2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

The cauldron that is Anfield burned Pep Guardiola and Manchester City in their Champions League quarterfinal tie last April, leaving the biggest blot on their historically unprecedented season of Premier League dominance.

The reigning champions return to Liverpool on Sunday, perhaps at full strength, as they look to exorcise the demons their closest pursuers have unleashed upon them in recent matchups.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

“We won the last three games against City – twice in the Champions League and once in the league. After none of these games do you go into the dressing room and think, ‘Now we’ve got it, now we know how to beat Manchester City,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told the club’s official website.

“There is no real way; there isn’t one thing you have to do so you can beat them. That’s not there. You need a fantastic football team – which I have, thank God – with an outstanding character, ready for being really brave, ready for making mistakes in a very difficult game against an outstanding opponent.”

Both teams have taken 19 of a possible 21 points through their first seven matches, with City leading on goal difference. Though third-place Chelsea have been surprising interlopers early, Guardiola’s Citizens and Klopp’s Reds have given every indication they will be the last two standing to lift the Premier League trophy come May.

And head-to-head, Liverpool have had the upper hand of late. The Reds dealt City three of their seven losses across all competitions last season, including a 4-3 victory at Anfield that was also Guardiola’s first league loss. But the other two also stand out, as Liverpool advancing 5-1 on aggregate was a key part of their runners-up finish to Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

The first leg, also played at Anfield, was everything about the heritage Liverpool have as five-time European champions and everything Manchester City desire by claiming “Ol’ Big Ears” for the first time to validate the estimated £1.3 billion in player signings since Sheikh Mansour bought the team a decade ago.

The white-hot intensity started before City even arrived on the grounds as their coach was pelted by Liverpool supporters en route. Guardiola then made two of the few – but most certainly his biggest since his arrival — mistakes in tactics and lineups as he left ex-Liverpool attacking midfielder Raheem Sterling on the bench for deep-lying Ilkay Gundogan and started a still untested Aymeric Laporte at left back with Reds striker Mohamed Salah ready to pounce.

Liverpool blazed a trail of carnage through City’s half as Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane all scored in the first 31 minutes, and they protected the 3-0 scoreline. City were unable to overturn the deficit the following week at the Etihad, losing 2-1, and were left to take out their frustrations on the Premier League – their sole consolation reaching 100 points in their final match.

Since that meeting, Liverpool have only gotten stronger by taking a page from City’s playbook and spending lavishly the last two seasons. Alisson has been worth every bit the £56 million from AS Roma, while the patience of waiting a year for midfielder Naby Keita has also paid dividends.

Virgil van Dijk has been a towering presence in central defence since his January arrival for £75 million, and while Klopp has brought along £44 million signing Fabinho slowly, all the pieces are in place for Liverpool to win their first title since 1990.

Just don’t expect them to say they will continue dominating Manchester City while trying to do it.

“It’s a new season,” left back Andy Robertson said. “Last season we did very well against them. The two quarter-finals were very good, especially at home when we went 3-0 up. We did get one over on them last season but they ended up with the Premier League and that’s what everyone strives for.

“They are the champions and they’ll have a game plan. But hopefully our game plan is better on the day.”

The plan will certainly need to be better than the one Wednesday, when Liverpool had a true clunker and lost 1-0 in Champions League play at Italian side Napoli. In contrast to the loss and draw, respectively, last week versus Chelsea in which both high-quality matches turned on moments of individual brilliance, Klopp’s team were lacklustre throughout and failed to register a shot on target before conceding in the 90th minute.

The loss again raised concerns about Salah’s form as the Egypt international has gone four matches without a goal in all competitions. He has only three goals in 10 matches, but with goals in all three wins over City last season, Klopp is optimistic the goals will flow soon.

“I am completely relaxed,” the German said. “I didn’t say Mo should relax because he has to work hard, but that’s what he is doing. It is a completely normal situation, nothing to worry about and I am relaxed about it.”

Liverpool have conceded just three goals in league play and have not been scored upon in Anfield since February, a stretch of 751 minutes.

City, though, may have all hands on deck to break that run as attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and left back Benjamin Mendy practised this week. De Bruyne, who had 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions last season, has been sidelined with a knee injury suffered in practice after City’s season-opening victory. Mendy has missed the last six games with a knee injury after registering four assists in the first four matches.

Guardiola’s team have won four on the bounce since their surprising home loss to Lyon to open Champions League group play, and they scrambled to rally past Hoffenheim 2-1 on Tuesday. David Silva bagged the winner on 87 minutes, but Sergio Aguero’s equaliser in the eighth was also vital as City conceded almost right after kickoff.

Guardiola, though, thinks his defence will be key to maintaining their unbeaten start in the Premier League, which makes sense considering Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino accounted for seven of the nine Liverpool goals last term.

“The big difference is how many times you lose the ball,” the Spaniard noted to City’s official website. “In Champions League games, they didn’t lose the ball. These guys are so dangerous and connect between them – Mane and Salah love running behind and they do it really well.

“We have to defend, but not in the approach play because it’s boring and we have to be ourselves. In this type of game, we must be ourselves. They are good and even though we are City and a good team, they also do many good things. To minimise those three players on Sunday, we have to attack and be as good as possible.”

Aguero has a team-high six goals, with three coming in the last four matches. Both Sterling and Leroy Sane have used their pace to terrorise opposing defenders on the flanks, combining for a goal and six assists in that stretch. City lead the Premier League with 21 goals – six more than Liverpool — but also have matched the Reds with just three conceded and carry a 330-minute shutout streak in league play dating back to their 2-1 victory over Newcastle United on Sept. 1.

Anfield, though, has been a house of horrours for Manchester City, who have failed to record a clean sheet there in the Premier League era. They have lost six on the bounce in all competitions and are winless in their last 15 league visits (0-4-11). City’s lone victory in 23 trips to Liverpool (1-6-16) in the Premier League era was a 2-1 victory in 2003 when Nicolas Anelka completed a brace in the 94th minute.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are slight favourites at 29/20 odds, while the reigning champions are 17/10 underdogs to bring all three points back to the blue side of Manchester and grab sole possession of first. The odds of the teams moving together to 20 points into the international break are 5/2.

