Liverpool 4-3 Leeds: Salah's penalty downs courageous Leeds at the last  
(Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Liverpool's meeting with Leeds may have been the third game of the Premier League's opening day, but this seven-goal epic truly announced the return of the competition dubbed the greatest in the world.

Mohamed Salah netted a hat-trick, Virgil van Dijk came up from the back to score a header and Liverpool won. In that respect, it was a pretty standard script. But through Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich, newly-promoted Leeds thrice pegged back the champions. 

There were moments where they looked capable of a historic victory - as if the occasion wasn't historic enough - but ultimately Salah's second penalty of the evening would settle it in the Reds' favour just two minutes from time.

Story of the game

Liverpool had promised Leeds a level of intensity they had never experienced before, and they duly raced out of the blocks.

Just three minutes into the game, a Salah shot bounced up onto the outstretched left arm of debutant Robin Koch, and Michael Oliver pointed for a penalty.

Salah stepped up to take and scored for the fourth opening day in succession, thumping his spot-kick down the middle.

At the beginning of last season, second-tier champions Norwich had unravelled in the first half at Anfield, and yet successors Leeds were unruffled.

Moments after Helder Costa had seen a close-range finish ruled out for offside, Kalvin Phillips picked lasered a dangerous ball out wide to Harrison from deep inside in his own half. 

Harrison neatly resisted the advances of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez as he motored inside before opening Leeds' account for the season with a driven effort into the bottom left corner.

And then the pendulum swung back toward the defending champions.

Sadio Mane thought he had restored their advantage with a precise long-range lob over Illan Meslier, who had scurried out of goal to thwart Andrew Robertson, but the flag went up against the Liverpool left-back.

But just as Leeds shrugged off the offside disappointment, the Reds swiftly struck. Robertson swung in a corner, and Van Dijk left Koch behind with alarming ease en route to his headed goal.

Meslier had rather clumsily stumbled over the line as he tried to keep it out, but he was able to make amends with a fine fingertip save to ensure Robertson's cross didn't find the net via a huge deflection.

Perhaps Liverpool believed that they would now leave Leeds behind. Wrong. Van Dijk purrs around a football pitch with supreme confidence, but that spilled into arrogance as he tracked an aerial ball aimed at Bamford.

The Dutchman tried a reverse flick beyond Bamford, but ended up presenting him with a golden opportunity to clip the ball beyond Alisson into the far corner. 2-2.

In the circumstances, you could almost detect a sense of frustration in the venomous Mohamed Salah strike which at last ended the first-half scoring on 33 minutes.

A headed clearance from Robertson's free-kick dropped to Salah, and Meslier was thunderously beaten by the top-corner effort before he could even set himself. 

Having been pegged back twice, it was high time for 99-point Liverpool that imposed themselves.

But, in the early stages of the second half, they were wasting openings.

First, Georginio Wijnaldum presented Meslier with far too simple a task from eight yards after a tidy link-up between Roberto Firmino and Naby Keita

Jurgen Klopp had whipped the Reds' pressing game into shape, and Liverpool were winning it high before sparing the visitors.

They were most charitable just after the hour mark when Mane and Salah twice exchanged passes after Firmino set them away on the counter, and the former harmlessly sliced over from the edge of the penalty area.

This fixture could have proven to be a reality check for Leeds but instead it was Liverpool who were punished for their profligacy.

The Reds had the best defensive record in the league last season, and so Klich would almost have been pleasantly surprised by the space he was afforded as he took down Helder Costa's pass from the right and dispatched it into the Anfield Road net.

25 minutes to go, and the question was this - could Leeds, remarkably, win this game?

They were the first to threaten a seventh goal as the impressive Phillips whistled a central free-kick just past the left-hand post. 

But for all their bravery, they would soon find themselves forced into retreat as a spell of pressure commenced in front of the Kop.

Van Dijk thought he had hammered in his second 10 minutes from time, but the vigilant Oliver spotted a tug on Koch's shirt from substitute Curtis Jones.

It was the fourth disallowed strike in all, with Trent Alexander-Arnold escaping an embarrassing own goal earlier in the half following an offside in the build-up.

With 87 minutes having ticked by, Liverpool wasted what looked to have been the chance as the latest front three combination ended in a blocked Firmino shot. 

But from the resulting corner, the game was handed to the Reds. It was an incident which proceeded in slow motion - midfielder Fabinho racing Leeds' £26million signing Rodrigo, on for his debut, to the second ball. Fabinho got there first, Rodrigo ever-so-carelessly left out a leg, and when the Brazilian went over Oliver had no choice but to give the game's second penalty.

Salah, the best player on the pitch for all the gutsy displays in white, showed no signs of nervousness as he opted for a calmer finish, sending Meslier the wrong way.

And Leeds couldn't find the time to claw their way back again.

Takeaways

Leeds manage to live up to unprecedented hype

Rarely, if ever, has a promoted side arrived in the Premier League with this level of anticipation. Leeds have been tipped to establish themselves as immediate top-half contenders, and unflinchlingly persist with Marcelo Bielsa's utterly unique philosophy along the way.

But would they take time to leave their imprint? Would they consider compromise away to the champions on Matchday One? 

The answer was an emphatic 'no'. This was a performance full of bravery and aggression, rather than awestruck respect. Klopp would have warned Liverpool about Leeds' ambition, and yet still his players looked bamboozled as the opponent defied conventional wisdom and flooded forward.

They leave Merseyside with no points but with even greater confidence that they can match absolutely anyone. It's far too early to dismiss the possibility of a struggle, but it's clear that this team will take some scalps this season. 

Games two and three appear daunting for Reds

A win is a win. That is probably how Jurgen Klopp will end his lengthy dressing room reflection. The champions are off to a winning start, but they needed a saviour in the form of Salah.

Defensively, there was a rabbit-in-headlights air about Liverpool at times. The resistance for all three goals was feeble. There will be pushback against any threads drawn from last season's dead-rubber run-in to the start of the title defence, but this was a game that bore a striking resemblance to the eight-goal thriller against Chelsea on the night of their coronation and, at times, to the inexplicable defeat against Arsenal.

And it is those two London outfits and their array of expensively-assembled attacking talent who lie in wait. Liverpool will approach their visit to Stamford Bridge much less adventurously but their concentration must improve massively. 

For now, it will rightly be pointed out that much of last year's successful title bid was built upon below-par victories such as this. 

VAVEL Logo