2018-19 EPL Match Day 21 Preview — Manchester City (15-2-3) vs. Liverpool (17-3-0)

Last season’s Manchester City side are considered one of the best all-time in English football history. Yet if the defending champions cannot at least draw current table-toppers Liverpool at the Etihad on Thursday, there is the very real chance they could be second to the Reds in history’s annals come May.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The first 100-point side in Premier League history, Manchester City (15-2-3) set a host of league records as they won the title by 19 points over eternal rivals Manchester United. Liverpool were a respectable fourth but gained plaudits by eliminating City over two legs in the Champions League quarterfinals en route to a runners-up finish to Real Madrid.

Liverpool (17-3-0) addressed their shortcomings in the offseason, most notably between the sticks with the acquisition of AS Roma keeper Alisson, and also added bargain-signing Xherdan Shaqiri as a change-of-pace offensive option. Midfield newcomers Fabinho and Naby Keita have teamed with towering centre back Virgil Van Dijk to transform Liverpool from a team who needed to outscore opponents to one who can suffocate them if needed.

“City is a game that we want to win,” Van Dijk told Liverpool’s official website. “It will be very hard, very tough, but for them as well. It’s going be a good match, but it is not a decisive game or something like that. We are not going to treat it different to any other.

“We will be prepared for a very tough game. Confidence is definitely here, but it can change over a couple of games. We won’t get carried away. We need to keep doing what we have been doing.”

Jurgen Klopp’s front-running side have conceded a league-low eight goals – eight fewer than joint-second City and Chelsea. They have recorded 12 clean sheets – already more than the 10 registered in their last serious title challenge under Brendan Rodgers in 2013-14.

Though people are quick to point out Liverpool are the only team leading at Christmas not to win the Premier League title the past nine seasons (2013-14 and 2008-09), Klopp insists his side are only focused on the singular task of winning this contest and not the reward of a seemingly insurmountable 10-point gap a victory would provide.

“We don’t think about the gap, not for a second. What we think about is 54 points – unbelievable, to be honest. That’s really strange and feels strange,” Klopp said, well aware his side are on pace to top 100 points like City did last term. “All we can do is keep going; recover first of all, that’s very important, and then prepare the next game.

“We all know, wow, Man City are a fantastic football team and an away game at City – who can go there and think ‘Probably we will win’? No team in the world, not even us. So we have to go there and try everything to get a result. That’s what we will try.”

Liverpool gained a measure of revenge against one of the three teams to hold them to a draw in the first go-round, swatting Arsenal aside 5-1 at Anfield on Saturday. After falling behind at home for the first time in league play – Liverpool have trailed at Anfield for all of seven minutes in all competitions – Roberto Firmino ended a goal drought that dated back to Dec. 5 with two goals three minutes apart. The second goal by the Brasil international was a slalom through a sea of weak Arsenal challenges before beating Bernd Leno.

Mohamed Salah set up a goal for Sadio Mane before converting a penalty in first-half stoppage time. The Egypt international then made a classy gesture early in the second half, stepping aside for another penalty attempt to let Firmino complete his hat trick. Having Firmino in form is an ominous sign for City considering the trio scored seven of Liverpool’s nine goals in the four matches between the teams last season.

Klopp will once again have to decide between using a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1. Fabinho and Keita have a good partnership as defensive midfielders, but the manager does not lack for options as he can also turn to James Milner and Giorginio Wijnaldum in a mix of potential midfield combinations.

Manchester City gained a semblance of their swagger back last time out with a 3-1 victory at Southampton on Sunday. The match swung late in the first half when an own goal by Saints’ James Ward-Prowse off a shot by Rahem Sterling snapped a tie late in the first half, and Sergio Aguero added a tally right before the halftime whistle in stoppage time.

But what gave City confidence for this match was the return of central midfielder Fernandinho, who was sorely missed in their losses to Leicester City and Crystal Palace. The Brasil international served as a disruptive force in repelling Southampton’s attacks, which in turn allowed City’s attack to pour forward with their usual menace as David Silva scored his first goal since returning from injury and his ninth in all competitions.

