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 20 Preview — Liverpool (16-3-0) vs. Arsenal (11-5-3)

The holiday fixtures have been the gifts that keep giving to Liverpool, who suddenly find themselves six points clear atop the Premier League at the halfway point of the season.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

They look to maintain that gap and continue their unbeaten ways Saturday at Anfield against an Arsenal side encountering that first prolonged stretch of patchy play under first-year manager Unai Emery.

While no one has coronated Liverpool (16-3-0) champions – especially since they are the only team over the past decade to fail to win the Premier League when atop the table at Christmas – some of the tension that came with overtaking Manchester City has ebbed as the reigning title-holders have lost back-to-back matches in the always-demanding holiday fixture run.

The upshot for Jurgen Klopp’s side is they are seven points clear of City as new challengers Tottenham Hotspur are their closest pursuers – but still six points back of the Reds. Liverpool maintained the status quo of their best Premier League start with a clinical 4-0 hiding of former manager Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United on Boxing Day.

Mohamed Salah broke open a close game shortly after halftime when he drew and converted a penalty on 47 minutes to make it 2-0. Liverpool added some gloss to the scoreline in the final quarter-hour as Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho added markers, with the latter netting his first goal since arriving from Monaco this summer.

“A pretty perfect day for us; not a perfect performance, but a really good performance,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website post-match. “Result-wise and a lot of parts of the performance, really good.”

It was Klopp’s 100th victory at Liverpool in all competitions, but the lopsided scoreline Wednesday also gave them an equal goal difference with City. The teams play each other at the Etihad on Jan. 3 in what could very well be a make-or-break match for Pep Guardiola’s side to repeat as Premier League champions, but the Reds boss refuses to make anything more of the match at the moment with a top-five Arsenal squad serving as a precursor to that showdown.

“It means nothing. We play Arsenal and City (in our next two games), so it’s good that we have six or seven points more than other teams. But that’s pretty much all,” Klopp said about the table at the moment. “What we wanted to do all the time (was) create a situation, a basis for the rest of the season and now the first part of the season is over.

“What we said as well is that we want to create our own history. We are the first Liverpool team in the Premier League to be unbeaten in 19 matches – a little history and a nice step. (We have) conceded seven goals – all really, really good numbers. A good situation, that’s clear, but 19 games to go.”

Trent Alexander-Arnold, who assisted on Shaqiri’s goal, made his return at right back after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury. The expectation is Klopp will retain his 4-2-3-1 set-up for this match, with Fabinho and Giorginio Wijnaldum his central midfielders as he has for the last two high-profile league matches versus Everton and Manchester United. They, along with centre back Virgil Van Dijk, have been key linchpins in helping Liverpool record seven clean sheets in nine league matches at Anfield (8-1-0) while outscoring opponent 22-2.

Though he has scored just two goals in his last 15 league matches, Klopp is expected to keep Roberto Firmino in the middle of his three across since his nous and movements off the ball give Salah, Shaqiri and Sadio Mane the space to operate throughout the final third.

Salah, on the other hand, has found a rich vein of form with six goals and two assists in his last five matches in all competitions. The Egypt international is tied with Tottenham’s Harry Kane for second with 12 goals in league play, trailing only Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (13).

Speaking of Aubameyang, he too is in splendid form as his seventh-minute goal Wednesday was his third in the last two games. Arsenal (11-5-3), however, failed to build on that early marker and was held to a 1-1 draw at Brighton and Hove Albion. It was a frustrating match all around for the Gunners, who are 1-1-2 since having their 22-match unbeaten run in all competitions end at relegation-threatened Southampton earlier this month.

“I think the key to the match today was the first 45 minutes, when we controlled the match as we wanted to,” Emery explained post-match. “We scored and we had the advantage, with another two good chances for Aubameyang to get the second. Their goalkeeper saved with two good actions and from then, they equalised.

“In the second half we tried again to control the match, to create the chances, but we didn’t do that. We had control with possession but not with creating chances against them. It wasn’t enough to win the game today.”

