite Kyle Walker”. That ditty stuck in their throats as Joël Matip surged forward from central defence before exchanging passes with Salah and then playing in the right back.
It represented one in a series of bad moments for Marcelo Bielsa’s former Barcelona left-back Junior Firpo but, until then, a thrillingly
halter-shelter first half had been fairly even. Indeed before Salah’s goal,
Kalvin Phillips had been enjoying the better of his duel with Thiago,
dispossessing the Spain midfielder and initiating counterattacks on a
couple of potentially important moments.
With Fabinho required to watch his step following a booking for a late foul on Rodrigo, Jürgen Klopp not only looked incandescent with the officials for that yellow card but a little anxious.
He need not have been. While Fabinho would emerge as one of the game’s outstanding individuals, having taken the lead, Liverpool also assumed control and would have swiftly doubled their advantage had Salah not been a yard offside as Thiago headed his gorgeous chipped cross home.
If Leeds were relieved to see that effort disallowed, problems were mounting for Bielsa. Quite apart from his captain, Liam Cooper, treading a fine line after collecting an early booking for hauling Sadio Mané down, Cooper’s partner, Diego Llorente had hobbled off with hamstring trouble and bar coping with Rodrigo shooting straight at him, Alisson had been virtually redundant in goal.
Admittedly apart from picking the ball out of his net and making a fine one-handed save to deny Diogo Jota, Meslier was not exactly under constant bombardment but the way in which Matip and Virgil van Dijk were succeeding in second guessing Patrick Bamford’s every attacking manoeuvre boded badly for the home manager.
Bielsa replaced Rodrigo with Tyler Roberts at the interval but the new half had barely begun before his side had fallen further behind. Despite Struijk, on for Llorente, preventing a goal courtesy of a wondrous tackle on Salah, Liverpool scored from the ensuing corner.
When Leeds failed to clear it, Van Dijk was able direct a header into the path of Fabinho, who lashed the ball home at the second attempt. Liverpool’s joy turned to shock and fear as another Struijk tackle left their 18-year-old midfielder Harvey Elliott with a serious-looking leg injury. Caught by the defender as he accelerated into the Leeds half, Elliott collapsed in evident agony, appealing to Klopp for help and leaving Salah demanding urgent assistance after the briefest of glances at the damage.
After protracted treatment on the pitch Elliott was carried off with his leg in a splint but managed to raise his hands to clap the Liverpool fans as he headed off. From certain angles, the challenge had initially looked benign but a VAR review confirmed the original decision of the referee, Craig Pawson, to show Struijk a red card. Even so, Van Dijk patted his rival defender on the head, in apparent sympathy and, by the end, Pawson’s ears must have been ringing with critical chants of “Who’s the Scouser in the black?”
Shortly after Jordan Henderson had replaced Elliott, Daniel James trotted on for his Leeds debut. Making his bow as part of a 10-man team will not have been exactly what the Wales winger had in mind when he made he arrived at Elland Road from Manchester United for £25m at the end of the transfer window but James’s pace offered home fans a glimmer of home.
Had Alisson allowed his concentration to wander Bamford might have reduced the deficit by scoring, audaciously from the halfway line but the goalkeeper was alert to the danger and Klopp’s precious clean sheet was preserved.
By now, Bielsa’s backline were presumably grateful Liverpool’s frontline
were not at their most ruthless but they still conceded a third when Henderson and Thiago combined, enabling Mané to swivel past a wrong-footed Cooper and direct his 99th Premier League goal low past Meslier and on into the bottom corner.