ELLAND ROAD — As the dust settled on a tumultuous encounter between these old adversaries, a quick glance at the Premier League table showed Liverpool joint top and Leeds fourth bottom.
The match was overshadowed by a 2nd-half challenge by Pascal Struijk on Harvey Elliott, which earned the Leeds defender a straight red card and Liverpool’s rising star a dislocated left ankle, but it neatly illustrated the gulf in class between the sides.
Mo Salah buried Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross to open the scoring and claim his 100th Premier League goal before the outstanding Fabinho added a second early in the second half. After Elliott was left badly hurt by Struijk’s challenge on the hour, and carried off on a stretcher, Sadio Mane scored during the eight minutes of added time necessitated by the injury to Liverpool’s teenager.
The scoreline did not do full justice to Liverpool’s dominance which saw them fashion 30 attempts on Leeds’ goal. It did not matter. Jurgen Klopp's men are steadily keeping with the early-season frontrunners while Leeds have now failed to win any of their first four games in a top-flight season for the first time since 1958/59.
Liverpool will await the result of scans on Elliott’s ankle, but the 18-year-old took to Instagram shortly after the game to say ‘Thank you for the messages guys! Road to recovery. YNWA.”
“If he did that already it is a sign he is not in much pain so that is great,” said Klopp. “We all saw the ankle was not in the right place. There is not a lot of good things to say otherwise it is a bad injury. We have to wait for further examinations and scans.”
It is worth remembering that when Klopp was leading Liverpool to their first league title in 30 years two seasons ago, Leeds were still stuck in the Championship.
While legendary managers Don Revie and Bill Shankly transformed the fortunes of these two great clubs more than half a century ago, Marcelo Bielsa and Klopp have had similarly transformative effects on their respective club’s fortunes.
When Leeds supporters belted out their club’s ‘Marching on Together’ anthem with remarkable gusto before kick-off, Liverpool must have felt they were entering a lion’s den.
Indeed, Leeds should have led early on when Kalvin Phillips' superb diagonal pass to Raphinha, who started along with Liverpool duo Alisson and Fabinho after Fifa lifted the ban on Brazilian players featuring this weekend, saw him find Rodrigo inside the penalty box.
He fired straight at Allison and Liverpool, who purred ominously throughout, led in the 20th minute when Alexander-Arnold’s low right-wing cross was tapped home by Salah. Elliott then forced a save from Illan Meslier before Mane fired just wide as chances continued to proliferate in front of Leeds’ goal.
The hosts were not helped by a muscular injury which forced Spain defender Diego Llorente off in the 33rd minute and replaced by Struijk.
It was effectively game over when Fabinho fired home from a corner in the 50th minute and 10 minutes later Struijk was dismissed by referee Craig Pawson for a challenge which Bielsa stressed was not malicious but nevertheless left Elliott seriously injured.
“Pascal recovered the ball,” said Bielsa. “But the movement of the rest of his body after recovering the ball, made him hit Elliott. I am totally sure there was no bad intention. I regret so dearly a young player has been interrupted through this. I hope he is able to get back.”
From certain angles the challenge looked benign and well before the final whistle Pawson’s ears must have been ringing with the critical chants of “Who’s the scouser in the black?” from home supporters. They were briefly distracted by Daniel James’s debut but making his bow from the bench as part of a 10-man team will not have been exactly what the Wales winger had in mind as he arrived from Manchester United for £25m on deadline day. James’s day will come but this was not it.
Granted Bamford might have reduced the deficit by scoring, audaciously, from the halfway line but Alisson was alert to the danger and Bielsa’s backline proved powerless to prevent a third goal following their ruthless dissection at the feet of Jordan Henderson and Thiago.
Mane, who could have easily gone home with the match ball, at least found the net in added time when he swivelled expertly inside the box and rifled low and hard past Meslier.
Klopp added: “We pressed exceptionally well and our idea was to cut out Phillips, which takes out a bit of their gameplan. Three-nil is brilliant but we know we have room for improvement.”