Befitting the quality of these two sides, there is little separating them in terms of odds. A Liverpool win with more than 2.5 goals is the top choice at 12/5, closely followed by a City win over 2.5 (14/5). There is also respect for both teams’ defences, as a 0-0 or 1-1 draw is pulling down 21/5 odds, shorter than a low-scoring Liverpool victory (11/2) or a Man City one (13/2).

Despite his recent drough, Salah is still the top choice to score the first goal of the match at 4/1, though Aguero is riding hot on his heels at 9/2. A pair of understudy forwards — Daniel Sturridge for Liverpool and Gabriel Jesus for City — are second at 11/2, while Sterling, Firmino and Mane ate all 13/2. Two more expected reserves — City’s Riyad Mahrez and Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri are 7/1 and 8/1, respectively, while Sane could be a sleeper pick at 9/1 for the first goal.

Salah (5/4) and Aguero (13/10) also lead the way to find the back of the net over the 90 minutes, while Sturridge and Jesus are the only other players with shorter than 2/1 odds to score at 17/10. Sterling, Firmino and Mane are at the aforementioned 2/1, with Mahrez just off the trio at 21/10. Though he has practised this week, De Bruyne was not on the board for scoring in the 90 minutes as of late Friday night Chicago time.

PREDICTION

There are so many directions to break down this match, from how the four wide backs are going to stop the opposing attacks, to De Bruyne and Mendy’s potential retrun (This space believes Mendy will start at left back and De Bruyne will be among the reseves) to potentially Dejan Lovren and van Dijk being paired in central defence for the first time this season (This space believes it will happen) to who Guardiola selects in midfield along with Fernandinho and David Silva (Gundogan is the frontrunner, edging out Bernardo Silva) to whether Keita is healthy enough to play (yes) to even whether Klopp puts Fabinho among his reserves or even starts him over Keita.

And exhale.

If there was one surprise that came out of Liverpool’s last three matches, it was not the lack of victory — that happens to every team at some point — but the fact Liverpool looked tired against Naples. The Reds deserved to lose that match, but not because they were looking ahead to this one. They were simply second-best.

On the other side, Guardiola seems to have come to grips with the fact City cannot match the numbers they put up last season in recording 100 points in the Premier League and winning 32 matches and losing only two. Yet their Champions League struggles in a group they were supposed to run roughshod on has been puzzling. Whether it’s City playing down to Lyon and Hoffenheim or the two sides playing above themselves and making City graft, this is the match where the Citizens could be found out if they do not get stuck in from kickoff.

The place where City can win this match is in the midfield by holding possession. Guardiola was absolutely correct in saying Liverpool did not lose the ball in that first-leg Champions League tie, but one of Klopp’s strategies was to let City have the ball because Liverpool’s midfield is not creative on the ball. That is hidden by the high press into forcing opponents into mistakes, where the transition relies on fewer passes and more pace to create scoring opportunities.

Another facet of their game City would be well-served to utilise is Ederson’s long-range distribution. There are few — as in, count on one hand — who can deliver pinpoint sidewinders covering more than half the pitch like the Brasil international, and even if City lose possession on the first ball or the second ball, Ederson can send that initial long-range kick to areas of minimal danger if Liverpool do recover possession.

The slight public chafe Guardiola has had about Liverpool having City’s number last term probably is far greater in private because that’s who he is, a relentless perfectionist. He has achieved one of the things he set out to do when he arrived on the blue side of this city three seasons ago and evolved English football from blood and thunder to something a little more graceful.

Not that City lack the steel to go with their silk — Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho are a formidable spine, and Stones is getting up to speed in that regard — but the Citizens are still the reigning champions and Guardiola’s hunger to be European champions en route to another title is a strong galvanising force.

Liverpool may have found that matching steel with Alisson and van Dijk, and it will be curious to see if Klopp trusts Lovren in such a big spot with only 90 minutes of football under his belt. Gomez has rarely put a wrong foot forward in central defence, but City are unlike few sides in the world, and having two of Europe’s best central defenders available means you use two of Europe’s best central defenders.

If Liverpool are able to keep their offensive thrust narrow through Mane, Firmino and Salah, there is a strong likelihood they will continue their winning ways at Anfield and extend City’s misery. But if City can ping the ball wide to either Sane or Sterling to let them attack Liverpool’s wide backs and stretch that back four, then the reigning champions could finally come through with three points and an end to the hoodoo at the Kop.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LIVERPOOL 2, Manchester City 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)
Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)

Champions League Match Day 2 Preview — Napoli (0-1-0, 0, 0-0) vs. Liverpool (1-0-0, +1, 3-2)

Liverpool learned they were not perfect in a pair of matches against Chelsea last week, and they look to apply those lessons to maintain a 100 percent record in Champions League play Wednesday when they face Napoli at Stadio San Paolo.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Liverpool’s run of seven wins in as many matches that included a wild 3-2 win over Paris-St. Germain to open their Champions League campaign came to an end with a pulsating 2-1 loss at home to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup despite the teams playing largely overturned sides. The match was decided on a moment of individual brilliance by Eden Hazard late in the contest in which he danced through half of Liverpool’s defence.

The return encounter at Stamford Bridge, played with their full first-choice lineups, was of high calibre play throughout the pitch. Like the previous match, it turned on a moment of individual brilliance, but it belonged to a Liverpool player as substitute Daniel Sturridge belted a world-class left-footed goal from 25 yards that found the absolute perfect spot of space beyond the reach of Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and the upper right corner on 89 minutes to give the Merseysiders a 1-1 draw to remain level with Premier League leaders Manchester City on points.

Since Liverpool play the reigning champions Sunday — the first match between the sides since the Reds swept City aside in two legs of the Champions League quarterfinals last term — manager Jurgen Klopp considered making some changes, but he also has no injury concerns heading into this contest.