If there was good news for Arsenal in addition to the point gained, it was holding midfielder Lucas Torreira did not pick up a fifth yellow card that would have forced him to sit out this match. Emery is still mixing and matching personnel along his back line, with Said Kolasinac and Sokratis seemingly the only consistent fixtures at left back and centre back, respectively.

By the end of Wednesday’s match, Granit Xhaka was playing centre back after serving as the base of a midfield diamond in front of Arsenal’s back four the first 70 minutes.

Though midfielder Mesut Ozil made way for Alex Iwobi at halftime, Emery said that decision was more tactical than anything the former Germany international did or did not do on the pitch in the first 45 minutes. Still, much will be made if Emery sits Ozil against a high-profile opponent as he has for the two matches against Tottenham Hotspur.

Iwobi, though, did set up Lacazette’s equaliser on 82 minutes in the reverse fixture at the Emirates in November when Emery opted to attack for the point by sending in Iwobi, Aaron Ramsey and since-injured Danny Welbeck to play with Ozil, Lacazette, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan over the final 22 minutes of that 1-1 draw.

James Milner had given Liverpool the lead just after the hour at the Emirates prior to Lacazette’s match-tying marker.

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last seven league matches (3-4-0) versus Arsenal since a 4-1 loss in 2015. The Gunners are winless in their last five trips to Anfield (0-2-3) since a 2-0 win in the 2012-13 season and are 6-8-13 there in all competitions in the Premier League era.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are commanding 1/2 favourites to continue their winning ways with another three points, with Arsenal’s form of late consigning them to 6/1 underdogs at Anfield. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 15/4.

Oddsmakers are expecting a substantial goal haul, with 8/15 odds the teams will clear the 2.5 goal threshold unlike the reverse fixture at Emirates, and 6/4 odds for a second such low-scoring result. There are also 8/13 odds on both teams scoring in this match, with 6/5 odds on at least one team posting a clean sheet.

Salah’s form has made him the first goal-scorer favourite with 3/1 odds, followed by Daniel Sturridge (7/2). Fellow Liverpool substitute Divock Origi completes the top three at 9/2, while Mane and Firmino are 5/1 options to give the Reds a 1-0 lead. Aubameyang is the top pick of the Gunners at 11/2, closely followed by Shaqiri (6/1). Arsenal striker Lacazaette is a few notches back at 8/1.

Over the course of 90 minutes, the Egypt international offers a 4/6 return on a goal, while Sturridge is also better than even money at 5/6. Origi is just off that standard at 11/10, and both Firmino and Mane are again joined together at 5/4. Aubameyang, the Premier League’s leading scorer, is a 7/5 pick to continue his goal-scoring exploits, edging out Shaqiri at 6/4. Lacazette lurks further back at 21/10, while the much-discussed and mercurial Ozil offers a 4/1 return for a goal.

PREDICTION

There are certain things about both lineups that are in a state of flux. While Fabinho and Wijnaldum have been the defensive midfield axis for Liverpool, it would not be surprising to see Jordan Henderson replace either of them in the first XI as Klopp ponders his options.

Arsenal’s four-man back for this match could wind up morphing into a five as Xhaka could sit deeper in the midfield to help Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis with the added benefit of shielding right back Stephan Lichtsteiner from the meancing pace of Mane. Since Liverpool do not have a No. 10 who can spray passes to their attacking four — the Reds are more of a possession and carry team offensively — how Wijnaldum and Fabinho deal with Guendouzi and Torreira nipping at their heels will likely shape how this match plays out.

Something else to watch will be what Klopp’s patience level with Firmino is. No one argues the Brasil international is tactically astute and the consummate teammate for all his selflessness up front. But at some point, the goals have to come. If the match is tied at halftime, would Klopp introduce Sturridge? It’s something worth pondering considering Firmino’s form.

Aubameyang and Lacazette will prove a handful for Van Dijk, who has answered almost every challenge thrown at him in the year since he made the move from Southampton. The Dutch international has comfortably combined with Dejan Lovren in central defence like he has done with injured predecessors Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, and keeping Aubameyang from finding any half-chance will be important.

