Hat-trick hero Mohamed Salah saved the day for Liverpool after promoted Leeds gave the champions a huge scare in a 4-3 thriller on the opening day of the Premier League season.
The Reds striker struck a decisive 88th-minute penalty, his second spot-kick of the game at Anfield, to ensure last season’s all-conquering side started the new campaign on a positive note.
In a battle between last season’s Premier League and Championship winners, Salah’s first two goals and one from Virgil van Dijk were countered by Leeds’ replies from Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich.
A sub-plot to this Merseyside showdown was the tactical battle between managers Jurgen Klopp and Marcelo Bielsa, and the latter looked like coming away with a point until Rodrigo fouled Fabinho, allowing Salah to slot home and win the game.
Liverpool were awarded a penalty in the third minute when Salah’s shot struck the outstretched right arm of Leeds debutant Robin Koch, via the unlucky defender’s knee. Salah took responsibility from 12 yards and lashed his penalty high into the net, down the middle.
A sublime leveller from Leeds arrived in the 12th minute after new England cap Kalvin Phillips fed Harrison on the left. Harrison skipped infield, fending off Trent Alexander-Arnold, before drilling past Alisson from the edge of the penalty area.
The hosts restored their lead in the 20th minute when Van Dijk sprinted away from Koch and headed in Andy Robertson’s corner from the left.
Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier made a fine save to spare Pascal Struijk the embarrassment of an own goal, tipping over after the defender deflected Robertson’s cross, and the visitors briefly drew level for a second time when Bamford seized on sloppiness from Van Dijk to slot in.
Salah fired Liverpool 3-2 in front in the 33rd minute of a wild first half. With Robertson’s free-kick into the heart of the penalty area only half-cleared, Liverpool’s Egyptian striker had space and time to pick his spot and blaze a shot high into the right corner.
Those first-half strikes made Salah the first Liverpool player to score on the opening day of four consecutive Premier League seasons, and only the second player from any club to achieve the feat, after Teddy Sheringham’s run from 1992-93 to 1995-96.
Leeds brought on record signing Rodrigo for his debut with half an hour remaining, and he would be involved later, but it was Klich who struck their third equaliser of the game in the 66th minute.
He took on a clever pass into the penalty area from Helder Costa on the right and smashed a shot into the left corner as the ball sat up perfectly. Leeds looked poised to hold on, only to be stung so late, an early warning of the challenges that lie ahead for them.
The greatest first round in boxing history, by common consent, took place at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in 1985. Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns battered each other to a standstill for three minutes of swinging hooks, shuddering upper cuts and brutal combinations.
When the commentator caught his breath, he summed up what he had seen. ‘There has been no boxing, just fighting here,’ he said.
At Anfield on Saturday, we were privileged to see one of the best first day games of any English football season.
There was no boxing, just fighting. There was no defending – or none that interfered much – just attacking.
There was no caution. It was all thrown to the wind. There was no timidity, just daring. Liverpool, the champions, and newly-promoted Leeds went at it like two of the great clubs of the English game and it was beautiful.
It was a seven-goal thriller, a spectacle that would have graced any opening day and quite a way for Leeds coach Marcelo Bielsa to announce his eccentric genius to the Premier League.
Leeds, returning to the top flight for the first time in 16 years, played with the kind of boldness and determination to entertain that few sides attempt here at this fortress and there were times when Liverpool seemed taken aback by the impudence of their opponents.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson 5.5; Alexander-Arnold 5 (Matip 89), Gomez 5.5, Van Dijk 6, Robertson 6.5; Keita 6 (Fabinho 58, 6), Henderson 6 (Jones 66, 5), Wijnaldum 6; Salah 8, Firmino 5, Mane 6
Subs: Adrian, Milner, Origi, Minamino
Subs not used: Milner, Adrian, Minamino, Origi,
Goals: Salah 4 (pen), 33, 88 (pen) Van Dijk 20
Leeds (4-1-4-1): Meslier 6; Ayling 7.5, Koch 5, Struijk 6, Dallas 6; Phillips 7.5; Costa 6.5, Klich 7.5 (Shackleton 81), Hernandez 7 (Roberts 62, 5.5), Harrison 7.5; Bamford 6.5 (Rodrigo 62, 5)
Subs not used: Poveda-Ocampo, Alioski, Casilla, Casey
Goals: Harrison 12, Bamford 30, Klich 66
Referee: Michael Oliver 7
Man of the match: Mohamed Salah