Aguero has been a pest to Liverpool, especially at the Etihad – the Argentina international has scored in all six home games versus the Reds for City. One goal shy of 250 for his career, Aguero is willing to give Liverpool their due but also wants his side to be true to themselves in this crunch clash.

“Liverpool’s growth as a team can be tracked from a few years back,” the striker noted to City’s official website. “Their showing in the Champions League was a testament of that, and they are performing very well this Premier League season.

“But our focus should be on our own game. We are confident in our playing style and we believe it’s the most effective to lead us to victory. There’s no denying it is a huge game for both clubs. Direct clashes between leading teams have a major impact towards the end of the season.”

City manager Pep Guardiola has some injury concerns, most notably with attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne as he was held out of Sunday’s match as a precaution with a knock. Tactically, Guardiola must figure out who he wants at left back with Fabian Delph serving the second of his three-match ban for a red card on Boxing Day.

Oleksandr Zinchenko looked out of his depth there versus Southampton, getting dispossessed on the play that led directly to Southampton’s goal. Guardiola could move Danilo from right back to left while restoring Kyle Walker to his usual spot at right back.

If De Bruyne cannot play, Bernardo Silva would likely be on the right of Fernandinho in City’s 4-3-3 set-up.

The teams played to a cagey scoreless draw at Anfield, though City let Liverpool off the hook on 86 minutes when Riyad Mahrez blasted his penalty into the crowd on the Anfield End. For all the offensive fireworks these clubs provide, both teams rarely pushed their wide backs forward as a means of neutralizing the pace of the other.

In addition to the Champions League quarterfinal sweep, Liverpool have been a bogey team for City and are 7-3-1 in the last 11 overall meetings between the clubs. The Citizens’ lone win was a 5-0 thrashing of 10-man Liverpool at home last term, with Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane bagging braces after Mane was given a straight red card on 37 minutes for a reckless challenge on City keeper Ederson.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Manchester City are even-money favourites to deal Liverpool their first loss, while the Reds are 12/5 underdogs to claim all three points and create a seemingly insurmountable 10-point gap between the sides. There are 11/4 odds on the teams splitting the points to maintain the status quo.

The scoreless draw in the reverse fixture has put no fear in oddsmakers expecting goals, with 8/15 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 6/4 odds for another such result under the threshold. There are 1/2 odds for both teams to score in this contest compared to 6/4 odds on one of them being held off the scoreboard for the second time this season.

Aguero leads the line for first goal-scorer options at 10/3, trailed by Jesus (9/2). Salah rounds out the top three at 5/1, with understudy Daniel Sturridge 11/2 and City attacking winger Sterling at 6/1. Mahrez and Divock Origi are both 7/1 options, with Liverpool attacking players Firmino and Mane are both at 15/2. City winger Sane is 8/1, and Shaqiri is a step back at 9/1.

Despite the top-draw defences of both sides, Aguero does rate better than even money to score over the course of 90 minutes with 4/5 odds, while Jesus is an 11/10 pick and Salah checks in at 5/4. Sturridge (7/5) and Sterling (8/5) round out the top five, while Origi and Mahrez are paired together at 15/8. Mane and Firmino also rate as equals at 2/1, with Sane (11/5) and Shaqiri (5/2) a step back. David Silva and De Bruyne are both 11/4 picks to bag a goal.

PREDICTION

Here is the £64,000 question: Is the scoreless draw in October between the two sides the anomaly of their last five matches or the expected outcome?

The 5-0 City rout in last season’s corresponding fixture has to be taken with an asterisk since Liverpool played nearly two-thirds of the match with 10 men and the score was only 1-0 when Mane was sent off. The reverse fixture at Anfield in 2017-18 was marked by a nine-minute thunderclap of three Liverpool goals in the second half before City frantically scrambled to get two back and nearly steal a point.