“It’s no problem. It’s really difficult to think about anything other than the next game – we only think about the next game, but not the next game after the next game! It is always like this,” Klopp explained to Liverpoolfc.com during the team flight. “In the moment it is all fine and we have to use it. We will see, maybe we will make one or two changes or whatever – maybe more – but it’s all about this game. It’s the only way I understand it.

“We are in good shape, we have good rhythm and that’s something we have to use so let’s try our best. It’s not that you can say, ‘OK, Champions League in Naples, I will make five or six changes’ and then for City you make six changes again, then who are the other six because the six that played already, they cannot play on Sunday… it’s difficult really. We will think about this game and then we will see who we can use for City.”

One of the few potential changes that Klopp could make is to give Dejan Lovren his second start of the season after the Croatia international made his debut in the Carabao Cup loss to Chelsea. He was allowed to rehab a muscle injury conservatively following the World Cup as Joe Gomez — the centre back he would conceivably replace in such a swap — formed a solid partnership with Virgil van Dijk.

While Sturridge will not displace the trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, he likely has moved ahead of Xherdan Shaqiri in the pecking order as first-choice substitute with three goals in his last four matches.

“I don’t know what he did in his pre-season but he was quite fit, and during the season he just showed he is really important for us, not only because of his goals but also the way he is playing,” Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum said at Tuesday’s news conference. “Against Paris Saint-Germain, we saw Sturridge playing in a way we didn’t see before, defending, [and] he switched positions with one of the front three and did their job. He is really, really good in shape, fit, in form and I think he deserves to be in the England squad.”

While Liverpool have mainly found success, Napoli are still transitioning to life under well-traveled manager Carlo Ancelotti, who replaced Maurizio Sarri after he departed for Chelsea and is no stranger to the pressure-cooker of Champions League life.

The Little Donkeys again are emerging as the primary threat to Juventus’ hegemony in Serie A, trailing the hard-charging and perfect Biaconeri by six points through the first seven matches. The teams had their first meeting in Turin on Saturday, and after Dries Mertens staked Napoli to an early lead in the 10th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo had his biggest impact in domestic play since signing from Real Madrid in the offseason, assisting on a pair of goals as Mario Mandzukic had a brace and consigned Napoli to a 3-1 defeat.

The loss ended a four-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, including a 0-0 draw at Red Star Belgrade a fortnight ago that opened their Champions League adventure, but Ancelotti insisted a failure to get a result here would not doom his side despite the obvious quality in opposition looming as they play PSG in their next two continental matches.

“It’s an important game, but not decisive,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference. “It would be massive for us to get the three points because we weren’t able to get them against Red Star. It’s always nice to play in these games – football is about these exciting matches. We need to be focused but also maintain a level of calm so that we can showcase our qualities.”

“We need to improve the way we handle periods when we’re under pressure. We needed to do that better against Juventus and we hope to improve on that tomorrow.”

The Little Donkeys will have their full attacking contingent at the ready with Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne leading the line, backed by talented midfielders Marek Hamsik and Piotr Zielinski on the left. Insigne has a team-high five goals, while Arkadiusz Milik will serve as supersub with three markers of his own.

Liverpool will be shooting at a familiar face in goal for Napoli as former Arsenal No. 2 David Ospina will be between the sticks as the Colombia international was sent out on loan after the Gunners acquired Bernd Leno in the summer.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are solid favourites to return to England with three points at 11/10 odds, with hosts Napoli checking in at 23/10. The odds of the teams splitting the points are slightly longer at 5/2.

A Reds win with more than 2.5 goals is the top option for punters with 21/10 odds, while Napoli’s odds for a win over that mark rank second at 4/1. Liverpool, who have shown themselves capable of defending well, are also 9/2 favourites to win a 1-0 or 2-0 match, and a 0-0 or 1-1 draw returns 9/5 odds. A win by the Little Donkeys of either 1-0 or 2-0 is a 7/1 longshot, while a 2-2 draw or higher is 9/1.

Salah is the unsurprising leader for first goal-scorer options at 7/2, with Sturridge’s recent purple patch vaulting him into second at 5/1 to make it 1-0. Firmino is right behind him at 11/2, while Napoli’s pair of Mertens and Milik are 6/1 along with Mane. Insigne is another half-step back at 13/2 to give the hosts a 1-0 advantage.

The Egypt international is nearly even money to find the back of the net during this contest at 6/5, again leading the line, while Sturridge (13/8) and Firmino (15/8) round out the top three. The three M’s — Mertens, Milik and Mane — are all 2/1 picks to get on the scoresheet, with Hamsik a sleeper option for Napoli at 13/5.

PREDICTION

It’s not often that a Champions League tie can be referred to as a “trap game,” yet many can look at this match as exactly that given what is at stake this weekend for Liverpool as they host Manchester City in a top-of-the-table clash Sunday. This is a result Klopp “would like” to have. It’s not a must-win, but a road point is a nice consolation prize ahead of back-to-back matches against Red Star, who are considered the weakest link of this group.

The only point of contention for Liverpool is what to do with Lovren, who while close to 100 percent, is probably not quite there with only two weeks of full-time practice under his belt. He made the trip to Naples, but until Gomez does something so awful it warrants a benching — unlikely considering he has yet to be on the losing side of a continental match through nine appearances — the Croatian may be waiting a little longer.

Napoli have a tough bounce-back challenge on their hands after their loss to Juventus. Ancelotti is right in the sense a loss would not end their hopes of getting out of the group, but it would be far better to scrape out a point in this match and then take their chances in the home-and-away versus PSG.

Insigne has thrived in his new role underneath Mertens, but Napoli’s defence will be under scrutiny, especially on the left side with Mario Rui and Kalidou Koulabily, the former of whom was sent off before the hour with the outcome still up for grabs after a second booking. Rui is available for this contest, but if Salah is in the mood, he could give the left back a torrid time.

Ospina is also an X-factor who cannot be ignored, though it is for the wrong reasons. He has a lifetime record of 5-3-6 in Champions League play and has let in 28 goals in 15 matches. He recorded only his fourth shutout in the draw versus Red Star and has conceded two or more goals in eight of those 15 contests. Ospina has faced Liverpool just once in his career, allowing a meaningless penalty to Jordan Henderson in a 4-1 Arsenal victory in the 2014/15 season.

