2018-19 EPL Match Day 11 preview — Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)

They may only be four dropped points, but who Liverpool dropped those four points to raises questions about whether they can reel in Manchester City and win their first Premier League title. The Reds seek their third league win on the bounce Saturday against an Arsenal side eager to prove they are worthy of their current top-four status.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Liverpool (8-2-0) are tied with Manchester City atop the table on 26 points but trail the reigning champions on goal difference. With the Citizens imperious on both sides of the ball – they have scored a league-best 27 goals while conceding a league-low three – every Reds result is being dissected and scrutinised to the nth degree.

That is why no one is really overly excited with Liveprool seeing off Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City by 1-0 and 4-1 counts, respectively, around a Champions League rout of Red Star Belgrade. But the win over the Terriers brought back some of the Liverpool of last season, the team who would hunt for goals at every opportunity, and more often than not, cash in.

Sadio Mane had a second-half brace while Mohamed Salah showed a vintage form from last term with a goal and two assists. Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench scored the victory-ealing goal, continuing a run that has seen him total two goals and two assists in his last four matches in all competitions.

Moving the Swiss international to the right side of the midfield as opposed to forward on the right wing has allowed Liverpool to better utilise the pace of their strikers and Shaqiri’s creativity. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp held him out of the lineup mainly to guard against fatigue after being extensively used by Switzerland during the international break, but that might not be happening again anytime soon.

“Shaq came in and was involved I think in two nice goals, that’s always good. That made it so hard to leave him out for that game, only you have to think a bit about it whether it’s really the right thing to do,” Klopp explained to Liverpool’s official website. “We don’t know Shaq long enough and good enough to know how he reacts. Not performance-wise, that’s not important, (but) sometimes you have to protect players until you know them a bit better.”

With Mane and Salah both firing and sharing the team lead with seven goals across all competitions, all that is left is for Roberto Firmino to join in the goal-scoring. The Brasil international has just one goal in eight matches in all competitions since bagging the winner in Liverpool’s Champions League opener versus Paris-Saint Germain on Sept. 18.

While Liverpool’s strike force is in fine form even with Mane and Salah dealing with hand injuries, the engine room is a concern. Midfielders Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita are unlikely to play due to hamstring injuries, though the long-awaited emergence of Fabinho has alleviated some of those concerns.

Klopp opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation against Cardiff in which the Brasil international teamed with Georginio Wijnaldum as holding midfielders. If he returns to his base 4-3-3, the midfield would likely feature James Milner in the middle of the park flanked by Fabinho and Wijnaldum.

The only other area where there is a selection issue is at left back, where Klopp gave Alberto Moreno his first league start last weekend while resting Andy Robertson. Given Arsenal’s issues at right back, it would seem likely the Scotland international will be restored to the starting XI.

The right back position is the most pressing concern of the moment for the Gunners (7-1-2) whose 11-match winning streak in all competitions came to an end with a 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace last weekend. Hector Bellerin was forced off at halftime due to injury, with 35-year-old Stephen Lichtsteiner playing out of his position at right back while midfielder Granit Xhaka did likewise at left back.

Both goals Arsenal conceded came via penalties – Xhaka and centre back Shkodran Mustafi were guilty of the fouls – as they canceled out markers by Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The lack of depth on the back line is compounded because holding midfielder Matteo Guendouzi will miss this match after being sent off in Arsenal’s 2-1 Carabao Cup win over Blackpool for a pair of yellow cards.

Manager Unai Emery usually rotates Guendouzi, Xhaka and Lucas Torreira as his two holding midfielders in his 4-2-3-1 formation, and how the first-year manager copes with personnel selection for this match is anyone’s guess.

“That is football,” Emery told Arsenal’s official website. “When you are playing, when you are on the pitch, you can have things positive or negative. Like an injury, a red card or 90 minutes of hard work. With the red card, it’s like that. It’s football.

“We have a lot of players looking to play and to take this responsibility to show their performance, their quality for the team and I am going to prepare with other players and thinking that we can also have a performance for a big match on Saturday.”