What seems abundantly clear, however, is Klopp is in the head of the usually unflappable Guardiola. There is still the lament for Guardiola not staying true to his ethos in last season’s first-leg Champions League tie at Anfield in choosing Ilkay Gundogan over Sterling and paying the heaviest of prices with a goal deficit too large to overcome at the Etihad.

In October, Guardiola was content to defuse Liverpool. The result was a dour match in which there were 13 shots combined. To put that number in perspective, consider Klopp’s team alone have attempted 13 or more shots in 14 of their 20 league contests while City have unloaded 13 or more in all but three league contests.

This time, City cannot afford to sit back. Must it be an all-out attack from kickoff? No. But there is most certainly going to be an urgency to finding a goal first. To fall behind 0-1 in this contest early could very well be game over, title race over because Liverpool can carve open any team on the counter regardless of quality of opponent.

While the above projects Liverpool to the 4-2-3-1 set-up Klopp has veered to of late in league play, it would not be all that surprising to see him revert to the 4-3-3 for two reasons. One is another midfielder — most likely James Milner if 100 percent — to help check on David Silva and/or De Bruyne should the latter be available for selection or even a start.

The second, though, is that formation lets Salah be the person who tries to run City’s left back — most likely Danilo — into the ground as opposed to having the Egypt international lead the line with Shaqiri on the wing. It also lets Klopp keep some of his powder dry with Shaqiri being the first option off the bench in the event he has find an equaliser in the final 15-20 minutes.

Also in the spotlight to a degree for Liverpool will be right back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who watched the reverse fixture from the bench as Joe Gomez got the start. The 20-year-old has quietly evolved into a solid two-way player — though it also helps Liverpool often have overwhelming amounts of possession — after picking up three yellow cards in his first three matches.

This has the feel of a match where graft may be a higher premium than skill. While every player will display it in spades in this contest, it may also be one where Aguero finds yet another way to score against Liverpool — perhaps one that restores a proper Premier League title chase.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 2, Liverpool 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 21 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (11-5-4) vs. Fulham (3-5-12)
Chelsea (13-4-3) vs. Southampton (3-6-11)
Wolverhampton (8-5-7) vs. Crystal Palace (5-4-11)
Newcastle United (4-6-10) vs. Manchester United (10-5-5)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 18 Preview — Wolverhampton (7-4-6) vs. Liverpool (14-3-0)

After arguably turning the Big Six into the Big Five, table-toppers Liverpool get a jump start on the holiday fixtures Friday night as they face a surging Wolverhampton side looking for their fourth win on the bounce.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Dominant for most of the match but still leaving it late, Liverpool (14-3-0) continued their unbeaten start and remained one point ahead of reigning champions Manchester City with a 3-1 victory over Manchester United on Sunday. Jurgen Klopp opted for his usual 4-3-3 formation to start the match, but it was his introduction of Xherdan Shaqiri in the 70th minute that made all the difference.

The Switzerland international, a bargain signing in the summer window from relegated Stoke City for £17 million, bagged a brace in seven minutes shortly after his introduction as his goals in the 73rd and 80th minutes took deflections off United defenders and wrong-footed keeper David De Gea both times.

Shaqiri has five goals in league play, and is averaging a marker every 112.2 minutes – the best mark of any Liverpool player domestically. Sadio Mane scored the other goal, providing a quality finish on 24 minutes after Fabinho lobbed United’s back line to find the Senegal international.

Klopp, though, is not dwelling on the win that increased the gap between Liverpool and United to 19 points and contributed to Jose Mourinho getting the sack Tuesday. Instead, he was full of praise for Friday’s opponents, noting how Wolves (7-4-6) have reinvented themselves to a degree after winning promotion.

“That is an outstanding project,” Klopp said at his news conference. “What they did last year in the Championship, I’m not sure that happened too often, the way they played. Usually in the Championship you go up with this kind of old-school British football; it’s a tough league and it makes sense to do it. I think the only two teams in the last few years who did it differently were Huddersfield and Wolves.