For all the talk about whether or not Ozil plays, it is hard to see where Ramsey is going to impact the game aside from his tireless two-way play. If Emery is going to use all three of his defensive midfielders, it is essentially conceding the hope for a draw in which Arsenal are going to play deep and try to hit on the counter. Injuries have limited Emery’s flexibility to a great degree, but it also feels counterproductive to not have Lacazette serve as a solo striker and play more narrow to give Aubameyang and Ramsey chances to operate in the final third.

Arsenal showed plenty of bravery in taking the fight to Liverpool late in the reverse fixture, but this match appears a bridge too far for the Gunners as they become the latest team to fall to the Jurgen Klopp juggernaut.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LIVERPOOL 3, Arsenal 0.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 20 PREVIEWS:

Watford (8-3-8) vs. Newcastle United (4-5-10)
Tottenham Hotspur (15-0-4) vs. Wolverhampton (7-5-7)
Southampton (3-6-10) vs. Manchester City (14-2-3)
Manchester United (9-5-5) vs. Bournemouth (8-2-9)

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)

Champions League Match Day 4 Preview — Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)

Liverpool have the opportunity to put themselves in prime position to advance from Group C of the Champions League on Tuesday if they can complete a home-and-home sweep of last-place Red Star Belgrade.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Liverpool are atop the group on six points through three matches and also have the joint-best goal difference with PSG at plus-4. The Reds are one point better than Napoli and two better than the French side after the first set of three matches and walloped Red Star 4-0 at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp’s team put 12 of their 22 shots on goal and limited Red Star to two shots for the match.

Domestically, however, Liverpool are coming off a 1-1 draw at Arsenal that dropped them two points back of front-running Manchester City. The Reds were unlucky to have a goal chalked off incorrectly for offsides, but James Milner gave them a chance for all three points by lashing a shot past Bernd Leno just after the hour, but Arsenal gained a split of the points eight minutes from time through Alexander Lacazette.

The biggest surprise among the players named for this match making the trip is the omission of in-form winger Xherdan Shaqiri. The Switzerland international and native of Kosovo caused a stir during the Swiss’ World Cup match against Serbia when he celebrated his goal by making a double eagle gesture, which is the national symbol for Kosovo.

Klopp opted to remove all potential for a distraction with Shaqiri’s presence, which would have undoubtedly riled what will likely be a very lively and partisan Rajko Mitic Stadium.

“We have heard and read the speculation and talk about what kind of reception Shaq would receive and although we have no idea what would happen, we want to go there and be focused 100 per cent on football and not have to think about anything else, that’s all,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website.

“We are keen to be respectful and keen to avoid any distractions that would take focus away from a 90-minute-plus contest that is important for football and only football. So for that reason, Shaq is not involved and he accepts and understands this. Shaq is our player, we love him, and he will play for us a lot of times, but not on Tuesday.”

Two players who will return are centre back Dejan Lovren and midfielder Naby Keita. Keita has missed Liverpool’s last four matches with a hamstring injury while Lovren did not make the 18-man roster for the Arsenal match as Klopp opted to pair Virgil Van Dijk with Joe Gomez in central defence.

Liverpool, though, will again be without talisman and midfielder Jordan Henderson as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury as well.

While Red Star may be at the bottom of the group and suffering defensively after shipping 10 goals in the last two matches, their home form implies this will be a difficult task for Liverpool in prying all three points from the Serbian side. Red Star, who opened group play with a 0-0 draw versus Napoli, are unbeaten in their last 28 (23-5-0) at Rajko Mitic since a loss to Arsenal more than a year ago in Europa League group play.

“I said it after the first game, I saw it in that game – we were really good that night and if we would have been a little bit less good then immediately Red Star would have been in the game,” Klopp said. But, that night, we were really strong and that was good. We have to be very strong tomorrow again, football-wise.

“Atmosphere… we are from Liverpool so we know how big the influence can be. The only way I know to cool the atmosphere down is playing really good football. That’s what we have to try; to be ready for a fight and ready for a big game.

