Champions League Match Day 1 preview — Liverpool vs. Paris-Saint Germain

It is not about who scores the goals for Liverpool and Paris-Saint Germain in their Champions League opener at Anfield on Tuesday, but rather, which side will be able to stop the other from scoring that will determine who gets an early foothold in Group C.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

No one is questioning the credentials of either club’s offence. Liverpool have amassed the maximum 15 points through their first five Premier League matches, trailing Chelsea on the slimmest of goal difference after bagging 11 goals through those contests.

Last season’s Champions League runners-up boast a potent trident strike force in Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and the trio have accounted for eight of those goals. Firmino scored in both of Liverpool’s last two contests, though he was an injury concern after suffering an eye injury in an awkward clash with Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen in their 2-1 victory last time out.

Manager Jurgen Klopp is eager to use that win as a springboard into this contest given it was Liverpool’s first match against one of the elites in the Premier League, and the higher tempo and quality served as a reminder of the demands of European football.

“It was different to all the other games obviously, because Tottenham is a different team so we had to do that, but that was actually always one of our biggest strengths so we did pretty well.” Klopp said at Monday’s news conference. “If we could do better that would be really cool, because probably we need to.

“But the Champions League is there to face teams like that. … Everyone knows where Paris is, obviously, and everyone knows about their power on the pitch so it’s a challenge – but I’m really looking forward to it.”

While Liverpool fortified themselves in the offseason with the additions of Alisson between the sticks, Naby Keita’s long-awaited arrival from Leipzig and Xherdan Shaqiri’s depth in attack beyond the trio, midfielder Fabinho continues to be the odd man out. The £39 million signing from Monaco has yet to appear in a match for the Reds and was among the reserves just twice in their first five contests.

Of the three midfielders Klopp is expected to start among Keita, Jordan Henderson and James Milner, Henderson may be the most likely of the three to be subbed out at some point given he is still recovering from England’s run to the World Cup semifinals. Still, he is eager to start the journey back to the Champions League final and take that last step to lift “Old Big Ears.”

“I think last season was obviously a good step in the right direction, but at the end of the day we didn’t win anything,” he told the club’s official website.

“So there’s a lot of room for improvement and this season we want to make that step closer and try and get some silverware because ultimately that’s what we’re here to try to do: be the best team in England and in Europe as well. We’ve got to keep winning games.”

But while it is go, go, go on offence for Liverpool, Alisson has made an immediate impact at the back. The Reds have conceded just two goals in their five matches, with Alisson directly responsible for one with a howler of a dribbling move. Virgil van Dijk has been massive in central defence, surprisingly augmented there by Joe Gomez while Dejan Lovren continues to recover from an abdominal injury and his run to the World Cup final with Croatia.

Yet they are in for a stern challenge in Paris-Saint Germain, who boast a wealth of attacking options themselves in burgeoning superstar and World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe along with Brasil ace Neymar and fellow South Americans Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria.

The quartet have taken well to new manager Thomas Tuchel, with Les Parisiens also sporting the maximum 15 points through their first five matches in domestic play. PSG have racked up an impressive 17 goals, 13 through their four-man attack force in the German’s 4-2-3-1 set-up.

This match also serves as an early referendum on Klopp’s successor at Borussia Dortmund. Tuchel took over PSG after a one-season coaching sabbatical, replacing Unai Emery after he failed to get beyond the Champions League quarterfinals in each of his two seasons in Paris. Domestic domination with Le Rouge-et-Bleu is a given as they have done the treble four consecutive seasons running, the mandate is European success come hell or high water.

“Paris have gone very close to making the quarter-finals in the last two years,” Tuchel noted in his Monday news conference. “Sometimes people say a lot of things to try to explain and find reasons for every single little event and everything that happens… but maybe sometimes you just need a special win to get the confidence to go a long way in a competition.

“In my opinion, if you want to go a long way, you have to have the experience that you can do something special. It makes our challenge even bigger. Liverpool have won the Champions League five times, they have that experience, this stadium has that experience.”

