Good enough to conquer Europe, but not good enough to be the best team in England.
Liverpool’s conundrum continues for a second consecutive season as they kick off the 2019-20 Premier League season at Anfield on Friday night against promoted Norwich City.
(Potential starting XIs)
Liverpool begin new quest for first Premier League title
The Reds completed some unfinished business last term in raising the Champions League trophy in Madrid in June, defeating Tottenham Hotspur for their sixth European title after falling short in the 2018 final against Real Madrid. It was some solace to ease the sting of again coming up short in winning their first title in the Premier League era.
Jurgen Klopp’s side certainly did not lack for effort as their bid for a first league title since 1990 fell one point shot despite amassing a club-record 97 and losing just one match all season – a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on Jan. 3. The Reds closed the season with a flourish, winning their final nine league matches as they flipped the top two spots with City 14 times in the final two months, but the Cityzens were a better remorseless side to the tape – they won their final 14 league contests to repeat as champions.
Midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, however, believes Liverpool’s status as European champions makes them the frontrunner for Premier League honours and knows the Merseysiders have to start out of the blocks quickly to make such a bold proclamation come to fruition.
(Liverpool Community Shield XI photo courtesy Liverpool FC official Twitter account)
“I am expecting a really tough game,” Wijnaldum told the club’s official website. “If I’m honest, I expect that from every opponent because everyone wants to win against Liverpool now because of the success we had last season.
“So if we are not at 100 per cent and don’t give everything that we have, it will be even harder than it used to be. What we have to do is just work hard and try to perform.”
Liverpool got their first sense of how difficult it will be to topple Manchester City, losing to the two-time champions on penalties Sunday in the Community Shield at Wembley Stadium.
The Reds looked the more engaged side in the second half, drawing level through Joel Matip in the 77th minute, but Wijnaldum’s second-round attempt from the spot was stopped by Claudio Bravo and proved decisive.
Klopp, though, took plenty of positives from the effort, the offence being one of them as Liverpool played without Sadio Mane. The Reds boss held out the Senegal international following his return from African Cup of Nations duty.
“Football-wise, the second half was just really, really good, the best way you can play against City. They are in the early stages as well, they will be in a different shape in a couple of weeks, for sure. But having this amount of chances we had today is a very good sign for us, absolutely. I liked the game a lot. I don’t like the result but I liked the game a lot, so for us it was very, very important.”
Liverpool will look largely the same as they did last term, the back anchored by keeper Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk, with the Dutch international expected to be a Ballon d’Or finalist come December. Wide backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold face higher expectations after both finished with 12 assists – sharing a new Premier League record by defenders.
The attack is again paced by Salah, Mane, and Roberto Firmino, who combined for 69 goals in all competitions last term. It would not be surprising to see Mane – who returned to training only Monday – come off the bench and Divock Origi start on the left in Liverpool’s 4-3-3.
Midfielder James Milner is dealing with a knock but is expected to be available for selection in a group that includes Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Naby Keita, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The 25-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain was limited to two matches last term due to a ruptured ACL and got a late runout Sunday.
(Ben Godfrey photo courtesy Norwich City official Twitter account)
Promoted Canaries look to pull Anfield shocker
Norwich City are back in the top flight for the first time since 2016, earning direct promotion by finishing five points clear of Sheffield United atop the Championship. The Canaries have been tabbed as favourites to be one and done and return to the second tier, yet there is optimism on Carrow Road as the side look to weather the rough-and-tumble top flight with a young core group of players led by EFL Young Player of the Season winner and defender Max Aarons.
“Internally, as staff and players, we have to utilise that, ‘The whole world thinks you are not good enough because they think we should sign ten new players – what does that say about you,'” Canaries sporting director Stuart Webber told The Times. “That is pretty disrespectful to some of our players.”
Webber need not look far to see that large sums of money spent do not always provide a quality return on investment – Fulham doled out over £100 million on players following promotion and they are back in the Championship after finishing second-bottom with 26 points and 81 goals shipped. Norwich’s philosophy also stands in contrast to fellow promoted side Aston Villa, as the former evergreens have laid out over £130 million this summer.
Webber is counting on judicious signings of veteran players – most notably the additions of striker and Switzerland international Josip Drmic and former West Ham United defender Sam Byram – to help manager Daniel Farke retain the identity of a club that piled up 93 goals in the Championship last term while amassing a plus-36 goal difference.
“We cannot talk about the harmony of the group being a major strength and then panic,” Webber explained. “We actually don’t think we need a major rebuild. We didn’t think we had massive gaps.
“Whether they are good enough to stay in the Premier League we are going to find out. We don’t know. But we could spend £100 million and not know.”
Teemu Pukki will lead the line again for Norwich after registering a Championship-best 29 goals in his first season following a move from Denmark’s Brondby. The Canaries are hoping the Finland international can form a partnership with Drmic and midfielder Mario Vrancic, who added 10 goals.
Norwich made one late signing before Thursday’s transfer deadline, signing Ibrahim Amadou from Sevilla on a season-long loan. Amadou, who started his career at Nancy and Lille in France before making 29 appearances for Sevilla last season, can play both defensive midfield and centre back.
The last meeting was a wild nine-goal affair at Carrow Road in 2016, won 5-4 by Liverpool on Lallana’s 95th-minute goal. Firmino had a brace and an assist as the Reds rallied from 3-1 down in the final 35 minutes. Liverpool have scored 27 goals in going 6-1-0 in the last seven meetings.
Norwich City are winless in their last 12 top-flight matches versus the Reds (0-2-10), scraping out road draws in 2011 and 2015, and winless in their last six at Anfield (0-2-4) since a 1-0 victory on Jeremy Goss’ goal in April 1994.
ODDS and ENDS
Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are overwhelming 2/15 favourites to open the season claiming all three points, while Norwich City are 18/1 underdogs in their first top-flight match since May 2016. There are 7/1 odds for the teams splitting the points.
Oddsmakers are also expecting the hosts to dent the net as the over for 2.5 goals offers only a 4/11 return compared to 15/8 for the under. Even the over/under for 3.5 goals is tightly contested, with the over getting 19/20 odds compared to 4/5 for under.
The favourite for a scoreline is 2-0 Liverpool at 5/1 odds, closely followed by 3-0 (11/2) and 4-0 (7/1) for the hosts. A slender 1-0 win for the Reds is an 8/1 pick, while 2-1 and 3-1 finals check in at 9/1. Nil-1 and 1-2 lines for the Canaries are 55/1 longshots, while a 0-0 draw offers 22/1 odds. A 1-1 stalemate has 14/1 odds.
Origi and Salah lead the line for first-goal scorers on the season at 14/5, with Mane third at 3/1. Firmino and Rhian Brewster round out the top five at 7/2 odds, while Pukki gets top billing for Norwich City at 9/1 for a shock 0-1 scoreline.
Mane, trying to score a goal in the opening match for a fourth straight term, is a 3/4 pick to extend that streak while Salah and Origi are 4/6 and 7/10, respectively, to score over the course of the match. Firmino (11/20) and Brewster (19/20) are also better than even money picks, while Pukki (14/5) and Drmic (16/5) are the top two options for the Canaries.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 3, Norwich City 0
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Liverpool 2, Norwich City 0
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Mo Salah
(Virgil Van Dijk photo courtesy Liverpool FC official Twitter account)
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