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Leeds United 0 v 3 Liverpool
Barclays Premier League
Sunday, 12th September 2021 Kick-off 16:30
Leeds need to bounce back after Liverpool defeat
Monday, 13th Sep 2021 12:03 by Tim Whelan

Yesterday’s comprehensive home defeat at the hands of Liverpool has led to a lot of criticism of individual players and concerns about whether we are suffering from the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’. How worried do we need to be?

In the days leading up to the game all the talk was whether the Brazilians on both sides would be available for this game after the Premier Leagues decision that players shouldn’t be allowed to travel to red list countries for last weeks World Cup qualifiers. Much as I thought that to ban them would be nonsense, as the clubs were simply following government advice, I couldn’t help thinking that we might benefit if the ban were upheld for this game, simply because Liverpool had more players affected.

And of the Red’s Brazilian contingent, Firmino was out with a injury in any case, but Fabinho was influential in the Liverpool midfield and Alisson dependable whenever we threatened, keeping his clean sheet with a fine save from Bamford’s lob late in the game. In contrast, Raphinha struggled to get going against one of the best left-backs in the Premier League, though he didn’t get much of the ball in any case, with our central midfield over-run for much of the game.

Leeds made a good start to the game in front of a lively crowd, and the first chance fell to Rodrigo, but he could only send his shot straight at Allison. There was also a good move when finished with Bamford slicing the ball well wide from a good position, but after that Liverpool began to take control.

Meanwhile, the Sky commentary team managed to last a full two minutes before they mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo, which was remarkably restrained of them even though this was a match he wasn’t even playing in.

Liverpool took the lead after 20 minutes when Alexander-Arnold was allowed to run down the right unchallenged and Salah made a perfectly timed run in the centre to meet his cross. I was baying for a VAR check for a possible offside, until it was pointed out to me that he was behind the ball at the moment that Alexander-Arnold had sent it across the face of goal.

At least the gods of VAR made some amends a few minutes later, as Salah was ruled offside when it was his turn to supply the cross and Thiago headed into the net. Which was fortunate, as the whole of our defence had stopped to appeal for a flag instead of playing to the whistle. There were more chances for the visitors, and we could be thankful for Meslier being about 6 foot 6 tall, as he just managed to reach a shot from Elliot and turn it over the bar.

And then Llorente had to limp off the field with yet another injury problem. The stats tell us that we’ve conceded half the number of goals per game when he’s managed to play than when he hasn’t, which didn’t augur well in a game when we were already getting over-run. His replacement was Struijk, who would also fail to last until the 90th minute.

We did have one more chance before the break, when a cross came to Ayling a little too high for a shot, and he tried to knee the ball into the net rather than go for a diving header. The consensus at half time were that we were lucky to be only one down, and there were plenty of scapegoats amongst all the moaning on social media.

Firpo, Ayling and Cooper were all slated for our defensive failings, and I thought Bamford got of lightly, having wasted a couple of good breaks with his inability to control the ball first time. But it was the much maligned Rodrigo who Bielsa chose to replace, after a half when he’d been pretty invisible after his early miss. But his replacement was Roberts, which was pretty much going like-for-like, when Klich might have been a better option to give the midfield a bit more bite.

And any chance we might have had to get back in the game were pretty much dashed by the second Liverpool goal only five minutes after the restart. There was a penalty shout denied after Struijk made an excellent challenge on Salah, but the visitors scored from the resulting corner anyway, when Fabinho turned it in from close range after the defence had missed several chances to clear the ball.

Tyler Roberts screwed a shot well wide from a good position on the edge of the area, and we then came to the incident for which this game will be remembered. Struijk made another fine challenge to dispossess Elliot and seemed to have played the ball, but it was immediately obvious that Elliot had suffered a serious injury, with Salah shouting for the medical staff to get on the field as soon as possible.

The referee then decided to send Struijk off, which seemed curious as he hadn’t even given a foul to start with. He would have had the VAR people talking to him, but he didn’t go over to the monitor to have another look at the tackle before producing the red card. Sky didn’t show a replay of the incident either, perhaps because it looked too gruesome, but a series of photos show that he did indeed play the ball but fell awkwardly across Elliot’s ankle.

Elliot was taken to hospital with a dislocated ankle and we wish him well with his recovery. There is no word yet as to whether the club will appeal against the red card, but there was a precedent set last season, when Tottenham’s Son had a sending off overturned as it was ruled he had been dismissed because of the severity of the injury rather than the style of his own tackle.

We might have folded completely with 10 men, but we kept battling away to try to get back in the game. Dan James was brought on to make his debut in place of Harrison, and he looked lively but failed to create any real danger. We did get a good break down the opposite flank, with Raphinha beating the offside trap, but he should have pulled the ball back for Bamford earlier than he did, and the chance went begging.

And Bamford nearly scored with a spectacular lob after winning possession just inside the Liverpool half and spotting Allison well off his line, but the keeper just managed to get back in time to tip the ball over the bar. But apart from these moments the chances late in the game all fell to Liverpool, and we were fortunate a couple of times that Mane attempted to do too much rather than passing to a colleague in a better position.

But eventually Mane did get the goal he was looking for, as he was given time and space to turn and shoot, to put Liverpool three up and complete a comprehensive win for the reds. There were eight minutes of injury time because of the length of time to treat the injury to Elliot, before the referee put us out of our misery with the final whistle.

The result leaves us in 17th place with two points from four games, and we will drop into the bottom three if Burnley get a point from their game with Everton tonight. Our two defeats have been against top sides, but what do we need to change? Bielsa might need to rethink his expansive style against the best teams, even at home, as playing with two wingers and a lightweight midfield makes it easier for them to pick us off.

Some fans think we are not playing with the intensity we showed last season, and that a couple of the big signings haven’t worked out as well as they should have done. While the transfer window was open I thought the priority should have been to find a creative midfielder to replace Pablo, rather than continuing the obsessive pursuit of endless wingers.

The fixture list is a little bit easier over the next few weeks, but Friday’s game at Newcastle is starting to look important in our efforts to get the season back on track. They are one of the few teams below us in the table, but we’re short of central defensive options if Struijk’s ban isn’t overturned and Llorente doesn’t recover.

Expectations were raised by last season, and I for one thought we might kick on from there and look for a top six finish this time. It’s becoming clear that that’s a bit unlikely, and this is going to have to be another season of trying to consolidate our place in the Premier league and trying to build for the future.

Do we need to be concerned about a possible relegation battle after the start we’ve made, or is it all going to come good after a few more weeks of hard training?


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