Liverpool 1-2 Leeds United: Talking points as Leeds end long Liverpool unbeaten run at Anfield

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Oct 31, 2022, 11:50

Leeds United put in a fierce performance at Anfield on Saturday and reaped the rewards as an early goal from Rodrigo Moreno and a late one from Crysencio Summerville stunned last season’s Premier League and Champions League runners-up Liverpool and left Merseyside with the three points safely tucked away in their pockets. It was Mohamed Salah who bagged the only goal for the Reds, and it proved no more than a mere token of hope before it was extinguished completely.

Liverpool’s defensive woes

The night could hardly have started worse than it did for the home side. With half a minute gone they had a very good opportunity to take the lead when Leeds defender Liam Cooper misunderstood goalkeeper Illan Meslier, but Pascal Struijk cleared Salah’s tight-angle effort off the line. And then, Liverpool presented the visitors with an even better opportunity at the other end, and Rodrigo made no mistake after a completely unreasonable attempt at a backpass from Joe Gomez left Alisson Becker on the wrong foot. The Leeds striker had no difficulty whatsoever in putting the ball into the empty net from six yards.

Gomez played rather well for the rest of the match, but the damage to the confidence and composure of the entire back line had already been done.

Liverpool have never been a team that puts in many tackles in a game, which is hardly surprising given that they’ve spent most of their game-time under Jurgen Klopp on the front foot. But the percentage of successful tackles was always high during the seasons when they fought for the title. Now, however, it’s a completely different story.

Liverpool dominated possession as they usually do and the ball spent most of the time in the Leeds’ half of the pitch, obviously limiting the visitors mostly to counterattacks as the means of causing Alisson problems. Fortunately for them, Liverpool’s lack of anticipation, failed tackling, questionable communication and poor decision making left a lot of space to be exploited, and the pace of their attacking quartet (Summerville, Brenden Aaronson, Jack Harrison and Rodrigo) cut through the hosts’ lines like a hot knife through butter. Practically, each time the ball went across the halfway line was a potential scoring opportunity for Leeds.

Ironically, the best defender in a red shirt on the night was Trent Alexander-Arnold, heavily criticized by the public this season (as well as in the past) for apparently ‘not knowing how to defend’.

Small consolation, obviously.

Speaking to the press after the match, Klopp was brutally honest in his assessment of the defensive performance of his team, and he particularly bemoaned the way his men acted around the second Leeds goal.

“You can watch this game completely,” he told Sky Sports. “But you cannot defend like we did for the second goal, but we did, that’s why we lost, otherwise it would have been a point which would’ve been deserved and we’d go from there. Now we have nothing and it feels completely different.”

There are several players, not just defenders, that will want to look at themselves regarding that particular situation. It’s arguably hard to remain focused on defending when the main focus of the team late in the game is to try and score a winner at the other end, but at this level, a team that hopes to achieve anything simply cannot allow these things to happen like that.

This defeat has ended Liverpool’s run of 29 Premier League matches at Anfield without losing, and it was the first home defeat ever in the league for Virgil van Dijk, since his arrival to the club in January 2018.

Meslier masterclass

To add further problems for Liverpool in this match, young Meslier in the Leeds goal had what felt like the night of his career so far. There was nothing he could do for Salah’s equalizer, but after that first-minute miscommunication with Cooper, he was superb.

All told, the 22-year-old made nine saves, most of them very difficult. He did particularly well to deny Roberto Firmino from close range in the 13th minute, Salah in the 39th from the edge of the box, and Darwin Nunez twice. The Uruguayan striker was first put through by a sublime pass from Alexander-Arnold, only to act indecisively and allow Meslier to thwart him, and later he let fly a long-range effort which the Leeds shot-stopper tipped over the bar.

Quite apart from saving the actual shots, Meslier showed great anticipation to come out and repeatedly cut Liverpool passes aimed for the space behind the back line, as well as a commendable level of control of his box when it came to crosses. Liverpool whipped in 30 in this match, along with 14 corners.

Rodrigo and Summerville may have scored the goals which brought their team the victory, but without the stellar performance of Meslier in goal, it’s not very likely that those goals would have mattered much. The young Frenchman was, without a doubt, the Man of the Match.

The aftermath

In his post-match interview, Klopp insisted that there was no reason to panic after this defeat. Well, there’s never really a reason to panic as panic itself doesn’t solve problems of any sort, but the fact that plenty of Liverpool supporters feel thoroughly disappointed with their team’s performances and results cannot be ignored. There was talk about fighting for the title at the start, then it was a fight to finish inside the top four and qualify for the Champions League, and now it seems that qualifying for any of the three European competitions will be challenge enough.

Right now, Liverpool are ninth in the Premier League table with 16 points, though they could be overtaken by West Ham on Sunday, if the Hammers beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. It seems that the upcoming World Cup cannot come soon enough for Klopp and his men, and the break will be a good chance for the German and his staff to try and cook up a way to fight back through the remaining part of the season.

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Leeds will, of course, be delighted with what they did on Saturday. The three points they won have taken them out of the relegation zone for the time being, and manager Jesse Marsch will be feeling the pressure about potentially losing his job significantly less in the coming weeks.

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