LEEDS: Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw away to Leeds United on Monday in a match overshadowed by the furious response to the Merseysiders’ planned involvement in a breakaway European Super League (ESL).
Leeds defender Diego Llorente’s 87th-minute header denied Liverpool a place in the top four, which might not even matter given the club is one of the 12 behind the creation of the controversial league that is threatening to split the historic structure of European football.
The Super League could be launched as early as next season, rendering meaningless the race for Champions League qualification that currently involves Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur — three of the six rebel English clubs.
The result left Liverpool sixth on 53 points from 32 games, one behind fifth-placed Chelsea who have a game in hand and two adrift of West Ham United in fourth. Leeds stayed 10th on 46 points.
But even if six-times European champions Liverpool finish in the top four, they may well be banned from the tournament given they are on a collision course with UEFA, the continent’s football governing body, after emerging as one of 12 teams who have established plans to form the ESL.
Under the proposals, 15 founder members would compete in the 20-team tournament every year without having to qualify.
Supporters from both Leeds and Liverpool protested outside Elland Road prior to kick-off.
Leeds players came out for their warm-up wearing shirts emblazoned with the slogan“Earn It” under the Champions League logo.
A plane flew overhead trailing a banner proclaiming“say no to superleague” while the Liverpool team coach was greeted with fans venting their anger.
James Milner, Liverpool’s captain for the game, became the first player from one of the so-called founding clubs to criticise plans for the Super League.
“I don’t like it and hopefully it doesn’t happen,” Milner said.
Liverpool came in for lots of criticism ahead of the game from its own fans and those of rival clubs for being greedy and damaging the integrity of the English and wider game because of its role in the Super League plans. The clubs American ownership bore the brunt of the criticism but the players were jeered and verbally abused as they arrived at Elland Road.
“That felt a bit unjust,” Milner said.
Leeds striker Patrick Bamford said players were in shock at the developments.
“From what I have seen, I haven’t seen one football fan who is happy about the decision, and football is ultimately about the fans,” Bamford said. “Without the fans, football is pretty much nothing and it is important we stand our ground and show football is for the fans and try to keep it that way.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who had previously spoken out against the creation of a Super League, struggled to justify the his club’s participation in the proposed new competition during a pre-match interview with Sky Sports.
One thing I understand and that people think is not right is the competitiveness, I get that,” he said.
Significantly, no clubs from Klopp’s native Germany are involved, with European giants Bayern Munich making clear Monday they were happy with football’s “current structure”.
Klopp appeared to have more in common with Bayern than his own employers when he added: “I like the fact that West Ham might play Champions League next year. I don’t want them to, because I want us to be there, but I like that they have the chance.”
In his post-match news conference, Klopp said the latest developments would not make him quit as manager and he will try to help to sort it somehow.
“I’m here as a football coach and a manager, Klopp said. “I will do that as long as people let me do that. I heard today I will resign or whatever.”
Six Premier League teams — Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur — joined forces with Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and Italian trio Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan to launch the competition.
Their plans sparked an angry reaction from governments, governing bodies, players and fans alike.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin slammed the plan, calling it a“disgraceful self-serving proposal from a select few clubs purely fuelled by greed”.
Meanwhile the UK government’s culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the English clubs involved could find themselves subject to a formal review under British anti-trust law, which prevents the formation of monopolies or corporate cartels.
At Elland Road, Klopp recalled Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota, with star striker Mohamed Salah on the bench.
Sadio Mane fired Liverpool ahead in the 31st minute when he steered the ball into an empty net from 15 metres after Trent Alexander-Arnold beat Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier to a long Jota pass and squared it to the Senegalese forward.
Roberto Firmino came close to adding a second shortly after the break but Leeds then pegged back the visitors and missed several chances before Llorente rose above his markers to head home a Jack Harrison corner.
Substitute Mohamed Salah had scuffed a close-range shot wide for Liverpool moments before Llorente scored his first goal for Leeds and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spurned a gilt-edged chance to snatch a stoppage-time winner for the visitors.
Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa praised his team for digging deep to avoid defeat.
“There were periods when one dominated the other,” he told the BBC.
(Tabulated under played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):
Manchester City 32 23 5 4 67 23 74
Manchester United 32 19 9 4 4 35 66
Leicester City 31 17 5 9 55 37 56
West Ham United 32 16 7 9 53 42 55
Chelsea 31 15 9 7 50 31 54
Liverpool 32 15 8 9 54 38 53
Tottenham Hotspur 32 14 8 10 54 37 50
Everton 31 14 7 10 43 40 49
Arsenal 32 13 7 12 44 36 46
Leeds United 32 14 4 14 50 50 46
Aston Villa 30 13 5 12 43 33 44
Wolverhampton Wanderers 32 11 8 13 32 41 41
Crystal Palace 31 10 8 13 33 52 38
Southampton 31 10 6 15 39 56 36
Newcastle United 32 9 8 15 35 53 35
Brighton & Hove Albion 31 7 12 12 33 38 33
Burnley 32 8 9 15 26 45 33
Fulham 33 5 12 16 25 43 27
West Bromwich Albion 31 5 9 17 28 59 24
Sheffield United 32 4 2 26 17 56 14
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2021