“It’s really unbelievable what they did. Then they brought in a lot of players again and it needed a bit of time so everything fits. Now they are really strong. We have (to) go there and really be at our best again. They do a really good job.”

Liverpool will again be without starting right back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is expected to be out until the new year with an ankle injury. Nathaniel Clyne is again expected to get the start there in the Reds’ back four.

Midfielder James Milner, who sat out Sunday after tweaking his hamstring in the Champions League win over Napoli, is expected to be available for selection and could even slot in at right back after Klopp used him there in Liverpool’s 4-0 win at Bournemouth earlier this month.

Wolverhampton are enjoying their first three-match winning streak in the Premier League in club history and have climbed to seventh in the table on 25 points, one back of Manchester United. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have shown they will not back down against the league’s best and have taken six points (1-3-1) from the Big Six as they complete their first go-round against the Premier League’s evergreens.

Wolves are coming off a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth last weekend in which Raul Jimenez scored in the 12th minute before Ivan Cavaleiro saw off the three points with a stoppage-time strike to finish off a counter. The new boys have won back-to-back matches at Molineux, where they are 4-2-3 in league play.

“I truly believe that you have to take things as they come – keep on going, keep on believing in the daily work that you do, the way you want to do things, how you want to play,” Nuno told the Express & Star as he praised his team for bouncing back from a rough run of results against teams below them in the table. “There were difficult moments, but we didn’t go off track. We kept going and sometimes those moments make you realise more, think more and try to find more solutions.

“The boys, clearly, their character and acceptance of things were amazing. Even bad moments can make you stronger. That is what I’m seeing now. I’m very proud.”

Wolves have one huge injury concern as Diogo Jota, who has two goals and an assist in the last three matches, is trying to shake off a hamstring injury that forced him off at halftime versus Bournemouth. Nuno could turn to teenage starlet Morgan Gibbs-White for a second consecutive start, giving the young England midfielder a surprising amount of freedom last weekend playing a three-quarters role in Wolverhampton’s 3-4-1-2 set-up.

Jimenez has also been productive of late with three goals and an assist over his last seven matches. The Mexico international is on loan from Benfica, and with each passing performance, supporters are increasingly calling for Wolves to exercise an option to buy him for an estimated £30 million.

This is the first meeting between the sides since Wolves stunned Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in the fourth round of the 2017 FA Cup as Helder Costa set up first-half goals by Richard Stearman and Andreas Weimann before surviving a late Liverpool fightback that included a goal by Divock Origi.

Liverpool are 5-2-1 versus Wolves in the Premier League era and 2-2-0 at Molineux. Wolverhampton’s lone league triumph was a 1-0 victory at Anfield in 2010.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are solid 1/2 favourites to claim all three points and keep the pressure on Manchester City to match their win. The odds of Wolves nicking a point and continuing their fine run of results against the best of the Premier League are 7/2, and the hosts have 5/1 odds to deal Klopp’s team their first league loss.

Oddsmakers are split on the 2.5-goal threshold, offering 10/11 odds on both sides of the fence. There are also better odds for there to be one clean sheet in this match at 4/5 compared to 19/20 for both teams to score.

Unsurprisingly, Mohamed Salah leads the line for first goal-scorers, with the Egypt international a 3/1 choice to give Liverpool the lead. He leads a list of seven Reds players as understudies Daniel Sturridge (7/2) and Origi (9/2) round out the top three and are joined by expected starters Mane and Roberto Firmino — both at 5/1.

The hero of Sunday’s match, Shaqiri is a 6/1 listing to create a 0-1 scoreline, and Liverpool teenager Rafael Camacho also sneaks onto the toteboard at 15/2 before Jimenex emerges as Wolves top option at 9/1. Liverpool’s Adam Lallana and Wolverhampton’s Leo Bonatini are both 10/1 options, while Jota is an 11/1 choice.

