ADVANCED SPORT ANALYSIS Monday’s match at Elland Road could be a battle for supremacy anywhere except in the midfield
Jurgen Klopp claims Leeds United “owe” his Liverpool side three points after their shocking 2-1 win at Anfield earlier this season, but the Whites are in no position to surrender to anyone, let alone one of their main rivals.
Leeds host Liverpool under the Elland Road lights on Monday night in a game that could define their season.
The Premier League relationship battle is going to the wire, and Leeds should come out on top. They’re two points above the drop zone, but this club rarely follows the playbook, as evidenced by their humiliating 5-1 loss to Crystal Palace last time out.
Indeed, one of Leeds’ few bright spots during this dreadful season came on Merseyside in October, when they stunned Liverpool with a last-minute goal from Crysencio Summerville.
That defeat followed a 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest, and it is widely regarded as the point at which Liverpool’s early title hopes were extinguished.
Klopp’s team has nothing to play for this season other than a European spot, and they are unlikely to finish in the top four come May. It implies that the German’s motivation for Monday’s match may be revenge rather than anything else.
“They owe us three points,” said Klopp. “It will be a big fight, a massive fight in Leeds‘ situation.”
Indeed, few Liverpool fans traveling to West Yorkshire on Monday will be expecting anything less than a slugfest against an old foe. Leeds haven’t beaten Liverpool at home since the legendary 4-3 win in November 2000, when Mark Viduka scored all four goals for the hosts, and the game continues to elicit the same level of vitriol from the stands that it has for decades.
“We expect them to be on their toes,” Klopp said. “It’s a huge fight with a proper atmosphere.” It will be difficult, but we must build on two games in which we were good or very good at times.
Leeds may have ridden their luck against Liverpool in October. The Reds dominated possession, fired 22 shots at Illan Meslier’s goal, and missed a few easy chances. Jesse Marsch’s randomized style of football stung them, as did Wilfried Gnonto’s beautiful bit of persistence that led to Summerville’s winner.
Since then, Klopp has worked hard to bring consistency to this Reds team, and their midfield struggles have been well documented. Under Marsch, Leeds tried to boycott the midfield, going from zero to 100 in an attempt to sucker punch opponents.
On Monday, expect a different vibe. Whereas Marsch – and his predecessor Marcelo Bielsa – demanded that his Leeds team play his way regardless of the opponent, new manager Javi Gracia has a different approach.
When he was thrown into the relegation battle, his first priority was to neutralize the opposition and gradually build attacks. Gracia’s game is one of control, not chaos.
Since Gracia’s arrival, this control has helped Leeds thrash Wolves and grind out a win over Forest. However, it is this inflexibility that has resulted in big losses against Arsenal and Palace.
For those of us who enjoy strategy, Monday’s game is a must-see. Despite the atmosphere, Leeds will not go all-in. They simply cannot afford it. Conservative, frustrating football is far more likely to drag Liverpool into the type of dogfight that has plagued the Reds all season.
Expect yelling on the sidelines, biting tackles on the field, and little to separate the two teams. Unless the vacuum needs to be filled and the game becomes bogged down, neither will look to play through the middle. It could be that one flash of brilliance from the wing separates the two, and that’s a coin toss Gracia would gladly call.
Leeds have an abundance of attacking talent, almost too much to handle. The best players spread out wide. However, their defense remains frail, and the midfield was overrun on the counter against Palace. With Luis Diaz available and Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino back in the goals, Liverpool could cruise to victory here.
But neither they nor Leeds have followed the script this season. The Whites may “owe” their opponents three points, but there is no guarantee they will repay them on Monday.
“As I previously stated, we don’t have time to consider whether it’s better or worse to play now against this team. We have to play, give it our all, and try to get points.”
“We don’t care if we play against one team or another. [We] pay close attention to the significance of the points.”