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‘Leeds make magnificently chaotic return’

Leeds celebrate
Leeds pulled level three times at Anfield before losing to the reigning champions

Leeds United have had their noses pressed up against the Premier League’s window for 16 years – the promised land for a former superpower that spent too long falling on hard times.

If this magnificently chaotic, dramatic return to the top order at Liverpool is anything to go by, Marcelo Bielsa’s team will be making up for that lost time very quickly.

Leeds lost a flawed and fabulous football match 4-3, their comeback ruined with two minutes to go by a brainless challenge from new £30m striker Rodrigo as he bundled Fabinho to the ground, leaving Mohamed Salah to complete his hat-trick and give the reigning champions three points.

This was a different Premier League opener at a largely deserted Anfield and, once again, the great regret was that 54,000 supporters could not have packed out the stadium to revel in this piece of theatre.

It was not perfect, far from it.

The defending from both sides was dreadful, but this was such rich entertainment it actually enhanced the spectacle rather than diminished it.

Liverpool did what they do. They won.

Leeds United left empty-handed, when their reward is measured in points, but they will take much pleasure and satisfaction back across the Pennines to Yorkshire when the pain subsides.

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa “disappointed” by the goals conceded at Liverpool

Bielsa and his players always promised to decorate the Premier League after the manner in which they gained promotion as Championship winners least season – and it will be some ride if this is going to be the template for their campaign.

Any pessimists among Leeds fans (not that there seem to be many) would have had their heads in their hands when Liverpool scored after just three minutes, but they would have been thrilled by the response.

Leeds did not take a backward step, playing Liverpool at their own high-intensity pressing game and almost coming away with a point.

They scored goals of polish, such as Jack Harrison’s sweet, right-foot shot past Alisson at the end of a swift move started by a pass from goalkeeper Illan Meslier to make it 1-1, then the perfect technique of a first touch and volleyed finish from Mateusz Klich to draw them level for a third time.

Leeds play with unrelenting energy. It may yet be that this fierce style catches up with them in a long, unforgiving season but it is going to be fun as long as it lasts.

And at the heart of it all is the charismatic Bielsa, crouching for periods long enough to render many unable to return to a standing position, then prowling his technical area, even knocking a drink over in brief celebration after Harrison made it 1-1.

Liverpool were ready for the fight against Leeds – Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s respect for Bielsa was illustrated by his references to “Mr Bielsa” in his match notes and the embrace of appreciation the pair shared at the final whistle.

It is easy to get over-sentimental about Leeds United’s return to the Premier League. They may not have been missed quite as much as many romantics might suggest and the assertion they “belong” in the top echelon is not necessarily backed up by their history of spending time in other divisions.

However, what cannot be denied is that the thought of this ambitious attacking team bringing the Bielsa brand of football to a stadium near you is a mouth-watering prospect, especially when it is eventually in front of a packed Elland Road.

It was, ultimately, a defeat and there were imperfections for Bielsa to address, such as naive defending and the less than glittering introductions of his two new signings.

Robin Koch had a rough debut, handling to concede a penalty then losing Virgil van Dijk for Liverpool’s second goal, while it is to be hoped Rodrigo is rather more adapt and capable in the opposition penalty area than he proved in his own.

But it is early days. Koch will not face many tougher tests than this, while Rodrigo’s forte is clearly elsewhere.

When the disappointment eases, this was back in the big time with a bang for Leeds as they ran last season’s champions every inch of the way before that late lapse.

They were fearless against Liverpool so do not expect them to play with fear against anyone.

It is an approach from Bielsa that will have bad days among the good, but if this first taste of Leeds United back in the Premier League is the start of more of the same, most people will simply say: “Bring it on.”

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