Of the 12 players who wore a Liverpool shirt in that match only Henderson and Sturridge are on the current side.

If Napoli can find an early goal and make Liverpool chase the match, they should be able to grab at least one point from this contest. But after a trying week versus Chelsea, it would not be surprising to see Klopp’s team open the throttle and try to run the Little Donkeys off the pitch.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Napoli 0, LIVERPOOL 2.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 2 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-1) vs. Barcelona (1-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

If their pulsating Carabao Cup tie is a preview of things to come, Saturday’s immediate rematch between Chelsea and Liverpool as the scene shifts to Stamford Bridge has the makings to be the Premier League match of the season to date.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Chelsea (5-1-0), who had their 100 percent start to the season end with a scoreless draw at West Ham United in a London derby last weekend, gave as good as they got in that regard by doing the same to Liverpool (6-0-0) in Wednesday’s 2-1 thriller at Anfield.

Eden Hazard scored the match-winner in absolutely filthy fashion in the 85th minute, taking on half of Liverpool’s defence in a weaving, marauding run. The Belgium international nutmegged Roberto Firmino and corkscrewed Alberto Moreno into the ground on the flank – jinking this way and that – before rifling a right-footed shot in the right side of the penalty area across Simon Mignolet and into the net.

“Eden is one of the best players in Europe and in the world, for sure. What he’s done today, that goal is proof of that,” said assistant coach Gianfranco Zola to the club’s official website, himself no stranger to scoring big goals while donning the Chelsea kit. “He is getting better and better. He is doing the right things at the right moment and in a wonderful way.”

This win tamped down the growing questions surrounding Maurizio Sarri’s use of midfielder N’Golo Kante, whose rise to prominence as one of the world’s best midfielders came through his usage in a holding and a disrupting role at both Leicester City and Chelsea under fellow Italian managers Claudio Ranieri and Antonio Conte.

Kante’s limitations appeared to be laid bare at London Stadium against West Ham United, who sat back in two blocks of four and prevented the diminutive France international from finding space to navigate with the ball or separation from defenders to meet crosses in the penalty area.

If Kante ventures forward like Sarri prefers, then there is a large area of open space behind him to exploit through Firmino and Sadio Mane on that left side in Liverpool’s attack. Chelsea’s potential problem could be exacerbated in that regard as regular central defender Antonio Rudiger is nursing a groin injury and his understudy Andreas Christensen was forced off Wednesday with an injury.

Sarri’s options include partnering David Luiz with veteran Gary Cahill in central defence or plugging right back Cesar Azpilicueta into the middle with Luiz and using Davide Zappacosta on the flank. These issues have made Zola’s comments about moving on quickly from Wednesday’s victory, however exciting it was, prescient.

“I don’t think it will have a big impact, to be honest,” Zola said of the win. “Of course, we are very pleased and we will go into the game with a good feeling but Saturday is going to be different.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp turned over eight of his starting XI from the side that strolled to a 3-0 victory last weekend over Southampton. The most notable change was giving midfielder Fabinho his first start since signing from Monaco last summer. His only previous appearance was a stoppage time run-out in Liverpool’s 3-2 win over PSG in their Champions League opener.

“It’s a disappointment, but we don’t have much time to reflect on it and have to go forward,” Mignolet told Liverpool’s official website as he is expected to give way to No. 1 Alisson for this match.

“There is not much time to pick ourselves up, but I don’t think you can prepare for it any better than facing the opponent three days before. We have to learn from it, try to do better and then hopefully get the three points at Chelsea on Saturday.”

The other positive for Liverpool in personnel was central defender Dejan Lovren making his season debut and playing the full 90 minutes. Lovren, who helped Croatia reach the World Cup final, had a conservative rehabilitation from a muscle injury following his return from Russia and partnered with Joel Matip while regular first-choice options Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez were rested.

Van Dijk was forced off early in the second half against Southampton with a rib injury and did not practice Thursday, while Mane and midfielder James Milner also were held out.

Klopp did not seem overly broken up about his first loss of the year in all competitions, though Liverpool do have the chance to win their first seven games in a season for the first time in the Premier League era. It also appears he took some mental notes from the match, noting there are things his side will have to do better to maintain that 100 percent start in league play.

“They were not really a big threat, I would say,” said Klopp, whose team held a 1-0 lead through Daniel Sturridge’s goal just before the hour. “More and more we got used to it. The first half was good and the second half started well. We scored the goal and could have scored before.

“We played much calmer football, which is another thing we could have done in the first half already because against such a dominant side like Chelsea, in the moments when you have the ball then you need to dominate them. Otherwise you give them the ball and they start again with all the trouble. You have to get that.”

Mane, Salah and Firmino have combined for 10 goals in all competitions thus far, with Sturridge making the most of his limited playing time with three markers as well. Liverpool’s defence has been virtually airtight on the road, conceding just once in three matches in victories over Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

While Liverpool are 2-7-6 in their last 15 matches against Chelsea in all competitions, both matches came in league play and at Stamford Bridge. The Reds will again try to record their first clean sheet against the Pensioners since a 2-0 League Cup win at Stamford Bridge on Nov. 29, 2011, as Wednesday’s loss marked the 17th straight match they conceded to Chelsea.

Olivier Giroud’s goal for Chelsea just after the half-hour separated the two sides in last season’s corresponding fixture. The France international has six goals in 12 lifetime matchups versus Liverpool.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are slight favourites at 7/5 odds, with Chelsea close behind at 17/10. Oddsmakers are expecting an outcome in either direction, with the drew lagging decisively behind at 5/2 odds.

Goals are expected in this contest as well, Liverpool are 12/5 favourites to win with an outcome of more than 2.5 goals. Chelsea get a 29/10 on a victory with that glut of goals, followed by draws of 0-0 and 1-1 with 12/5 odds. A Blues victory by a 0-0 or 1-0 scoreline has 13/2 odds.