One possibility is elevating central defender Sokratis into a partnership with Mustafi in the spine and moving Rob Holding out wide. Another is a possible return for Ashley Maitland-Niles, who has been sidelined the last two months with a leg fracture and before getting the start versus Blackpool last appeared for less than a half-hour in the season-opener versus Manchester City because the Citizens tried to play through him.

Offensively, the Gunners need Aubameyang to continue his purple patch of form. His goal versus Palace was his fifth in his last three league fixtures, though strike partner Alexander Lacazette has gone without a goal his last three matches overall.

It is also not 100 percent certain who will be between the sticks for this match. Petr Cech made his return after missing five contests with a hamstring injury, but it seems more likely Bernd Leno will be restored considering only one of the four goals he has allowed in the last four matches came in the run of play by an opponent.

Additionally, Liverpool have been a bogey team for Cech dating back to his days with Chelsea — the former Czech Republic international has just two wins in his last 13 starts (2-5-6) against them in all competitions and is 0-3-3 against them since joining Arsenal in 2015.

The teams played to a chaotic 3-3 draw in last season’s corresponding fixture as Liverpool took a 2-0 lead on goals by Salah and Philippe Coutinho before the Gunners struck back through Xkaha, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in a blistering five-minute stretch immediately after Salah’s marker. Firmino, though, gave Liverpool a share of the points with a goal on 71 minutes.

Liverpool routed Arsenal 4-0 in the other contest as their Salah, Firmino, Mane, and Daniel Sturridge beat Cech while the Gunners failed to register a shot on frame.

In the Premier League era across all competitions, Liverpool have 20 wins to Arsenal’s 17, while the teams have shared the spoils on 19 occasions.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are decisive favourites to leave London with three points with 10/11 odds to win this match. There are 13/5 odds for Arsenal to stake a claim to legitimacy with a victory, while there are 11/4 odds for the teams to share the points.

In a rare dip into the #GetAPrice Starman offerings, Salah at 11/2 odds to have both a goal and an assist in this contest feels like something that should be aggressively played.

Liverpool have 8/5 odds to get a victory with more than 2.5 goals scored, while the Gunners have 4/1 odds for a similar haul in their favour. The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw are 9/2, edging out a 0-1 or 0-2 victory for the Reds. An Arsenal win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count is a 9/1 longshot, even behind a 2-2 draw or higher stalemate (8/1).

The Egypt internationa leads the choices for first goal-scorers at 7/2, followed by Sturridge at 5/1. Arsenal’s strike pair of Aubameyang and Lacazette are paired together at 11/2, with Liverpool’s other forwards Mane and Firmino also a tandem at 6/1. Gunners supersub Denny Welbeck is also an intriguing option at 13/2.

Salah is even money to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Sturridge getting 6/4 odds. Despite having the better form of late, Aubameyang is behind Lacazette for any-time goal-scorers, with the France international 13/8 and Aubameyang 17/10. Firmino and Mane were again lumped together, this time with 9/5 odds to put one past Leno or Cech.

PREDICTION

First off, while there is justifiable concern Arsenal’s woes at the back line can be exploited by Liverpool, let’s not go all crazy thinking the potential replacements Emery has are some pub leaguers being called up to Emirates as if they won a lottery ticket. The Gunners do have options — granted, some of them are not great options — but Holding and Sokratis have Premier League playing time under their belt, and Julio Pleguezuelo was given 90 minutes in the Carabao Cup in the event he makes the bench for this match.

Having said that…

The rightful concern Arsenal have is there is no real place to “hide” Lichtsteiner and his lack of pace. If Emery is going to commit to having Xhaka on the left as his least comfortable playing out of position spot, that means either Mane or Firmino will be on Lichtsteiner’s side on the right. That does not even factor in Robertson probably getting the green light to bomb down the wing as long as he is cognizant of Mkhitaryan linking up with Ozil in that side.

This is a match where Torreira must put in a full shift, and to his credit, the Uruguay international has done that most of the season after Emery slowly worked him into the full-time starter’s role. How he works in tandem with Ramsey will be vital because Milner is very crafty in the middle of the park and highly judicious in his pressing to create the turnovers that led to Liverpool’s quality scoring chances.