Salah is better than even money to score at 10/11, while Sturridge is just off that standard at 21/20. Origi is 11/8 to score over the course of 90 minutes while Mane and Firmino are both 8/5 options. Shaqiri is a 15/8 pick to round out Liverpool’s top six, while Jimenez (12/5), Bonatini (10/3) and Jota (15/4) are the top three picks for Wolves.

PREDICTION

The theory that Wolverhampton play better against technical sides gained plenty of steam with their win over Bournemouth, though much of their performance in this game could ride on the availability of Jota, who has enjoyed his best stretch of play this season.

Wolves also had one other huge positive from last weekend’s win as Jonny made an earlier-than-expected return from a knee injury suffered on international duty with Spain. The midfielder, who forms a potent combination with Ruben Neves on the left side of Wolverhampton’s four-man midfield, came back two weeks earlier than expected and got through the 90 minutes unscathed.

If Jota cannot go, it could mean a start for Cavaleiro or Adama Traore, though it may make sense to start Traore and give Liverpool left back Andrew Roberston something to think about with his pace.

Wolves’ four-man midfield makes the lean for Liverpool to use a 4-3-3 formation as Jordan Henderson will likely make his return in the middle of the park. It is also expected Milner will be preferred to Clyne at right back, which could make for an interesting match on that side of the pitch against Jota or potentially Traore.

As Shaqiri provides a solid option off the bench, getting Roberto Firmino on track has to be a priority for Liverpool. The Brasil international was thought to have turned a corner when he scored against Burnley and had an assist versus Bournemouth, but he was largely anonymous against both Napoli and United last weekend. Firmino could be the X-factor who keeps Liverpool atop the table as Manchester City get closer to full strength with the turn of the new year.

Klopp offered a solid amount of praise for Wolves, which means he is definitely taking them seriously, and with good reason. Wolverhampton have six of the 17 points accumulated by the “Other 14” against the Big Six opponents, and to put that discrepancy in greater perspective, consider that Southampton’s victory over Arsenal last weekend was just the fourth in 67 such matchups (4-5-58) this term.

This has the feel of a subtly cagey match, but this may be a case where Liverpool have too much firepower as well as the wide talent to shut down Wolves on the flank.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 0, Liverpool 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 18 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (10-4-3) vs. Burnley (3-3-11)
Chelsea (11-4-2) vs. Leicester City (6-4-7)
West Ham United (7-3-7) vs. Watford (7-3-7)
Everton (6-6-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (13-0-4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 17 Preview — Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)

There are two important things Jurgen Klopp has yet to do at Liverpool – lift a trophy and defeat Manchester United in Premier League play. While the Reds still have three opportunities to do the former, they have arguably the best chance during his tenure to do the latter Sunday when the table-topping Reds host Jose Mourinho’s inconsistent side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Since arriving at Merseyside in October 2015, Klopp has one win in seven lifetime matches (1-4-2) against Manchester United – a 2-0 victory in the first leg of Liverpool’s round of 16 tie in the 2016 Europa League. That was one of two continental runners-up finishes for Liverpool (13-3-0), the other coming last spring in the Champions League.

There was also a runners-up finish in the 2016 League Cup, and the absence of silverware alongside the five European championships, 18 league titles, seven FA Cups and eight League Cups since lifting the 2012 League Cup has been the one thing that has frustrated supporters.

United (7-5-4), in turn, have done a good job flustering Klopp in league play with three draws and two defeats. Liverpool have failed to score in Klopp’s three matches at Anfield versus United, suffering a 1-0 defeat to Louis van Gaal in 2016 before being held to scoreless draws by Mourinho in the last two meetings.

“In the league, I don’t remember bad results too much, to be honest, but I don’t feel we always got the right result for the performance we had,” Klopp said at his Friday news conference when asked about the overall interest in the match between the two football titans. “Last year, they had a very, very good start in the home game against us and then we more or less took over but couldn’t get the game back, so it was a draw.

Before, I don’t even remember it, but I don’t think we won a lot, so we’ll try to change that at least. It will be a very intense game and we need to be ready for that.”