Salah is the top option to open the scoring at 4/1, with in-form Sturridge and Hazard joint-second at 11/2 odds. Chelsea’s options at striker — Giroud and Alvaro Morata — are both 6/1, while Salah’s supporting crew — Mane and Roberto Firmino — are 7/1 and 13/2, respectively.

The Egypt international is close to even money to score in this match, leading the way at 6/5. Hazard edges out Sturridge for second at 17/10 compared to the Liverpool striker’s 7/4 return. Morata and Giroud are again paired together, this time at 15/8, with Firmino at 2/1 and Mane 5/2.

PREDICTION

The temptation is that there is a lot to unpack for both teams in the 96 hours between kickoff for the second match between these teams, but let’s try to avoid that for a moment or two. Yes, let’s recognise Hazard’s moment of brilliance for what it is because it was just that — a scintillating individual effort that left jaws and Liverpool defenders’ jockstraps on the floor, a beaten keeper in Mignolet, and a fourth-round date in the Carabao Cup as a reward.

But the bigger picture is where does Chelsea go from here. After the draw against West Ham United, Sarri did his best to play down expectations for this week, noting to The Times that Liverpool’s side as currently constructed is at least one year ahead of where Sarri feels Chelsea are. Both teams had fairly overturned rosters for this match compared to their league lineups, which led to Zola’s comments about the win likely to be quickly forgotten.

This will be “a thinking man’s game,” one where professional fouls will take place, one where veterans with tactical nous will find those precious centimetres and half-metres of space that allow a through ball to find a hole or a better shot that goes from being deflected by a defender to on frame. Yes, there will be blood and thunder in which someone’s athleticism could lead to another magical moment like the one Hazard provided Wednesday, and it is possible the stakes will be so high someone will succumb to the red mist in a moment of madness, but this match will also be about pure football in both directions.

One key to the game will be how Liverpool press or contain Jorginho. Chelsea funnel their offence through the Italian, but he is also a deep-lying midfielder. The argument can be made that plays into Liverpool’s strength of high pressing through Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita. It’s not about limiting Joringho’s touches since he will get them. It’s about limiting his options to move the ball forward.

This will also be a monumental challenge for Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold since Hazard will be marauding down the left flank for Chelsea. For all the talent Alexander-Arnold has, he also has shown the tendency to be caught out at times. The youngster has improved over the past month, not picking up a yellow card in his last four matches after getting booked in each of the first three, but there is no doubt Chelsea will test him early and often.

There is also the mater of the No. 1 keepers, both of whom where held out Wednesday and were spectators. Kepa Arrizabalaga has yielded just two goals in his last five starts since Chelsea’s chaotic 3-2 win over Arsenal last month, and Alisson has allowed two goals in his six league wins and four overall. Neither keeper is under immense pressure, but this will be Alisson’s first match in a true hostile venue since arriving at Anfield, and it will be interesting to see how the Brasil international responds.

There is not much separating these teams — Wednesday’s 90 minutes proved that given the superlative effort Hazard had to produce to create that thin margin. Klopp thinks he saw his team grow throughout the match adjusting to Sarri-ball, he’s going to find out quickly at the Bridge on Saturday.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 1, Liverpool 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)
Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)

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.

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-1) vs. Liverpool (4-0-0)

(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.)

They are sides cut from different clothes seeking a similar end game: A Premier League title and with a little bit of luck, Champions League glory.

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur kick off the fifth match day Saturday at Wembley Stadium in a mouth-watering clash of top-five sides set to embark on their respective European adventures.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Reds (4-0-0) are atop the table on the maximum 12 points, ahead of resurgent Chelsea and surprise package Watford on goal difference. Their run to the Champions League final last spring emboldened the franchise to end a silverware drought now in its seventh season since winning the 2012 League Cup as they spent the summer spending the kitty from Philippe Coutinho’s sale to Barcelona.

The primary goal was to find a goalkeeper with the mental fortitude to go with the elite physical shot-stopping skills needed to challenge the league and continent’s best clubs. The other was finding players to fit Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing style.

Both have meshed well as Liverpool have conceded once thus far, and that goal was a howler by their £65 million man between the sticks – Alisson. The Brasil international may be too confident with the ball at his feet, as he was caught out trying to dribble around Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho, who dispossessed him and set up the goal that made that 2-1 victory a fortnight ago more nerve-wracking than needed.

It may be the only blemish for a Liverpool team which boasts a lethal attack in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. The trio have accounted for seven of the team’s nine goals, and Mane is joint-leader in the Premier League on four with Fulham’s Aleksander Mitrovic.

Heading into a Champions League group that has a staggering amount of firepower in France’s Paris-Saint Germain, paced by Alisson’s compatriot Neymar and France starlet Kylian Mbappe, and Italy’s Napoli boasting scorers and playmakers in Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insgine and Marek Hamsik, both attack and defence – along with depth – are going to be needed for the Reds to have the kind of season they envisioned with their aggressive summer spending spree.

“I’m looking forward to the game against Tottenham, especially now because in the next few weeks we have a lot of games, a lot of good games, difficult games,” forward Xherdan Shaqiri told Sky Sports, fully expecting to see more playing time than the 27 minutes he has logged thus far as Liverpool begin chasing titles on three fronts when including the Carabao Cup. “But we will try to keep our good performances and I hope we can win a lot of games.

“We train hard every day. You can see that there is a lot of quality in our team and we are hard-working every day. And competition in football is also good for the players.”

Klopp made only one change to his XI over the last four games, and that was introducing Jordan Henderson into the midfield after 2017 signing and newcomer Naby Keita started the first three matches while the England international rested following World Cup duties. The biggest outfield signing Liverpool made this summer – midfielder Fabinho at a £39 million price tag – has yet to play a single minute, but that is expected to change in either this game or Wednesday’s Champions League opener versus PSG.

“My start has been good and the adaptation good. The pre-season was very good, we had nine friendlies and I played nine,” Fabinho told Globo Esporte.

“It was good to play against English teams to see what the rhythm, the intensity and the physique is like. I am adapting to the team’s style of play. The more experienced players have helped me, the technical team as well.”