One key advantage Klopp has is a personnel and tactical flexibility, which is remarkable considering both Henderso and Keita are not likely to feature in this contest. He can revert to the 4-2-3-1 set-up that worked so well last weekend versus Cardiff City or he can keep the 4-3-3 he has used most of the season. The decision to use Gomez at left back over the youngster Alexander-Arnold is a simple one similar to the match against Manchester City and also out of respect for Aubameyang’s form.

It is somewhat difficult not to label this a “must-win” for Liverpool given City’s form at the top of the table with them. The Reds made up two goals of difference last weekend between the two sides’ victories, which leaves them eight back in difference and seven in goals scored. In some ways, it is similar to Liverpool’s late chase of City in 2013-14, the only difference is this will happen over the next 28 matches and Klopp still has time to be judicious about when to unleash the hounds.

This is a good meausring stick for Arsenal to see the ground they have covered in raising their play since opening the season with losses to City and Chelsea. This is their first match against a “Big Six” side since those two defeats, and while the thinned-out defence corps will make judging that overall quality more challenging, it will at least be interesting to see how Emery responds to that dilemma in both personnel and tactics while being a decided home underdog.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 1, Liverpool 3.

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)
Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

 

Champions League Match Day 3 Preview — Liverpool (1-0-1, 3, 0) vs. Red Star Belgrade (0-1-1, 1, -5)

Liverpool look to strengthen their chances of progressing to the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year as they host Red Star Belgrade at Anfield on Wednesday night in a Group D clash.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Reds are currently in second in the group, one point behind Napoli after splitting their first two group matches. Liverpool’s last Champions League contest earlier this month was arguably the worst match they played all season, a listless affair in Napoli that ended with a 1-0 defeat on a goal by Lorenzo Insigne in the 90th minute.

That loss was part of a brutal four-match gauntlet in which Liverpool played a pair of high-quality matches against Chelsea, getting dumped out of the Carabao Cup and salvaging a draw in league play, and a high-pressured scoreless draw at home versus reigning champions Manchester City.

The Merseysiders looked sluggish coming out of the international break, recording a 1-0 victory at Huddersfield Town on Saturday to stay level with City on points, albeit with an inferior goal difference, and central defender Virgil Van Dijk knows his side must improve to stay in the thick of things in Group D.

“We need to win every game. There is basically no other mindset,” the Dutch international told the club’s official website. “It’s another Champions League night at Anfield and I’m sure we will recover from Huddersfield and make sure we are ready.

“You are not going to dominate every game and play well every game but considering how we played it was a great result to keep a clean sheet. That’s all good but we could have done a bit better, perhaps made it easier for ourselves.”

Mohamed Salah accounted for the offence with a first-half goal, giving Liverpool supporters one less thing to worry about after ending a four-match scoreless drought with his first tally since Sept. 22. The Egypt international, though, is still a long ways off last season’s blistering pace in which he racked up 44 in all competitions. Salah has four goals thus far, all coming in league play.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be re-jiggering his midfield for this match since he will be without talisman Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita through injuries. That has allowed Fabinho to make his long-awaited first start for the Reds in this game, as the £40 million summer signing from Monaco has been brought along slowly — he made his first Liverpool appearance in the final minutes of their win over PSG in their Champions League opener, then his first start in the Carabao Cup loss to Chelsea, and then his Premier League debut Saturday versus Huddersfield Town as a substitute.

“He has all the qualities; hard challenges, good offensively, good defensively, quick, good shooter, fantastic set-pieces, good header – all these things,” Klopp said of Fabinho while saying the Brasil international can follow the same path left back Andy Robertson took in becoming an integral part of Liverpool.

“Strategic too, he is good strategically in the right moment. But it’s been a different system. We just play different and that always needs time. He’s just a fantastic addition and can improve us from a specific moment on.”

While Fabinho replaces Keita in the left side of the midfield in Klopp’s 4-3-3, James Milner will occupy Henderson’s spot in the middle of the park. One other expected change to Klopp’s first-choice XI is the introduction of Xherdan Shaqiri at right wing as Sadio Mane has just returned to practice after suffering a broken thumb on international duty. Putting Shaqiri — who assisted on Salah’s goal versus Huddersfield — on his preferred right side has moved Salah to the middle, and Roberto Firmino is likely to be on the left wing.