Liverpool are enjoying their best Premier League start in club history and emerged as the last of the unbeatens after defending champions Manchester City lost to Chelsea last weekend. That defeat, coupled with the Reds’ 4-0 thrashing of Bournemouth, put Klopp’s side atop the Premier League table for the first time since Sept. 22.

To continue ruling the roost, Liverpool will have to show plenty of resiliency after scraping into the Champions League knockout round for a second straight year. The Reds finished runners-up in Group C after a nervy 1-0 victory over Napoli on Tuesday – a triumph and advancement preserved by Alisson’s point-blank save on Arkadiusz Milik in stoppage time.

The save by the Brasil international shows how Liverpool have come full circle in their footballing, from a swashbuckling side willing to win matches by outscoring opponents as late as last season’s Champions League semifinals to one who can deliver this type of grind-out 1-0 result with a rock-strong defence anchored by Alisson and towering centre back Virgil Van Dijk.

The combined £125 million in transfer fees for the pair have been worth every penny as Liverpool are contenders to lift their first Premier League trophy and win their first title since 1990. But the primary goal in this match is to put another three points on top of the 16 that already exist between themselves and United.

“You know what you’re going to face,” Van Dijk told Sky Sports when asked about playing United. “We have pretty good pace as well, so we don’t need to be scared of anything. But obviously we need to be aware of their danger; they have good players, especially up front.

“We need to be ready for that. But we need to play our game and make sure we are on top of them and make sure they are put under pressure.”

Klopp will have to reshuffle parts of his back four since centre backs Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are sidelined with injuries. Gomez’s versatility will be sorely missed – he also played right back – but Dejan Lovren is still a quality partner for Van Dijk. Right back Trent Alexander-Arnold is also expected to miss out with an ankle injury, with Nathaniel Clyne likely starting in his place.

In his attacking six, it is unknown if Klopp will stick to his regular 4-3-3 in which Mohamed Salah – the offensive hero against Napoli with his first-half goal – Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are across the front line, or use a 4-2-3-1 he has preferred of late in domestic play in which Salah is up front and Mane, Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri are behind him.

Salah is in blistering form with six goals in his last seven matches across all competitions, but the Egypt international, Mane and Firmino have failed to breach United’s defence for a goal in 855 minutes playing together.

While there are few as good as setting up a defence to negate an opponent’s offence as Mourinho, this United team has lurched in quality from match to match all term and arrive at Anfield on a low ebb of that range. Manchester United squandered a chance to finish atop Group H in the Champions League, turning in an insipid performance at Valencia in a 2-1 defeat Wednesday.

Mourinho rotated a good portion of his side for this contest – he made eight changes from the side that beat Fulham 4-1 last weekend as United were already through to the Champions League round of 16 – but the back four continued to be problematic as they conceded on 17 minutes and again right after halftime as defender Phil Jones had a brutal own goal in which his sliding back pass rolled right past keeper Sergio Romero.

Marcus Rashford had a late consolation goal, but with group leaders Juventus suffering a stunning loss at home to last-place Young Boys, United’s performance against a team currently 15th in Spain’s La Liga was too poor for Mourinho to not lose his cool post-match.

“I didn’t learn anything from this game. Nothing that happened surprised me,” he fumed. “I thought we were too passive in the first half. But I think fundamentally this, we wasted the first half playing too comfortable and not enough with the intensity.”

Midfielder Paul Pogba did play the full 90 minutes in his first start in three matches, but he showed Mourinho little reason to be included in the starting XI for this match. Antonio Valencia’s performance at right back also left little to be desired, and it is very possible two of Diogo Dalot’s first three starts at that spot will come against fellow Big Six opponents after the first one came against Arsenal earlier this month.

Up front, Mourinho is hoping Anthony Martial will be available after sitting out the last two matches due to injury. The France international has been United’s best performer in league play with a team-high seven goals despite logging just 787 minutes. By comparison, Romelo Lukaku – the only other player with more than three goals in league play – has six in 1,094 minutes.