One player whose experience would be welcome in this game but is unavailable is goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The old lion is serving a three-match ban for his comments following his loss to Real Madrid in last spring’s semifinal loss while with Juventus. PSG central midfielder Marco Verratti is also out for this match after being sent off in their round of 16 loss to Real last season.

PSG keeper Alphonse Areola turned in his first clean sheet in domestic play last weekend in their 4-0 romp past Saint-Etienne, continuing his fine play for France as he deputised for the injured Hugo Lloris in Nations League play. Areola posted a shutout in a draw against Germany and conceded once in a victory over the Netherlands during the international break.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are solid 21/20 favourites to open group play with a victory, while PSG are 11/5 underdogs to take all three points back across the channel. The odds of the team’s splitting points are 27/10.

For those who expect a goal-fest, or at least three or more, a Liverpool win over 2.5 goals is getting 7/4 odds, while one for PSG returns 10/3. A 2-2 draw would bring back a 7/1 return on such an investment. For those thinking the defence and keepers will step to the forefront, a draw under 2.5 goals is the oddsmakers choice at 24/5, followed by a Liverpool win (11/2) and a PSG victory (17/2).

For first goal-scorers, Salah is a clear favourite at 16/5, surprisingly followed by Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge at 5/1. Cavani lurks just behind the England international as Les Parisiens’ top option at 11/2, with Mbappe and Firmino returning 6/1 odds if they make it 1-0.

Salah is the only striker with better than even money odds to score during the match at 10/11, with both Cavani and Neymar checking in at 17/10. Just behind the PSG duo are Mbappe and Liverpool counterpart Mane at 9/5.

PREDICTION

One of the things that stands out about this match is the contrast in attack. Liverpool likely will go through the middle of the pitch with Milner and Keita to challenge Andre Rabiot and Lassana Diarra while exploiting Verratti’s absence, while PSG will look to unleash Mbappe down the right side of the pitch to pin back Robertson.

On the other flank, Di Maria can use his wiles against Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is still learning his way on the job against higher-end competition and also has accrued three yellow cards in his first five Premier League matches.

To a degree, Alisson will be in the spotlight for Liverpool as the focal point of compare and contrast given how last season’s Champions League ended with Loris Karius’ nightmarish final. The Brasil international definitely has a swagger to him, and for Liverpool fans, they can only hope he sticks to shot-stopping first and dribbling second.

Areola presents an intriguing counterpart given PSG brought Buffon on board to be one of the players who get them over the hump in Champions League. This is PSG’s seventh consecutive appearance, with the previous six ending in the quarterfinals or round of 16. The offensive talent is unquestionably there, it’s whether the defence and the goalkeeping can shine equally.

Possession and pace will be keys in this game. If Liverpool can force turnovers in the middle of the park and PSG’s half of the pitch, they will create scoring opportunities. If Rabiot and Diarra can link to Neymar on quick passes through the middle to set up runs by Mbappe and Di Maria, the Ligue 1 side will find success.

Cavani can also be a difference maker with his nous in the box, and Gomez will have to be up the challenge on a quick turnaround after helping van Dijk do a solid job in containing another world-class striker in Harry Kane in their most recent game.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 3, Paris-Saint Germain 2.

MLB Picks — Sept. 17 (Seattle at Houston)

These are the condensed versions of picks for Monday’s MLB game between the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros for Winners and Whiners.