Liverpool have shipped only eight goals in their 12 matches in all competitions this season, but three have come in their two Champions League contests. They are unbeaten in their last nine Champions League contests at Anfield (6-3-0) and 17 overall in European play (12-5-0) since a 3-0 loss to Real Madrid in 2014.

Red Star Belgrade are the perceived weak link in Group D with Paris-Saint Germain and Napoli the other clubs in the group, and while they are in last place with one point, much of the non-pleasing aesthetics can be attributed to their 6-1 hammering at the hands of PSG in their last match earlier this month.

That heavy defeat prompted an inquiry into allegations of match-fixing, with reports originating from France newspaper L’Equipe that a Red Star official placed an $8 million bet for his side to lose by five goals. The club angrily hit out at the accusations when they were announced, releasing a statement that read: “Scandalised and disgusted, Red Star Belgrade rejects suspicions concerning the PSG-Red Star game and the implication of anyone from the club in any untoward dealings.”

The club, which won the 1992 European Cup and is making its first Champions League group stage appearance since winning that title in Bari, has not addressed the matter any further in their trip to Anfield, but it has clearly hit a nerve throughout Serbia, with even President Aleksander Vucic weighing in on the situation.

“I think that the greatest part of what they are talking about is not true,” he told reporters according to the Straits Times. The Serbian leader vowed to “examine every possibility of whether anyone and in any way could have tarnished the name of our club and our country.”

On the pitch, Red Star have won four on the bounce since their drubbing by PSG and are coming off a 3-1 victory over Rad Beograd in their first home match of October on Saturday. Richmond Bokaye had a brace on either side of halftime around a marker by Marko Gobeljic. The Serbian side have a stranglehold on the Super Liga, dropping just two points from their first 12 matches and are seven points clear.

Bokaye has a team-high five goals for Red Star, but there is balance throughout the squad as 11 players have scored at least two goals. Gobeljic, Mohamed Ben El Fardou, and Milan Pavkov have all chipped in three goals.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are the heavy choice to get their Champions League progra back on track with three points as they are 1/16 favourites. Even a draw would be considered a substanial upset at 14/1 odds, while Red Star are 45/1 longshots to pull off the shock scoreline and claim three points.

Equally impressive is the oddsmakers’ confidence in Liverpool to regain their bearings offensively as they have 2/7 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored in the match. A 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline has 4/1 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-1 scoreline returns 16/1 odds. Putting down a fiver on Belgrade on any type of victory for laughs would see an incredible return — Red Star have 80/1 odds on a win with more than 2.5 goals and 100/1 odds for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. A draw of 2-2 or higher also has an impressive 45/1 listing.

Salah’s goal against Huddersfield Town over the weekend carried some favour with the oddsmakers, who made him the 21/10 favourite to open the scoring. Daniel Sturridge is at 3/1 odds, part of a staggering 13-deep lineup of Liverpool players who have better odds to give the hosts a 1-0 lead before finding Boakye on the toteboard at 20/1 for Belgrade, which puts him level with Van Dijk.

The any-time goal-scorers also feature a lengthy list of Liverpool players expected to score in this contest as six are listed better than even money: Salah (1/3), Sturridge (4/7), Firmino and Mane (4/5), and Divock Origi and Dominick Solanke (10/11). Shaqiri just misses out at 11/10, as does Adam Lallana (11/8). Boakye is again Red Star’s top option, this time at 9/2 to find the back of the net.

PREDICTION

Klopp made an interesting analogy about the evolution of his side from high-powered offensive juggernaut to a more mature side that has sacrificed the glitz of an impressive scoreline on occasion to make sure they post a clean sheet.

“Last year our big strength was high pressing and when there were moments when they didn’t play football, it was like ‘sorry’,” said Klopp. “It’s like a dog – if you don’t give him his favourite toy and you throw something else he thinks: ‘No, I don’t want that, I want the other one.'”

Nowhere was that evolution more apparent than in their scoreless draw at home versus Manchester City. Yes, Liverpool were lef off the hook when Riyad Mahrez sent an 86th-minute penalty into orbit that could have also landed at Everton’s Goodison Park, but the Reds have taken multiple steps forward in shutting down opponents as opposed to simply outscoring them. There is a Plan B for the Reds when the gegenpress doesn’t create the desired results, and that continues to be the biggest takeaway from last summer’s loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

That and a much higher calibre keeper between the sticks in Alisson.

