Madrid – Agency:
Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw away to Leeds United on Tuesday in a match overshadowed by the furious response to the Merseysiders’ planned involvement in a breakaway European Super League (ESL). A draw left sixth-placed Liverpool two points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham in the Premier League. The Reds opened the scoring before the interval through Sadio Mane only for Diego Llorente to equalise with his first Leeds goal, a header from a corner, three minutes from time.
The top four in the Premier League come the end of the season are usually the four English clubs guaranteed a place in next term’s UEFA Champions League.
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, while a banner in the stand said: “Earn it on the pitch. Football is for the fans.”
Leeds players also wore T-shirts before the game carrying similar messages, while a plane flew overhead trailing the message “#SayNoToSuperLeague”.
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.”
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.
“We will put everything on the table to prevent this from happening,” Dowden said, promising a “very robust response”.
At Elland Road, Klopp recalled Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota, with star striker Mohamed Salah on the bench.
Jota was involved as Liverpool broke the deadlock in the 31st minute, picking out the run of Trent Alexander-Arnold before the full-back volleyed a first-time ball across the edge of the box for Mane to ease into Leeds’ net.
Only a superb block from Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson denied Patrick Bamford but Leeds had their equaliser when Llorente headed in Jack Harrison’s in-swinging corner in the 87th minute.