Links to the full previews are below, and confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Game 1: Seattle at Houston:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Mariners +160 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Over 8.5 runs -120 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Mariners over 3.5 runs -130 (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Mariners +150 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Over 4.5 runs -125 (5/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time:  Mariners 5-inning win 3-way +185 (3/5)

Previous Day’s Record: 6-6 (.500)
September Record: 80-100 (.444)
Season Record: 157-185 (.458)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in September)
2-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          (1-0 (1.000) in September)
3-Star Pick Record: 91-114 (.444)     (47-58 (.448) in September)
4-Star Pick Record: 41-47 (.466)    (19-27 (.413) in September)
5-Star Pick Record: 24-23 (.511)     (13-15 (.464) in September)

MLB Picks — Sept. 16 (Oakland @ Tampa Bay; Detroit @ Cleveland)

These are the condensed versions of picks for Sunday’s MLB games between the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays, and Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians for Winners and Whiners.

Links to the full previews are below, and confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Game 1: Oakland at Tampa Bay:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Athletics -106 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 8 runs -120 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Under 26 RHE -115 (5/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Athletics -0.5 runs +135 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 4 runs -110 (4/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time:  No to 1st inning run -130 (3/5)

Game 2: Detroit at Cleveland

Side Prediction/Full Game: Indians -260 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Over 8.5 runs -110 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Over 27.5 RHE -115 (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Indians -0.5 runs -130 (5/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Over 4.5 runs -115 (4/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: Yes to 1st-inning run (3/5)

Previous Day’s Record: 5-7 (.417)
September Record: 74-94 (.440)
Season Record: 151-179 (.458)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in September)
2-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          (1-0 (1.000) in September)
3-Star Pick Record: 89-109 (.449)     (45-53 (.459) in September)
4-Star Pick Record: 38-47 (.447)    (16-27 (.372) in September)
5-Star Pick Record: 23-22 (.511)     (12-14 (.462) in September)

MLB Picks — Sept. 14 (Minnesota @ Kansas City; Seattle @ Los Angeles Angels)

These are the condensed versions of picks for Friday’s MLB games between the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, and Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels for Winners and Whiners.

Links to the full previews are below, and confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Game 1: Minnesota at Kansas City:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Royals +121 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 8.5 runs -115 (4/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Under 27.5 runs+hits+errors -125 (3/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Royals +120 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 4.5 runs -110 (5/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: No to 1st-inning run -120 (4/5)

Game 2: Seattle at Los Angeles Angels:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Angels -120 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Over 9 runs -105 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Over 27.5 runs+hits+errors -115 (4/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Angels -145 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Over 5 runs -110 (5/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: Yes to 1st-inning run -115 (3/5)

Previous Day’s Record: 6-0 (1.000)
September Record: 68-76 (.472)
Season Record: 145-161 (.474)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in September)
2-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          (1-0 (1.000) in September)
3-Star Pick Record: 85-100 (.459)     (41-44 (.482) in September)
4-Star Pick Record: 37-41 (.474)    (15-21 (.417) in September)
5-Star Pick Record: 22-19 (.537)     (11-11 (.500) in September)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Everton (1-3-0) vs. West Ham United (0-0-4)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini was supposed to usher in a new era at West Ham United, one where the east London side would finally realise their potential as a leviathan and begin climbing the ranks of the Premier League.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Coming out of the international break and into Sunday’s match at Goodison Park versus Everton, however, it has been more of the same old, same old as poor play and off-the-pitch dysfunction have ruled the day.

The Irons (0-0-4) are the only team in the top flight without a point, having shipped 10 goals in their defeats. With Pellegrini came an aggressive spending spree in the summer transfer window as 11 new players arrived with a cumulative cost of nearly £100 million. The results, though, have been uneven at best as Pellegrini has struggled to find his best four at the back and the midfield of newcomer Jack Wilshire and holdover Mark Noble have failed to influence matches offensively.

West Ham went into the break on a 1-0 loss to new boys Wolverhampton, and the hope is the time off has cleared everyone’s heads and the Irons can reboot themselves for this stretch of games to get off the foot of the table.

“Everyone was disappointed after the Wolves game,” fullback Ryan Fredericks admitted to the club’s official website. “We’ve been working hard over the international break and we’re confident of a much better performance and hopefully a better result on Sunday.