It may take some time for Liverpool to work through their gears in this contest with the new-look midfield pairing of Milner and Fabinho. Despite his limited minutes, his lone start came in the Carabao Cup match versus Chelsea, which was a contest played with a high degree of intensity considering it was an early round matchup in England’s third-tier cup tournament.

Also if interest is Salah playing through the middle. It got a dry run versus Huddersfield and was successful to a degree — after all, it was Shaqiri who sent Salah through for his goal. But this also has the look of a formation that can shift to a 4-4-2 given the Swiss star’s like of cutting in from the wing on the right. Firmino and Salah usually play narrow when Mane is on the pitch with them; Shaqiri’s preference to be on the wing will give both strikers the space to operate, but they must also find a balance in spacing when Shaqiri does go forward.

With all due respect to Red Star, this is a far cry from the 1973 squad that came to Liverpool and eliminated them from the European Cup with 2-1 victories in both legs. Their quality of play in those matches so exquisite that supporters in the Kop end applauded the visitors as they left the pitch. It was those chastening defeats that led to the resignation of Bill Shankly and an organisational re-boot for Liverpool that has led to the current ethos of the club, which includes playing the ball out of the back in central defence as opposed to those players simply shutting down the opponent.

There may be some flashes of that for Red Star, but they will likely see it thrown back at them more times than not through Liverpool’s spine of Alisson, Van Dijk and either Joe Gomez or Dejan Lovren depending on who Klopp opts to partner with his imposing Dutchman.

This should be a straightforward win for Liverpool, who likely will look to push the attack to make up some of the goal difference they currently have compared to PSG.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LIVERPOOL 4, Red Star Belgrade 0.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:

Manchester United (1-1-0) vs. Juventus (2-0-0)
Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-0) vs. Manchester City (1-0-1)
PSV Eindhoven (0-0-2) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0-0-2)

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 1 Preview — Liverpool (0-0-0) vs. West Ham United (0-0-0)

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

Both Liverpool and West Ham United were big spenders in the summer transfer window. While the Reds hope the money spent will at least allow them to challenge Manchester City, the Hammers have a more modest goal of stabilising themselves in the Premier League as the teams open their season Sunday at Anfield.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Widely acknowledged as the only team with better than a puncher’s chance of denying City back-to-back Premier League titles, Liverpool – who handed the Citizens three of their five meaningful losses in the 2017-18 season and eliminated them in the Champions League quarterfinals – spent over £160 million to eliminate the few shortcomings they had and add more firepower to an already-vaunted offence after finishing fourth in the table and runners-up in the Champions League.

“There’s competition everywhere. All over the pitch we’ve got two or three guys in the same position,” captain Jordan Henderson told Liverpoolfc.com. “It’s good competition. Everyone is pushing each other on in training to start. And if you don’t start you have to be ready to come and make an impact.

“I feel as though we’ve got a fantastic squad. But it’s down to us to go out and do the business.”

Liverpool (21-12-5 in 2017-18) addressed their most pressing need at keeper, signing Brazil international Alisson from AS Roma for a then-record £67 million to replace Loris Karius, whose two howlers in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid put a disappointing end to a captivating season.

Naby Keita likely will start straightaway in the midfield of Liverpool’s 4-3-3 set-up as Henderson recovers from helping England reach the World Cup semifinals. Keita actually signed for over £50 million before last season but played for RB Leipzig in 2017-18. Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum are vying for that other midfield spot that flanks James Milner.

The attacking three are as good as it gets in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Salah won the Golden Boot last season with a Premier League-record 32 goals and scored 44 in all competitions, while Firmino and Mane combined to net 47 as Liverpool adjusted to the mid-season departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona and continued to score goals at a break-neck pace.

Into this mix enters Xherdan Shaqiri, the Switzerland international who came over from relegated Stoke City for the cut-rate price of £13.5 million and is one of the best players on the right wing in Europe while capable of finishing with either foot. He and holdover Daniel Sturridge will challenge for minutes behind the aforementioned trio of stars.