Dejan Lovren remains the lone injury absence as Liverpool are not rushing the Croatia international to return from an abdominal injury. Joe Gomez is expected to continue his partnership with Virgil van Dijk in central defence, with Joel Matip also available.

Tottenham (3-0-1) have taken a pair of large injury hits which again calls their decision not to reinforce the squad during the summer window into question. While Liverpool spent, Spurs scrimped – they were the first side in Premier League history not to spend money in the summer window since it came to be.

As they impatiently wait to move into their new version of White Hart Lane – this was supposed to be the first match in their new digs — Tottenham believe their core is enough to bring them to new heights in Europe in a demanding group with perennials Barcelona, Italian side Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven from the Netherlands and challenge at home for their first league title since 1961.

Striker and World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane netted two goals and an assist in the first four matches, and Lucas Moura has made a full adjustment to life with the Spurs after his January arrival and paces the side with three goals. Kane and England compatriot Kieran Trippier were also shortlisted for the FIFA FIFpro World XI.

Spurs had their 100 percent start end in surprising fashion at Watford before the international break. The upstart Hornets, who are third in the table with the maximum 12 points, rallied and struck twice in a seven-minute span against backup keeper Michael Vorm as he deputised for injured No. 1 Hugo Lloris.

Vorm is going to be between the sticks for the foreseeable future, as Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino announced Thursday that Lloris would miss “several weeks” with a thigh injury suffered in their win over Manchester United on Aug. 27 that also caused the World Cup winner to miss France’s first two Nations League matches.

Spurs will also be without attacking midfielder Dele Alli due to a hamstring injury suffered while with England on international duty. It is also likely to sideline him for Tottenham’s Champions League opener at Inter Milan on Tuesday. Pochettino will likely choose between Erik Lamela and Harry Winks to fill that spot.

They do get back forward Heung-Min Son, who missed the previous three matches helping South Korea win the gold medal in the Asian Games. The title also earned Son, who assisted on both goals in the 2-1 win over Japan in extra time, an exemption from the 21-month compulsory military service all South Korean males must do before the age of 28.

The Lilywhites ended a 10-match winless spell (0-3-7) to Liverpool in all competitions with an emphatic 4-1 thrashing in last season’s corresponding fixture. Kane and Son scored in the first 12 minutes, and after Salah pulled one back before the half-hour, Alli restored the two-goal lead in first-half stoppage time before Kane completed a brace on 56 minutes.

Kane, who also had a match-tying penalty in the 2-2 draw at Anfield in February, has five goals and two assists in seven league matches versus Liverpool. Salah accounted for all three goals for the Reds against the north London side last term.

PUNTER’S NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are slight 5/4 favourites, while Tottenham check in at 19/10. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 5/2. In terms of the 2.5 goals over/under benchmark, Liverpool are 9/4 favourites with the over, and Spurs are 13/4. The intrigue also comes for those who believe this will be a goal-fest, as a Liverpool win and over 3.5 goals gets a 9/2 return, while a Spurs win over 3.5 goals is listed at 13/2 odds. The odds of a 2-2 draw is 8/1 for both 2.5 and 3.5 goals.

For first goal-scorers, Kane and Salah are joint leaders, as expected, with 7/2 odds. Despite his recent form, Moura is 15/2, behind the Liverpool tandem of Firmino and Mane, who are both 13/2. One of the more intriguing “GetAPrice” picks is Salah at 6/1 odds to get a goal and an assist in this match.

PREDICTION

Though Liverpool have not shown the rampant form of their lid-lifting 4-0 thrashing of West Ham in their other three victories, they have gotten the job done as evidenced by their 100 percent record. Everything has gone status quo for Klopp, and with both Lloris and Alli absent for Spurs, there is a better-than-average chance it will continue at Wembley.

It will be interesting to see who replaces Alli, with the most likely option Winks with a lesser likelihood of Son, who played eight games in 26 days for South Korea. Son feels like a more likely option for the final half-hour than the first hour. This will be a big game for Moussa Dembele, who gets the unenviable task of trying to stop Liverpool’s build-up through the midfield and the linkup from Milner and company to the Salah-Firmino-Mane strike force.

The “Kane is tired” trope has been trotted out ahead of this match, which seems counterintuititve since the Spurs striker did end his August goal-scoring blues in league play already and also was held out of England’s friendly versus Switzerland. But it is another chance for Gomez to shine in Liverpool’s defence. In the end, this will be another match Liverpool grind more than glide through, and a late second when Spurs hunt for an equaliser would not be surprising.

Predicted Final Score: Tottenham Hotspur 0, LIVERPOOL 2

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 4 Preview — Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)

Worth every bit the £65 million transfer thus far, Alisson looks to record a fourth clean sheet in as many Premier League matches as Liverpool put their 100 percent mark on the line Saturday at King Power Stadium against Leicester City.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The one position where Jurgen Klopp clearly needed an upgrade despite Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final, Alisson became more of a need than a want when previous No. 1 Loris Karius made two of the biggest mistakes of his professional life on in that 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid.

Liverpool (3-0-0) were fortunate Alisson and Brasil made a quarterfinal exit at the World Cup since it did not drive AS Roma’s already exorbitant price tag higher. Still flush with cash following the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona the previous winter, the Reds had no trouble spending a then-record fee for their new No. 1.

Alisson’s presence has given Liverpool the freedom from asking their keeper to not lose a match and also trusting the Brasil international to occasionally win them one. That moment came versus Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend, when Alisson preserved a 1-0 victory by pushing Pacal Gross’ header around the right post on 88 minutes.

That made it three wins in three matches with nary a goal conceded. Liverpool have never started a Premier League season with four victories on the bounce, with the last occasion in 1990 when they won their opening eight First Division matches.

“Hopefully I will keep helping the team, it is about teamwork,” Alisson said to The Times. “I have my contribution, but I am not the main (one) responsible for the clean sheets. If we do not concede, we will be close to winning because our attack is really good.

“I’m very comfortable at the club, in a great environment, with everybody pushing in the same direction to win. We’ve shown what we are capable of and, hopefully, we can keep on track.”

