Leeds United 1, Liverpool 1
“Uefa Champions League,” read Leeds’ t-shirts. “Earn it.” It was long something Liverpool sought to do, but as their owners seek automatic entry to a competition they are creating instead, perhaps it mattered not that they could not earn victory at Elland Road.
Liverpool had occupied fourth place in the virtual table for an hour; it used to mean something and, if Leeds had their way, it will again. But, after Diego Llorente’s leveller, Jurgen Klopp’s side ended the night in sixth; perfectly adequate for an annual pass to a Super League, perhaps, but not for a season in the Champions League.
On and off the pitch, Leeds were intent on frustrating Liverpool’s ambitions. A club that often savours their status as outsiders took it upon themselves to speak for those repulsed by the prospect of a Super League.
If they threatened to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, motivating Liverpool in a first half when they excelled, Marcelo Bielsa’s side reaped a reward for a refusal to bow to a financial superpower. Weight of pressure told, Llorente scored his first Leeds goal and, like Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City before them, Liverpool became a fourth supposed superpower to draw at Elland Road.
It is a traditionally hostile venue and, even in an empty ground, Leeds found ways to make Liverpool’s an unpleasant welcome. A few Leeds fans yelled “scum” at the coach although the banner reading “RIP LFC” was held by one of Liverpool’s own and reflected others outside Anfield. It was a game with an unusual soundtrack: outside Elland Road, a saxophonist played Abba’s ‘Money, Money, Money’.
Liverpool benefited from the defiance of Alisson, who was the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, but also due to two who did not cost Liverpool a penny; the home-grown Trent Alexander-Arnold, who continued his return to form with an all-action display to run away from his man-marker Jack Harrison and get the type of assist he rarely records, and the free transfer James Milner.
Making his first appearance at Elland Road for 17 years the veteran was excellent; Leeds’ running statistics are famously high, but it was telling that Milner was chosen against them.
Mohamed Salah was not but Klopp felt justified in benching his top scorer when the two wingers he preferred played pivotal parts in the goal. Diogo Jota dropped deeper to provide a diagonal pass. Alexander-Arnold ran in behind Harrison and played a first-time pass to give Sadio Mane an open goal. It was just his second strike in 15 league games.
But a story of Liverpool’s season has been the lack of a finish. There ought to have been another goal. Thiago came close with a thunderbolt while Meslier denied Jota, who later headed one chance over. Salah shot wastefully wide in his cameo before Liverpool were punished for their set-piece deficiencies as Harrison’s corner was met by Llorente.
Independent News Service