Rashford, though, has been in a fine patch of form with two goals and four assists in his last four matches in all competitions. He also powered United to a win over Liverpool in the most recent meeting last term, bagging a brace in the first 24 minutes of a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

United are unbeaten in their last eight in league play (5-3-0) against Liverpool since a 3-0 defeat at home March 6, 2014. They are also 12-6-8 at Anfield in the Premier League era and 2-2-0 since a 1-0 defeat Sept. 1, 2013, on a fourth-minute goal by Daniel Sturridge.

Sturridge also recorded Liverpool’s last home goal against Manchester United in a 2-1 loss March 22, 2015, with their home drought versus United at 291 minutes in league play.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are healthy 4/7 favourites to claim all three points and remain atop the Premier League table, while United are 11/2 underdogs to regroup from their setback in Spain and begin their charge to challenge for a top-five spot. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 16/5.

Though it would surprise no one to see Mourinho set up United in a defensive stance, oddsmakers do not appear overly convinced it will slow Liverpool down much as there are 8/11 odds for more than 2.5 goals scored compared to 11/10 odds to finish under that threshold. There is even money for one side to post a shutout compared to 3/4 odds for both teams scoring.

Liverpool own the first six slots for potential first-goal scorers, with Salah leading the way at 10/3. Understudies Daniel Sturridge (7/2) and Divock Origi (4/1) complete the top three, followed by Firmino (9/2), Mane (5/1) and Xherdan Shaqiri (13/2). While Lukaku is United’s top option, it is a clear fall-off for oddsmakers at 17/2. Martial is a 9/1 option, while Pogba and Rashford are both 11/1 — just behind James Milner (10/1).

For any-time goal-scorers, both Salah (10/11) and Sturridge (20/21) are better than even money selections. Origi is 11/10, followed by Firmino (5/4), Mane (7/5) and Shaqiri (15/8). Lukaku and Martial are United’s top options once more at 13/5 and 11/4, respectively, while Rashford and Pogba again slot behind Milner, this time at 10/3 compared to 3/1 for the Merseyside’s dependable penalty-taker.

PREDICTION

The debate for Klopp between using a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 will rage right up to kickoff, but Liverpool have a chance to go for the jugular here in terms of showing their superiority over Manchester United. Thus, the expectation in this space is Klopp will go all out to turn the screws on Mourinho. That means putting a well-rested Shaqiri into the first XI and testing Shaw and Dalot on the flanks early and often through the Swiss international and Mane.

With Liverpool’s back four mainly defined by who is not available for Klopp, the midfield presents selection headaches of the good kind because the Liverpool gaffer can mix and match to his wants. It was telling Klopp trusted Fabinho enough to start him in the Merseyside derby, and that was with Everton having a far better playmaker in Gylfi Sigurdsson than any one United can offer in the middle of the park if Mourinho drops Pogba to the bench as expected.

The only potential midfielder who would be a surprise inclusion into the first XI would be Adam Lallana, otherwise, the expectation is to see Fabinho and Giorginio Wijnaldum reprise their partnership as the defensive midfield pairing.

Given how Mourinho plays pragmatically, the lineup above is arguably the most defensive route he can take and a formation that can morph into a 5-4-1 with Lukaku as the lone striker. Would it surprise anyone if he did start Pogba? Not really, but after a vanilla performance against Valencia mid-week, there is little to believe Mourinho would give him a second chance.

Given Martial’s injury issues, the expectation is he will start on the bench behind Lingard, who has been solid since picking up his play of late. Rashford right now is the best thing United have going offensively, and he must challenge Andrew Robertson at every opportunity to at least try and stretch Liverpool’s back four.

With no trophies since his arrival, this is a de facto cup final for Klopp and Liverpool. Win this match, and win it impressively, and it serves notice to Manchester City there is most certainly a title race for the final five months. Nothing less will suffice in this instance, and given United’s poor form, nothing less should suffice.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 2, Manchester United 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:

Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Tottenham Hotspur (12-0-4) vs. Burnley (3-3-10)

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.