He also showed off his deft dribbling skills, popping a back pass from Virgil Van Dijk in the air over charging Brighton forward Anthony Knockaert before coolly playing it out from the back. It’s one of those little hints of swagger Liverpool must hold if they are to derail Manchester City’s bid to repeat as league champions.

“We feel good, but the most important thing is that we’re going to try to feel as good for a long time,” midfielder Giorginio Wijnaldum told Liverpool’s official website. “The Premier League has just started and everything can happen. We are all confident, as we were last season, but we must not look too far ahead.”

Also influential has been centre back Virgil Van Dijk. The Netherlands international has been part of 10 clean sheets in 17 league matches since his January arrival, and Liverpool have conceded just nine goals in those contests. As Dejan Lovren continues to recover from a pelvic injury, Van Dijk has formed a solid partnership with Joe Gomez, who is on the verge of a call-up to England’s national squad during the international break.

Klopp will likely keep his starting XI unchanged for a fourth straight match, though he would also prefer right back Trent Alexander-Arnold not pick up a yellow card for a fourth consecutive match and put himself on the edge of a one-match ban.

Leicester City (2-0-1) have won three on the trot in all competitions following their season-opening loss at Manchester United. Claude Puel played a calculated gamble in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup match versus League One side Fleetwood Town, starting striker Kelechi Iheanacho amid eight changes from a 2-1 win at Southampton last weekend in hopes of jump-starting his season.

It worked as the Nigeria international bagged his first goal of the season and hit the woodwork on two other occasions in the 4-0 romp as both defender Christian Fuchs and midfielder Vicente Iborra contributed a goal and an assist.

“I am satisfied about the performance, it was a strong performance,” Puel told LCFC TV. “They were fantastic goals, they gave a good feeling for our fans, and it is important to see this kind of performance because all the squad delivered very well.”

Iheanacho is expected to lead the line once more with Jamie Vardy serving the last of his three-match ban for a direct red card. Summer signing Rachid Ghezzal continued his transition to English football from Lyon with a well-taken goal in the 71st minute in his first Foxes start.

“It’s important to keep for the quality of the team,” said Ghezzal, who came off the bench in two of Leicester’s first three league matches. “It was very important for us to make a great game, for intensity, for quality, because the players who play know they may have a long time to play another game.”

Puel is likely to stick with his 4-2-3-1, with Ricardo Pereira likely to stay advanced on the right side in front of Daniel Amartey. The two had swapped spots in the first two matches, but Pereira was more forward in last week’s win versus Southampton.

Liverpool did the double over Leicester City last season after losing 2-0 to them in the third round of the Carabao Cup. Salah accounted for three of the five goals in the wins, bagging a brace in a 2-1 victory at Anfield and the other in a 3-2 triumph in the Midlands in which Vardy was stoned on a potential tying penalty by Simon Mingolet.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are solid favourites at 2/5 odds despite being in the Midlands, while Leicester City have 13/2 odds on taking all three points. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 7/2.

For the match result plus over/under 2.5 goals, Liverpool and over is the punters’ favourite at 21/20, followed by Liverpool and the under (29/10). There is more belief in a 1-1 or 0-0 draw (24/5) than a Leicester City win and over (11/1).

Unsurprisingly, Salah leads the pack for first goal-scorers at 13/5, with Daniel Sturridge 4/1 and both Firmino and Mane at 5/1. Iheanacho is the top option for the Foxes at 17/2, followed by James Maddison and Shinji Okazaki (10/1). Salah has better-than-even money odds to score at some point during the match at 3/4, while Firmino (8/5) narrowly edges out Mane (17/10).

On the Leicester side of the toteboard, Iheanacho returns 13/5 odds and Maddison 16/5.

PREDICTION

Liverpool’s offence has been gummed up slightly the last two matches, but it has not mattered all that much because the defence has played well. Gomez in particular responded positively to the challenge Brighton presented last weekend at Anfield and while his partnership with Van Dijk may be through after the international break, he still has one more match to run.

Puel’s gamble with Iheanacho mid-week was an interesting one considering Leicester City had come off a road win at Southampton. But it paid off, and now the Nigeria international has to follow it up with another strong performance. The Foxes have a strong spine among Harry Maguire, Wes Morgan, Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy that a turnover similar to the one Liverpool created for their lone goal against Brighton should not happen, especially at home.

Not having Vardy around to hassle and harass Liverpool’s back line is going to loom large, but look for Pereira to test Andy Roberson down the right side for the Foxes. If he and Maddison can link through the middle of the park, there may be space for the Portugal wing to try and pick out Iheanacho with a cross.

This will be a tougher road test for Klopp’s side than Crystal Palace, even with the absence of Vardy, but his absence is also going to be why Liverpool continue their perfect start.

Predicted final score: Leicester City 1, LIVERPOOL 2.

Other Match Day 4 previews:

Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)
West Ham United (0-0-3) vs. Wolverhampton (0-2-1)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)
Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview: Crystal Palace (1-0-0) vs. Liverpool (1-0-0)

Liverpool looked every bit the primary contender to prevent Manchester City from a second straight canter to a Premier League title in their season opener. The Reds look to sustain that momentum Monday at Selhurst Park versus Crystal Palace.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jurgen Klopp’s team swept aside West Ham United 4-0 at Anfield on Aug. 12, showing off their new signings and taking full advantage of an Irons squad dealing with chemistry issues with so many of their new players arriving so close to the transfer deadline.

Mohamed Salah looked ready to compete for a second consecutive Golden Boot by opening the scoring, and Sadio Mane contributed a brace on either side of halftime. Daniel Sturridge added the finishing touch with a goal just seconds after his introduction in the 88th minute.

The year-long wait for Naby Keita proved well worth it as he anchored a bustling midfield that included Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner, the latter of whom was filling in for England international Jordan Henderson as he rested following his run to the World Cup semifinals.

Alisson, who was a world-record signing at the keeper position until Chelsea’s late move for Kepa Arrizabalaga, was barely troubled in recording a clean sheet in his Liverpool debut, and Xherdan Shaqiri got his first taste of Anfield life with a late runout.

