Liverpool blew away Leeds to such a degree at Anfield that Pep Guardiola might have felt their breath on the back of his neck in Manchester. City’s commanding 12-point lead at the top of the Premier League is a distant memory and Jürgen Klopp’s “pain in the ass” are closing in.
The Liverpool manager celebrated this rout with six punches in front of the Kop: one for each goal his rampant team swept past the ludicrously exposed Leeds goalkeeper, Illan Meslier.
“I got a little bit carried away,” Klopp admitted. He had every reason. The identities of the goalscorers were in keeping with an all-round relentless attacking display – two forwards and two central defenders.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané scored two apiece while Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk were also on the mark. Matip’s fine finish made it 17 different goalscorers for Liverpool this season, equalling the club record for a third time under Klopp. The title contenders have also scored 106 goals in all competitions this term. They turned their game in hand on City into a statement of intent for the title race and an ideal preparation for the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday.
“We go on the front foot but we don’t chase City, we just try to win all our games,” Klopp said. “We have a cup final at the weekend and City play, I don’t know who [Everton], but they will probably win this game and then it is six points again. We don’t have to count these things, we just have to win our games. It is an interesting period of the season coming up. So many things can happen. We just have to stay really focused and go for it with all we have.”
Liverpool’s hunger was evident from the start as Fabinho and the recalled Curtis Jones snapped into tackles while Luis Diaz swept down the left. So, too, was Leeds’s defensive vulnerability. That was also unsurprising given an injury list that forced Marcelo Bielsa to deploy Luke Ayling as a makeshift centre-half and switch Stuart Dallas to right-back but his commitment to attack represented an open invitation to Salah, Mané and company. Leeds conceded 54 Premier League goals last season. It is 56 in 25 league games this season.
“Of course I question myself,” Bielsa said. “You ask yourself why the things that are happening to us keep happening, but I don’t think a change of style is going to change what is happening to us.”
He needs a solution soon. His porous team are slipping into trouble.
The hosts started the rout from the penalty spot after Jones’s quick free-kick to Fabinho caught the visitors asleep. Andy Robertson received possession on the left and drilled in a cross that struck Dallas’s outstretched arm. The referee Michael Oliver had no hesitation in awarding a spot-kick and Salah sent Meslier the wrong way.
Leeds thought they had levelled from a superb team move that flowed back to front through Dallas, Klich, James and Rodrigo before Jack Harrison centred for Raphinha to convert at the back post. Their celebrations were curtailed by a correct offside call against Raphinha and, moments later, Leeds’s night deteriorated further. Not that Anfield or Matip saw it that way. The Liverpool central defender strolled out from the back, as he was invited to do all night, before finding Salah and darting into the area. Salah returned an exquisite pass between the legs of Junior Firpo for Matip to clip a fine first goal of the season beyond Meslier.
Liverpool needed no assistance to confirm their superiority but were awarded a second penalty when Ayling was adjudged to have clipped Mané as he raced through on goal. The Leeds captain had a reasonable case that Mané caught him while cutting in front but, once VAR confirmed contact was made inside the area, Oliver’s initial decision was upheld. Salah went the same way with his penalty and Meslier went the right way on this occasion, but did not get near the Egypt international’s effort as it flew over him.
Leeds were in danger of unravelling as the interval approached. Heads dropped, simple passes went astray and their defensive structure vanished. Salah was understandably desperate for a hat-trick to polish his immaculate performance but was denied on the goal-line by Firpo and blazed over following unselfish work by the impressive Jones.
The fourth arrived in style, Salah finding Jordan Henderson with another superb pass and the substitute crossing for Mané to finish emphatically. Mané claimed his second when Meslier saved at the feet of Divock Origi only for the ball to spin loose to the striker in front of goal.
Van Dijk completed the scoring with a free header from Robertson’s corner and Liverpool, once almost out of sight, now loom large in City’s rearview mirror.