“There is no thought of letting things go. Some hard truths were spoken after the Wolves game and everyone wants to do the best for the club and the best for themselves. The plans the club had at the start of the season, we expected things to go better than this and for us to be higher up the table, so it’s up to us all to work hard and put things right on the pitch.”

That means finding a secondary scoring source beyond Mark Arnautovic, who has scored both of West Ham’s league goals and only one in the run of play through 360 minutes. Who lines up with Arnautovic in that starting XI has become a puzzling source of frustration to the Chilean as The Times reported Thursday a Twitter account with the handle ExWHUemployee has been posting the lineups publicly before Pellegrini has told the players.

Pellegrini’s usual M.O. is to tell the players four hours before kickoff, but the only people he talks to before meeting the players regarding the lineup are team owners David Sullivan and David Gold. It’s another headache for a team that spent most of the international break fighting a public battle with the landlords of London Stadium over things from putting a claret-coloured surround on the track around the pitch to the naming rights for the stadium since there is still no rights partner.

Everton (1-3-0) are not without their troubles both on and off the pitch, but the bigger worry for gaffer Marco Silva heading into this contest is the staggering amount of first-team players unavailable for this contest. At the top of the list is star winger Richarlison, who will complete his three-match ban for a red card following his headbutt of Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Defender Michael Keane is sidelined with a small fracture of his skull suffered in that 2-2 draw, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after breaking his right foot while on international duty with Ireland.

Centre back Phil Jagielka and midfielder Andre Gomes are also not expected to be available due to injuries and holding midfielder Idrissa Gueye is likely a match-time decision due to a knee injury. Winger Dominic Calvert-Lewin also picked up an ankle injury with England’s Under-21 side and could miss out on this match as well.

One of the players who has been pressed into duties with all of these injuries, defender Mason Holgate, has made the most of his increased playing time, something likely to continue with Everton’s spate of injuries and Carabao Cup commitments in addition to league play.

“You see a lot of new signings come in but when the club comes out and say they see a future for you here, it gave me a lot of confidence,” said the 21-year-old Holgate to Everton’s official website. “They believe I can come in and do the job – and hopefully that’s what I’ve been doing so far.

“Despite the players that are out, we are still going to field a good team and I feel we are going to still do well,” the centre back added. “In every position, we have two or three players who can play there comfortably. On our day, we can beat anybody.”

The off-the-pitch problems continue to swirl around Everton’s full-court press to prise Silva from Watford after they fired Ronald Koeman last term, with an independent inquiry to determine if Everton were “tapping up” Silva now underway. The two clubs have been embroiled in a bitter dispute for nearly a year when Everton made repeated offers to give him the job last November, with Watford’s ire rising with each offer they had to spurn.

There was a thought the teams settled the issue when Richarlison moved from Vicarage Road to Goodison Park for £40 million to be reunited with Silva – a figure many believed to be well above market value for the Brasil international – but Watford filed a formal complaint and escalated the affair.

Everton could face anything from a hefty fine to a potential points deduction depending on what the inquiry fines, which includes obtaining any contact from Everton owner Farhad Moshiri through the club’s front office with Silva. It is the first case in which talk of points being deducted has arisen since Chelsea made an illegal approach for Ashley Cole in 2005 and had a suspended three-point deduction in addition to a £300,000 fine.

The home team won both matches last term, with Everton smashing four without reply by West Ham as Wayne Rooney recorded a hat trick. The Irons have just three wins in 23 matches (3-4-16) in the blue section of Merseyside in the Premier League era and one league win in the last 11 visits (1-3-7).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Everton are solid favourites with 21/20 odds, while the odds of West Ham either winning or notching their first point of the season are both 5/2.

The Toffees get 2/1 odds for a win and more than 2.5 goals, while a draw under 2.5 goals returns 17/4. An Everton win under 2.5 goals checks in at 4/1, just ahead of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw (15/4).

