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Leeds test Champions to the max

The newly-promoted side's fighting spirit proves they're back where they belong

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Strength in the air: Virgil Van Dijk scores second goal

Strength in the air: Virgil Van Dijk scores second goal

PA

Strength in the air: Virgil Van Dijk scores second goal

WHAT a game of football we witnessed last night at Anfield and I give all the credit to Leeds United for giving us a sensational start to the Premier League season.

Mohamed Salah became the first Liverpool player to score a hat-trick on the opening day of the season since I scored a treble for the club at Charlton in 1988, yet that only tells part of the story in a game that finished 4-3 to the home side and could have served up even more goals.

From the first whistle to the last, we saw two teams having a right go at each other and how refreshing to see a newly- promoted team showing some ambition against Liverpool and giving their defence something to think about.

Matches

We've seen so many teams taking on Jurgen Klopp's side with fear in their hearts in recent years and that has translated into some pretty desperate matches, especially at Anfield.

The opposition have tended to get 11 men behind the ball, hope and pray Liverpool have a bad day and if they get away with a 1-0 or 2-0 lose and they're happy enough.

By the way, some of the biggest teams in the game have done that of late, but Leeds threw that script out of the window and gave us a football feast that was a joy to behold.

What we saw from Liverpool and Leeds was a proper game contested between two great clubs who confirmed the Premier League is still the best in the world and I loved every minute of it.

The only sadness for me was the sight of an empty Anfield looking down as two top teams went at it, with the noise that would have been ringing around that stadium if fans could have been there likely to have been heard across the Irish Sea.

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa was the architect of a thrilling battle that set the pulse racing from first to last as his players followed the attacking philosophy that ended the club's long wait to return to the top flight.

Looking at their performance against Liverpool, there is no doubt in my mind they can have a good season on their return to the big time and it is great to see them back where they belong.

I know there are loads of Leeds fans all over Ireland and you should feel proud about the performance of your team last night. They didn't change their principles just because they are in the Premier League and were up against the defending champions.

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Clinical: Patrick Bamford celebrates with Hernandez after scoring on 30 minutes

Clinical: Patrick Bamford celebrates with Hernandez after scoring on 30 minutes

PA

Clinical: Patrick Bamford celebrates with Hernandez after scoring on 30 minutes

Leeds played it out from the back, got men forward, stood up to Liverpool and got some reward for their ambition as they scored twice in the first half and showed what they are all about.

Exposed

We saw Klopp running up to the tunnel and back to the dressing room at half-time as I'm sure he had plenty to say to his players, as from a tactical perspective he might feel that was far too open and his defence was exposed at times.

Virgil van Dijk has not been at his immaculate best for some time now and the same can be said of the entire Liverpool defensive unit and once again, they looked vulnerable against Leeds.

Klopp's side virtually won the Premier League title in the first half of last season despite not always being at their best and they dug out victories on numerous occasions thanks to their solid backline led by Van Dijk.

Yet you can go back to the 3-0 defeat against Watford in February as a moment when Liverpool's defence started to show some cracks in their armour and that continued in the Champions League defeat against Atletico Madrid.

That story continued when football resumed after the lockdown as they were hammered 4-0 by Manchester City, when they were well and truly put to the sword.

Then they lost 2-1 at Arsenal after Alisson and Van Dijk gifted them two goals and once more last night, Leeds picked holes in a defence that may have lost of bit of confidence.

You could sense that focus had dropped at the back end of last season and my concern was that Liverpool would struggle to flick the switch and move into top gear once the new season got underway and that proved to be the case last night.

When you are on the kind of unbeaten run Liverpool put together as they so nearly won the title two seasons ago, then won the Champions League and carried on that form to run away with the Premier League title, you start to feel you are invincible.

Defenders don't have any doubts, they make all the right decision and the opposition feel like they will never find a way through.Liverpool's defenders are not in that zone at the moment and they need to find some stability and get back to basics quickly.

Klopp will not be panicking about his defenders just yet because this is a problem that can be solved as quickly as it has come to light. I suggested in my Sunday World column two weeks ago that Salah's form was a big concern, with his lacklustre performance in the Community Shield defeat against Arsenal at Wembley making me wonder whether his head had been turned by another club.

Well, he banished any concerns last night with a dynamic performance that included a cracking second goal to restore Liverpool's lead and it was a reminder that world-class performers are rarely out of form for long.

Sharp

On the plus side, there was a lot to admire about the forward play we saw from Liverpool last night as they looked threatening every time they got near the Leeds goal.

Salah looked sharp and hungry for goals and tucked his two penalties away in clinical fashion, but I was a little bit concerned by Roberto Firmino's performance again as he doesn't look like scoring goals at the moment.

It was great to see Jordan Henderson returning to action after his injury problem and in the end, Liverpool deserved the three points.

Leeds only had three shots on target and scored with all of them, but the big winner last night was our beautiful game.

Welcome back to the Premier League Leeds United - we have missed you.

Manager Bielsa was the architect of a battle that set the pulses racing from start to finish