Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota doubles help rampant Liverpool hit Leeds for six | Premier League
Mon Apr 17 2023 5:03 PM EDT
As Liverpool finally found a cure for the travel sickness which has undermined their season, Mohamed Salah looked simply unplayable and Trent Alexander-Arnold seemed the solution to most of England’s problems.
Medicines can rarely have proved as dramatically effective as the balm provided by a generous Leeds defence and papier-mache home central midfield as the outstanding Salah and Diogo Jota scored two goals apiece to leave Jürgen Klopp’s side glimpsing European horizons once more.
Admittedly they remain eighth in the Premier Leaguenine points behind fourth-placed Newcastle, but at least Liverpool now harbour the sort of hope fast draining from a Leeds team currently leaking goals at a frightening rate.
Javi Gracia’s players may be two points and two places above third from bottom Nottingham Forest but they have conceded 11 times in two games now and the Championship is beckoning. Even worse, Leeds appear to have forgotten how to tackle.
When they won at Anfield in late October hopes were high that Jesse Marsch’s then-side had turned a corner, but it proved illusory and by February Gracia had replaced the American in the home dugout.
Things had been going well under the new regime until Crystal Palace came calling just over a week ago but the resultant 5-1 thrashing left Leeds in no fit state to face Salah and friends.
Although Klopp’s side had failed to win a game since demolishing Manchester United 7-0 in early March, their intelligently slick counter-press soon terrified the life out of Elland Road regulars.
With Alexander-Arnold deployed in an extremely fluid role which involved him operating in central midfield almost as much as a more conventional right-back, Gracia’s players looked confused.
The Spaniard’s gameplan was clearly to contain and counter-attack but as Liverpool’s advances increasingly rattled the home defence and Leeds’s only attacking outlet seemed to be hopeful long, high balls all too easily second guessed by Virgil van Dijk, Klopp’s body language relaxed.
Incredibly Liverpool had failed to score a league goal against a side in the bottom half of the top tier all season but that unwanted record swiftly concluded, albeit in slightly contentious fashion.
When Junior Firpo, Gracia’s left-back, was caught daydreaming with the ball by Alexander-Arnold, the latter exchanged passes with Salah before squaring for Cody Gakpo to tap the opener beyond Illan Meslier.
Although Alexander-Arnold appeared to gain possession from Firpo courtesy of some elbow control, that handball was decreed to have occurred too early in the move for the goal to be disallowed.
If Leeds fans were unimpressed by the refereeing they were also thoroughly discomfited by the manner in which Alexander-Arnold and Salah delighted in ganging up on Firpo.With five minutes Salah scored a second. This time Weston McKennie’s loss of midfield control permitted Jota to seize possession before his pass prefaced the Egyptian expertly lifting a delicately chipped shot just beyond Meslier’s outstretched fingertips from 15 yards.
Before kick-off Gracia had claimed that Leeds were “full of confidence” but as the half-time whistle blew they looked positively traumatised. Damningly, bar watching a couple of half-chances form Rodrigo fly off target, Alisson had barely been exerted
Small wonder then that Klopp’s goalkeeper seemed somewhat startled to be beaten two minutes into the second period. When Luis Sinisterra pickpocketed the dozing Ibrahima Konaté before advancing and dinking a shot over Alisson, the ground experienced a surge of renewed hope.
Unfortunately for Gracia it proved strictly transitory. With Pascal Struijk misjudging a clearance and the home defence consequently dragged out of position, Curtis Jones slid a fine pass through for Jota to curve a first-time shot past the advancing and badly wrong-footed Meslier.
Although Andy Robertson’s subsequent concentration lapse enabled Brenden Aaronson to curl a shot of his own fractionally off target, Salah soon had the ball in the back of the net again. On that occasion the “goal” was ruled out for a tight offside against Van Dijk, but undeterred Salah soon scored his second.
This time Jota, Robertson and Gakpo combined to cue the forward up to bend a beautifully calibrated shot well out of Meslier’s grasp. The look of despair on the face of Robin Koch, horribly deceived by Robertson, served as a microcosm of a Leeds side which had just conceded their 14th goal in four games.
Very soon it was 15 goals in four, a mass exodus from the stands began and Gracia’s expression turned pensive. Having earlier scored his first goal in a year, Jota, registered a second, sending a half-volley crashing home from around 20 yards after connecting with Jordan Henderson’s fine cross.
By the time Darwin Núñez chested Alexander-Arnold’s 90th-minute pass down and side-footed Liverpool’s sixth, Leeds looked badly in need of some medicine of their own.
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