“Yes, the start was good but that’s already done, if you want,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website. “The feeling around the club is good (and) a big part of that are the performances and the results we got in the last few months. That’s what we have to do again and again and again.”

While there are no worries about the offence, the defence is not at full strength as Dejan Lovren is recovering from a pelvis injury he suffered with Liverpool and aggravated helping Croatia reach the World Cup final. Joe Gomez stepped in and formed an effective central defence tandem with Virgil Van Dijk, justifying the gaffer’s confidence in the 21-year-old.

“I was never in doubt about Joe and his ability to play at centre-half … now he’s fit and he’s a very good football player, he can play the position good,” Klopp said. “Together with Virgil, they have a very good understanding – on a personal level as well, that’s really cool.”

While Gomez and Van Dijk will again start, Klopp is expected to add Joel Matip to the bench since fellow central defender Ragnar Klavan left Friday for Italian Serie A side Cagliari.

This summer’s big outfield signing – midfielder Fabinho – likely will be with the reserves for a second straight match, but the Brasil international feels he is making the proper adjustments to a three-man midfield after serving as a part of a defensive midfield pairing with Monaco before his £39 million move.

“It’s a different playing style than at Monaco; there were two of us in midfield there and here at Liverpool there’s three,” he noted. “My midfield partners have given me guidance and assistance, as have the defence. I knew my role would change and I feel I’ve adapted well. You seek guidance and help from the players around you and that has worked really well up until now.”

Crystal Palace made sure there would be no repeat of last term’s historically ghastly start by opening their season with a 2-0 victory at promoted Fulham on Aug. 11. The Eagles, who started 2017-18 by losing their first seven matches while failing to score a goal in any of them, got goals from Jeffrey Schlupp and Wilfried Zaha on either side of halftime.

Roy Hodgson’s side was sharp on both sides of the ball – nine of their 10 shots were on target and keeper Wayne Hennessey made six saves for the clean sheet – as Palace took apart a side many expected to make a seamless transition to the top flight given their flowing style of football and aggressive spending in the summer transfer window.

“It’s always the aim to get a win on your first game and from that you gain confidence to go into the next game in a positive mindet,” said right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who assisted on Zaha’s goal, to Palace’s official website. “Wayne Hennessey was superb and I want to give credit to him for how he played to get us a clean sheet as well.”

Crystal Palace also went about securing a big piece of their offense during the week, extending Zaha’s contract at Selhurst Park through the 2022-23 season with a pay packet reportedly worth £130,000 per week. The Ivorian has 44 goals with the Eagles, and the 25-year-old had been a constant subject of speculation to jump to a bigger club in recent transfer windows.

“Wilf grew up a stone’s throw from Selhurst Park from the age of four, and has been with the club since he was 12,” club chairman Steve Parish said. “This agreement is yet another example of his lifelong commitment to the club, and our commitment to him. This is an amazing day for everyone here at Palace, our supporters and of course Wilf – and is richly deserved.”

Hodgson has a fully fit squad and likely will keep his same XI from the win over Fulham. With the staggering depth in midfield, Klopp can afford to hold out Henderson for a second straight match, but it is also possible the England international supplants Milner in the middle of the park.

Liverpool did the double over Crystal Palace last season, winning both contests by one goal. Mane scored in both contests, bagging the winner in a 1-0 victory at Anfield and the equaliser in a 2-1 triumph at Selhurst Park in which Salah secured all three points six minutes from time.

The Reds have won four on the trot in all competitions at Selhurst Park.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are heavy favourites at 4/9 odds to extend their winning streak at Selhurst Park to five matches, and Crystal Park are 6/1 underdogs. There are 7/2 odds for the teams to split the points.

Salah leads the way for first goal-scorers at 11/4 odds, firmly ahead of Sturridge (4/1), Roberto Firmino (9/2) and Mane (10/1). Zaha is the top option among Palace players, albeit at distant 9/1 odds.

Salah is better-than-even odds to score for the second time in as many matches at 8/11, while Mane — who has five goals in eight career matches versus Crystal Palace — offers a solid 8/5 return on any-time goal-scoring odds. Sturridge is slightly ahead of Firmino on the pecking order at 23/20 for Sturridge over 13/10 for the Brasilian.

Zaha is again the top Palace option at 13/5, with Christian Benteke close behind at 14/5.

Plenty of people are expecting at least three goals in this match as Liverpool are even money to win and go over 2.5 goals compared to 10/3 with a win and under 2.5 goals. For those picking a 2-2 draw or higher, the return is an intriguing 12/1.

PREDICTION

Both sides have something to prove — for Liverpool, this match gives them a chance to show they can carry that blistering form from last week to the road, while Crystal Palace are out to show their win at Fulham was no fluke and that they are a team with at least legitimate mid-table aspirations.

Expect Henderson to return to the starting XI at the expense of Milner, further strengthening an already-potent midfield. Klavan’s departure to Italy leaves Liverpool dangerously thin at centre back considering Matip and relative unknown Nathaniel Phillips are now the primary backups for at least the next few weeks while Lovren recovers from his pelvic injury.

The battle through the midfield will be pivotal for any chance Crystal Palace entertain in taking at least a point for this contest. Luka Milivojevic must find places to hold possession for the Eagles, who are adept at hitting on the counter, but will be playing from reactionary and defence-first positions for most of this contest.

One interesting thing of note is that Liverpool pumped in 29 crosses against West Ham, which means they got forward fairly easily on the flanks to create scoring chances. Both left backs — Andrew Robertson and Patrick van Aanholt — are going to be challenged to avoid being pinned back, more so van Aanholt given the prolific nature of Liverpool’s attack.

Mane has proved a problem to contain for Palace and is looking to run his goal-scoring streak against the Eagles to three matches. But when one considers Liverpool’s attacking options beyond the Senegal international, Palace will wind up on the short end of this tussle for a fifth straight time at Selhurst Park.

PREDICTION: CRYSTAL PARK 0, LIVERPOOL 2

(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 in this blog.)