It will be a thrilling rollercoaster watching the Premier League new boys Leeds… so buckle up for Bielsa-ball!
- So much of summer was spent salivating at Marcelo Bielsa in Premier League
- Bielsa’s Leeds did exactly that on Saturday at Anfield in their season opener
- Just like cat with mice, Bielsa will always attack and give chase to the opposition
- Bielsa prides himself as much on solidity at the back as he does fluidity in attack
So much of this summer was spent salivating at the prospect of an Argentine genius illuminating the new Premier League season.
Well, on Saturday at Anfield, Marcelo Bielsa did just that. Forget Lionel Messi, even he would have struggled to eclipse his compatriot’s opening-day impact.
Rarely in a defeat that includes the concession of four goals do a team and their manager emerge with so much acclaim. But there was no other conclusion to draw from a breathless, chaotic and exhilarating match in which Leeds were magnificent.
A lot of summer was spent salivating at the prospect of Marcelo Bielsa in the Premier League
On Saturday at Anfield, Marcelo Bielsa and his Leeds side illuminated the topflight
The greatest game in Premier League history was a 4-3 at Anfield — Liverpool’s last-minute defeat of Kevin Keegan’s title-chasing Newcastle in 1996 — and that is remembered as much for the offensive ambition of the losers as it is the winners.
Likewise, here it was the fearless visitors who made this a spectacle not soon forgotten. Just imagine what it would have been like with that sensory overload of noise and colour that only this stadium can conjure.
Liverpool are so good, of course, that they still won. Mo Salah can do that to the world’s best, let alone a team freshly out of the division below.
But Jurgen Klopp knew that he had been fortunate to escape with victory. It was telling when he used words like ‘uncomfortable’ to describe how Leeds had irritated and unsettled his own team, admitting that he would never be able to devise a plan to truly combat Bielsa-ball.
And that was Bielsa’s greatest victory, proving to a watching world that he will never deviate from his belief in how the game should be played, even at the home of the champions. The 65-year-old is utterly uncompromising.
Just like the cat will always chase the mice, Bielsa will always attack and give chase to the opposition.
Just a cat will always chase the mice, Bielsa will always attack and give chase to the opposition
That, though, is not to say he is cut from the same tear-stained cloth as Keegan, whose attacking principles were often at the expense of defensive resistance and, ultimately, led to heartache.
Saturday, admittedly, was not a great example, but Leeds are far more than a side who pour forward in ignorance of the consequences at the other end.
They conceded the fewest number of goals in the Championship last season and Bielsa prides himself as much on solidity at the back as he does fluidity in attack.
Had centre back and captain Liam Cooper featured against Liverpool — he was injured playing for Scotland last week — then you suspect Bielsa and Leeds would have points to accompany the plaudits. As it was, new £13million Germany defender Robin Koch made his debut and was involved in three of Liverpool’s goals.
Bielsa stressed that it would be wrong to blame one player for the defeat — another new boy, £27million club-record signing Rodrigo, gave away the penalty for Salah’s late winner — but it was hard to escape the feeling that the pair’s limited exposure to Bielsa’s methods tipped the scales against Leeds. Elsewhere, they matched and surpassed their celebrated hosts.
Bielsa said: ‘I value the rebellion of my team. We stopped Liverpool from playing as well as they usually do.’
Bielsa prides himself as much on solidity at the back as he does fluidity in attack
There were examples of that all over the park, but none more so than in the performance of Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was given the runaround in defence and seldom allowed to run around in attack.
That was the work of left winger Jack Harrison, the scorer of Leeds’ first equaliser and, were it not for Salah, the game’s best player.
Kalvin Phillips created his goal with a pass so measured as to make Savile Row tailors jealous, and the midfielder fared far better in the white of Leeds than he had done in the white of England four days previously.
Fellow midfielder Mateusz Klich — who blasted a delightful volley for 3-3 — was also outstanding, and Luke Ayling at right back, too.
What did that quartet have in common? Not a single Premier League appearance between them. What they did have, however, was two seasons under Bielsa’s care. And that, for any player, is transformational.
It does not matter that just two of their starting XI had top-flight experience, nor that the club has been away from this stage for 16 years.
It did not matter that they were facing the best team in the land, either.
What matters is that they have Bielsa.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson 5.5; Alexander-Arnold 5 (Matip 89min), Gomez 5.5, Van Dijk 6, Robertson 6.5; Keita 6 (Fabinho 58, 6), Henderson 6 (Jones 66, 5), Wijnaldum 6; Salah 8.5, Firmino 5, Mane 6.
Subs not used: Adrian, Milner, Origi, Minamino. Scorers: Salah 4 (pen), 33, 88 (pen), Van Dijk 20. Booked: Firmino. Manager: Jurgen Klopp 7.
Leeds United (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: Casilla, Poveda, Alioski, Casey. Scorers: Harrison 12, Bamford 30, Klich 66. Manager: Marcelo Bielsa 7.
Referee: Michael Oliver 7.
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