LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom, Sept 12 – Mohamed Salah scored a hat-trick as Liverpool saw off three fightbacks from Leeds to begin their defence of the Premier League with a thrilling 4-3 win at Anfield.
Leeds’ return to the English top-flight under Marcelo Bielsa after a 16-year absence was highly anticipated and a clash against the reigning champions lived up to expectations as three times they equalised through Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich to cancel out Salah’s first-half double and Virgil van Dijk’s header.
However, Salah’s second penalty of the game two minutes from time ensured Liverpool got off to a winning start.
Liverpool dropped points at Anfield just once on their romp to a first league title in 30 years last season but were nearly undone on the opening day of their title defence by Leeds’ daring attacking endeavour and a host of defensive errors.
The hosts made the perfect start when Salah’s shot was handled inside the box by Robin Koch and the Egyptian rifled home the resulting penalty.
True to coach Bielsa’s philosophy, Leeds were not intimidated by the blow of conceding early and came out to go toe-to-toe with the champions.
Harrison equalised in style as the on-loan Manchester City winger cut inside Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez before firing low and hard past Alisson Becker.
But it was at the back Leeds looked like a newly-promoted side as slack marking allowed Van Dijk a free header which Illan Meslier should have saved rather than letting the ball trickle over the line.
Van Dijk has been near-faultless in two-and-a-half seasons since his signing transformed Liverpool’s fortunes under Klopp.
However, a shootout was reminiscent of the German’s early days in charge at Anfield as Van Dijk was badly at fault for Leeds’ second as his attempted clearance teed up Bamford perfectly to side-foot beyond Alisson.
– Defensive struggles persist –
More poor defending from a set-piece meant the visitors again did not hang onto parity for long as Pascal Struijk’s header from Andy Robertson’s free-kick picked out Salah at the edge of the box and he controlled before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
The chances continued to flow at both ends in the second half as Georginio Wijnaldum, who has been strongly linked with a move to join former Netherlands national team boss Ronald Koeman at Barcelona, was denied by a fine save from Meslier.
Alexander-Arnold was then spared an embarrassing own goal by an offside flag against Harrison, but Leeds did level for a third time when the Liverpool defence was cut open again by Helder Costa’s pass and Klich controlled before volleying beyond Alisson.
Liverpool have not lost a home game in the Premier League since April 2017 and Leeds came mightily close to ending that record when Kalvin Phillips whistled a free-kick inches past Alisson’s right-hand post.
But Jurgen Klopp’s men made a habit of scoring late winners on their way to the title last season and the Reds responded like champions for a fourth time late on.
After Van Dijk had another goal from a corner ruled out for a foul by Curtis Jones, Leeds’ record signing Rodrigo ensured he had a debut to forget with a rash lunge on Fabinho to hand Liverpool a second penalty of the game.
Salah completed his hat-trick by keeping his cool again to send Meslier the wrong way and make sure Liverpool did not stumble out of the gate in the title race.