Leeds United pocket plenty of positives in defeat to Liverpool and prove they belong in the Premier League - Stuart Rayner

If there was such a thing as a good defeat, it would look something like Leeds United’s at Anfield.

NOW HEAR THIS: Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa (centre) gestures to his players during the Premier League clash against defending champions Liverpool at Anfield. Picture: Phil Noble/NMC Pool/PA

Three equalisers and the majority of possession meant that although the Whites headed home across the Pennines still looking for their first Premier League point since May 2004, they had lots of cause to believe that there will be plenty to come between now and May.

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Very rarely and particularly not now do teams budget for any points at the famous home of Liverpool Football Club – even when the Kop is deserted as it has been during the coronavirus crisis. You take what you can get, and Leeds had to make do with positives – but they were big ones.

Liverpool's Sadio Mane (centre) battles for the ball with Leeds United's Robin Koch (right) and Pascal Struijk, left, at Anfield. Picture: Phil Noble/NMC Pool/PA

In fairness, no one expected Marcelo Bielsa’s team to struggle this season – rarely is a newly-promoted team respected with such confidence from outsiders – but the quality of their play will have surprised those who have not paid very close attention to them over the last couple of years. The Premier League is in for a lot of fun.

“Wow!” Jurgen Klopp mouthed down the camera lens as he headed for the dressing room at the end of a 4-3 win.

For Mohamed Salah to mark his first appearance of 2020-21 with a hat-trick was no great shock. That he completed it with an 89th-minute penalty – his second of the game – to scrape the three points against newly-promoted opponents will have raised a few eyebrows.

Their 52 per cent of possession showed the quality on the ball Leeds supporters have become so familiar with. Their bloody-minded determination to play football as Bielsa preaches it would have been no surprise to them either - but their dogged refusal to be shaken off was a massive character reference. With their title hangovers barely cleared so short has been the turnaround between seasons, they had a right to play with confidence but still their fearlessness was impressive.

BIG OCCASION: Leeds United players have a look around the Anfield stadium before the game. Picture: Phil Noble/NMC Pool/PA

The 22 shots Liverpool had to just six for Leeds told a different story to the possession statistics, but it made the fact the Whites refused to take it to heart even better. Too many teams are beaten when the moment they catch a glimpse of the famous “This is Anfield” emerging from the tunnel.

When you concede a goal inside three minutes to a soft penalty at the home of comfortably the best team in the country, you are entitled to fear the worst. Leeds only know one way to play though – or rather they are only allowed one by their eccentric and inspiring head coach. Helder Costa’s “goal” might have been disallowed, but it showed them what they were capable of.

Some aspects of their performance were very Leeds, others less so.

If the first and third goals were classic Bielsa-ball, Patrick Bamford’s was not – a piece of opportunism when Virgil van Dijk, who had got on the scoresheet ten minutes earlier, was a bit too cool for school.

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa, right, and Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp, far left, take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement before their Premier League encounter at Anfield. Picture: Paul Ellis/NMC Pool/PA

For months there has been much talk about how Bamford is not ruthlessness enough, but Bielsa believes in him so much, he was unafraid to put £27m Rodrigo through the usual initiation, starting his Leeds career as a substitute.

The Whites only had three shots on target in the game and scored them all. “To score three goals against us is huge,” said Salah admiringly at full-time.

The expansive nature of Leeds’s football will always give encouragement to opponents and whilst they were mean defensively last season, now they are up against a whole different calibre of striker.

Big money was spent on Robin Koch and Rodrigo to make the difference and they did – unfortunately in the wrong way. An errant arm from Koch perhaps harshly led to Salah’s first spot kick, a lazy leg from Rodrigo the second.

But for the eight Premier League debutants who were part of last season’s Championship-winning squad the message was clear: You belong at this level.

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Thank you, James Mitchinson. Editor.