New Leeds United headache arises as Liverpool serve reminder of Premier League class
It was never going to be easy, especially when having a man sent off despite winning the ball.
Pascal Struijk’s straight-red card following his challenge to win possession from Harvey Elliott was the clear main talking point from Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at Elland Road.
But the contest once again highlighted the importance of key aspects in United’s second season back in the Premier League, particularly in taking chances against the division’s best sides alongside defensive issues.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds very much fall into that category and Sunday’s success sent the Merseyside outfit joint top after four games played alongside Manchester United and Chelsea.
All three sides have ten points whereas Leeds are stuck on two and sit fourth bottom after four games played.
Those opening four fixtures have included some of the division’s hardest tests.
But Leeds showed last season that they are more than capable of upsetting the big guns and as such even games against the likes of Liverpool cannot be regarded as ‘free hits’.
Yet Leeds are yet to land a big blow so far this term and two tests against two of the division’s clear big guns have ended in very one-sided defeats.
Furthermore, it is impossible to argue with the merits of Liverpool’s victory at Elland Road. Klopp’s Reds had 30 shots at goal, nine of which were on target and Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites could have been on the end of a much heavier reverse, something more akin to the opening day 5-1 defeat at Manchester United.
Some decent last-ditch tackles from the likes of Luke Ayling and Struijk before his red card combined with a string of Illan Meslier saves and wayward finishing helped keep the score down.
But Leeds still had their moments - nine shots on goal and four on target - which quite simply must be taken against opponents of Liverpool’s calibre.
The Reds could have been out of sight at half time yet United could and should have been 1-0 up inside six minutes after Raphinha set up a glorious opening for Rodrigo.
But the record signing could only fire straight at Reds ‘keeper Alisson and Liverpool never looked back.
For Leeds, Rodrigo’s chance was the best of them but there were others such as when Luke Ayling volleyed over at the far post towards the end of the first half.
Substitute Tyler Roberts was also unable to make the most of two opportunities that came his way, at which point the Reds were 2-0 up.
Such chances are always likely to be few and far between against sides like Liverpool although the other concern for a usually free-flowing Whites side is that they did not create more of them.
Even the introduction of Dan James was unable to change that. Defending at corners also remains an issue but essentially the fixture list now looks somewhat kinder to Leeds after a tough opening.
Yet the other issue arising from the defeat is the fact that Leeds are now without three centre-backs following Diego Llorente’s latest injury and Struijk’s straight red card.
Struijk’s dismissal was odd as referee Craig Pawson initially allowed play to continue following his challenge to dispossess Elliott.
Struijk clearly won the ball but accidentally caught Elliott on the follow through and the Liverpool midfielder was left with a serious ankle injury and needed to be stretchered off.
But Struijk is now looking at a three-game ban at a time when Llorente has now picked up a new muscular injury.
Robin Koch is also sidelined with a pelvic issue which leaves Leeds with captain Liam Cooper and Luke Ayling as the likely centre back pairing for Friday night’s clash at Newcastle United unless Koch or Llorente suddenly return.
Even with ten men, United kept plugging away against the Reds who are clearly going to finish very near the top of the tree in the 2021-22 Premier League campaign, possibly even top of it.
Everything needs to click to bag points against those sides and not much did for Leeds at Elland Road yesterday.
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Thank you Laura Collins