The defence is anchored by centre back Virgil Van Dijk, who starts his first full season at Anfield after a protracted transfer saga prevented his arrival from Southampton until January. Van Dijk’s partner likely will be Joe Gomez since Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan are nursing injuries and Dejan Lovren is still working his way back to match shape after helping Croatia reach the World Cup final.

Though West Ham (10-12-16) finished 13th on 42 points last term, it was a season to forget as the east London side endured plenty of hardship. While David Moyes steadied the Irons after they sacked Slaven Bilic in November, supporters cared little for his style of play. During a 3-0 home loss to Burnley in March there were repeated pitch invasions as co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan vacated their chairman’s box due to the rising ire.

After two seasons at London Stadium, West Ham finally opened up the wallet and underwent a staggering makeover. It started on the touchline with the return of Manuel Pellegrini to the Premier League. The Chilean, who guided Man City to their second Premier League title in 2014 and finished no lower than fourth in his three seasons there, had been at Chinese side Hebei China Fortune.

He signed a three-year deal with West Ham in May after assurances the Irons would be aggressive in the summer transfer window, and the owners stayed true to their word as £90 million was shelled out to begin West Ham’s rise from mid-table mediocrity to something better.

The linchpin signing was Lazio right wing Felipe Anderson for £36 million, but the most pivotal one may have cost nothing. Oft-injured midfielder Jack Wilshire moved across London on a free transfer from Arsenal, and with Anderson and newcomer Andriy Yarmolenko on the flanks plus holdover strikers Marko Arnautovic and Chicharito Hernandez, West Ham have an attack that can give defences fits.

Arnautovic scored 11 goals last season but failed to tally in the first 12 matches last season, and the Austria international is determined to come out of the blocks firing this term.

“I remember how I know myself as a player and that wasn’t it,” he lamented to the club’s official website. “When I moved to playing as a striker, and seeing my statistics now I want to play as a striker, score goals and help the team. I like this position now, you feel free, always towards the goals and provide assists, it’s a good position.”

West Ham’s goalkeeping situation was calamitous last season as both Joe Hart and Adrian struggled. Adrian remains as a deputy to summer signing Lukasz Fabianski after the Poland international signed from relegated Swansea City. Issa Diop, a £22 million transfer from Toulouse, likely will pair in central defence with Angelo Ogbonna while Arthur Masauku and newcomer Ryan Fredericks operate the flanks in Pellegrini’s preferred 4-4-2.

Liverpool did the double last season, winning both matches by 4-1 counts as Salah racked up three goals, and have won three on the trot versus West Ham. Anfield has been the stuff of nightmares for the Irons, whose lone win in 23 matches in all competitions there in the Premier League era (1-7-15) was a 3-0 victory Aug. 29, 2015.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are heavy favourites at 2/9 odds, while West Ham are a clear darkhorse at 11/1. The odds of the teams splittng the points is also long at 5/1.

One outcome bettors seem to expect is at least a four-goal scoreline as Liverpool and over 3.5 goals checks in at 29/20 odds. A draw and over 3.5 goals is 18/1.

Salah is the favourite as a first-goal scorer at 12/5, with Sturridge a suprising second at 16/5. Firmino is 7/2, Mane further back at 9/2 and Shaqiri has 5/1 odds to open his Liverpool account with the first goal of the match. Arnautovic has 11/1 odds for those who fancy an Irons first strike.

Salah, Sturridge and Firmino are all even-money or better to score in this match, with Mane not far off the trail at 11/8 and Shaqiri 3/2. Arnautovic has 3/1 odds to find the back of the net, and Yarmolenko checks in with 9/2 odds as an anytime goal-scorer.

PREDICTION

Everything about this contest screams fire-wagon football, and Liverpool will undoubtedly do their best to play in such a style. How composed this new-look West Ham United side will be key to them having any chance of nicking a rare point at Anfield, but Arnautovic does have the tablesetters in Wilshire, Anderson and Yarmolenko to help stretch Liverpool’s defense.

This should be an up-and-down affair, with Liverpool having more ups than West Ham on this day.

PREDICTION: LIVERPOOL 4, WEST HAM UNITED 1