Tosun is the front-runner for the first goal of the match at 4/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (9/2) and Arnautovic (11/2). Despite his illness, Chicharito is still on the board at 11/2, while Calvert-Lewin and Wolcott are just behind the Mexico international at 13/2.

Tosun is listed at 7/5 odds to score over the 90 minutes, while Niasse (8/5) and Arnautovic (9/5) lurk in the top three. Walcott is getting 21/10 odds, and Lookman offers an intriguing 5/2 odds to open his scoring account on the season after just 33 minutes of action versus Huddersfield Town in his league debut.

PREDICTION

“This charming man” has a lot of problems in east London. The humour of the club’s former employee putting out accurate lineups before Pellegrini tells his players who is in the starting XI has the feel of “That’s so West Ham.” It is the kind of culture Pellegrini has been fighting since his arrival, and the fact this story has gained traction shows just how much of a fight there still is for him to wage.

A lot of this, though, could be solved with the salve that cures all ills — winning. West Ham appear to have the same disconnect Arsenal have, a leaky back line and a promising attack with a midfield that is hit or miss. The fact West Ham have a former Arsenal player as part of that existing problem only adds to the parallels. The Irons need Anderson to take a game by the throat, and they need Yarmolenko to start proving his worth on the pitch.

Everton are going to be a patchwork lineup for this week and likely next week as Silva may have to change over half his preferred outfield. Kenny will be tested severely at right back as he will likely get first crack at filling Coleman’s spot, and Lookman will finally get his chance to show Silva he is deserving of more time with Richarlison out along with Andre Gomes.

It was not a good sign there were stories floating around about Pellegrini being bought out after four matches and no points, and even with Everton short-handed, the empty run could continue at Goodison Park. Tosun is due to score a goal, and that may be enough for Everton to secure at least one point. The bigger issue is this may be the game where Pickford steals the other two for the Toffees.

Predicted Final Score: EVERTON 1, West Ham United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Watford vs. Manchester United

MLB Picks — Sept. 13 (Toronto at Boston)

These are the condensed versions of picks for Thursday’s MLB game between Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox for Winners and Whiners. Links to the full previews are below, and confidence rating is in parentheses. Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Game 1: Toronto at Boston:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Red Sox -270 (4/5)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 9 runs -115 (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Rodriguez over 5.5 strikeouts -120 (3/5)
Side Prediction/Half Time: Red Sox -0.5 runs -160 (3/5)
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 5 runs -120 (5/5)
Prop Prediction/Half Time: No to 1st-inning run +105 (3/5)

Previous Day’s Record: 6-12 (.333)
September Record: 62-76 (.449)
Season Record: 139-161 (.463)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in September)
2-Star Pick Record: 1-1 (.500)          (1-0 (1.000) in September)
3-Star Pick Record: 81-100 (.448)     (37-44 (.457) in September)
4-Star Pick Record: 36-41 (.468)    (14-21 (.400) in September)
5-Star Pick Record: 21-19 (.525)     (10-11 (.476) in September)

2018 MLB Pick — Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Texas Rangers (Aug. 13)

Writer’s Note: In addition to EPL previews, I also do other sports previews for the site WinnersandWhiners.com. The preview for this game can be seen here.

For the condensed version, here are my picks:

Side Prediction/Full Game: Diamondbacks -180 (5-star confidence/5 stars)
Total Prediction/Full Game: Under 9.5 runs (+105) (3/5)
Prop Prediction/Full Game: Under 29 Runs+Hits+Errors (-115) 3/5
Side Prediction/Half Time: Diamondbacks -0.5 runs (-135) 4/5
Total Prediction/Half Time: Under 5.5 runs (-110) 2/5
Prop Prediction/Half Time: No to first-inning run scored (-105) 4/5

Record: 0-0
Day Record: 0-0
Season Record: 0-0

1-Star Pick Record: X-X
2-Star Pick Record: X-X
3-Star Pick Record: X-X
4-Star Pick Record: X-X
5-Star Pick Record; X-X