Domestically, Red Star have been imperious with just two dropped points from 15 matches and have won three on the trot since the loss at Anfield. They are coming off a 2-0 road victory over Novi Sad on Saturday. The hosts gifted Red Star a lead on nine minutes through an own goal by Aleksandar Andrejevic before Ben El Fardou Nabouhane put the game out of reach just before the hour.

While shipping just four goals at home this season, Red Star have posted just one clean sheet there in their last five league contests. Milan Pavkov and Richmond Boakeye share the team lead in league play with five goals. Nabouhane’s goal was his fourth in the Super Liga and team-best 10th in all competitions.

Though Red Star are decided underdogs for this match, manager Vladan Milojevic is hoping the side, with the support of the home crowd, can turn back the clock to their glory days of yesteryear to pull off a shock scoreline and muddle a group where no one has broken away.

“For the club, Belgrade, Serbia and the whole region tomorrow is an important occasion, and we are looking forward to a spectacle. We will try to make the best of the game,” Milojevic told a press conference.

“Liverpool are a favourite, no matter what. They are one of the main contenders to win the Champions League; the team is made to attack for the title. We need to be concentrated all the time, because every pause and the smallest little thing is immediately punished.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are decisive favourites to claim a sweep of this home-and-home set, installed at 2/11 odds to claim all three points. Red Star are 16/1 longshots to pull off the shock verdict, and even a draw seems far-fetched with 11/2 odds.

Liverpool are again expected to put up goals, getting 4/6 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals in the match. The Reds also have 27/10 odds for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline to bring back to England. There are 7/1 odds on a draw with less than 2.5 goals, and a 2-2 draw has better odds (22/1) than a Red Star victory with more than 2.5 goals (28/1) and less than the 2.5 threshold (33/1).

Despite being on the road, Liverpool have the first nine options on the toteboard for first-goal selections. Mohamed Salah leads the way at 13/5, while Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge — who could get the start over Firmino — are 7/2. Speaking of Firmino, he and Divock Origi are paired together at 4/1, followed by a parade of Liverpool midfielders — Adam Lallana, Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and Milner — all between 15/2 and 12/1. Boakye and Pavkov are Red Star’s top picks at 14/1, while Ben Nabouhane is third at 16/1.

Salah is better than even money to put one in the back of the net at 7/10, while Sturridge is even money. Firmino (6/5) and Origi (5/4) are just off that pace, with Milner an intriguing pick at 7/2 as Liverpool’s usual penalty taker. Boakye (7/2) is rated slightly higher than Ben Nabouhane and Pavkov, who are both 4/1 on getting one by Alisson.

PREDICTION

While Liverpool get a break at the weekend with a Fulham side in horrid form, this is a contest that could prove tricky. The Reds are nearing the end of an exhausting stretch of matches that included two high-intensity league contests versus City and Arsenal around the first win over Red Star.

The decision to leave Shaqiri behind, in theory, should not make that much of a difference given the depth in attack Klopp has, but lineup selection could make this too clever by half. There has been talk of Firmino being dropped for Sturridge — the Brasil international has one goal in his last nine matches (though he nearly had one against Arsenal) — and could be in need of a break. Liverpool have looked slightly fatigued, and the international break is coming at an ideal time.

Red Star will likely come out aggressive in the first half-hour, but the challenge will come after that to maintain that energy the final hour. The Serbian side are obviously a different one at home than on the road, but the gulf in class was clearly evident in both the reverse fixture and at PSG where they shipped six. Expect more resiliency from Red Star, but ultimately, the same victor.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Red Star 0, Liverpool 2.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 4 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1, -3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)
Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)
Manchester City (2-1-0, 6, +4) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, 2, -3)

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)

 

2018-19 EPL Team-by-team previews: Liverpool (August 3)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 17th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page.)

LIVERPOOL REDS

Manager: Jurgen Klopp (Hire Date: Oct. 8, 2015)
Tenure Length: 5th/20 in Premier League and 14th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 21-12-5, 75 points, 4th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 84
2017-18 Goal Difference: plus-46
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League and/or First Division: 57 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 1962
Last Relegation: 
1954 (First Division to Second Division)
2017-18 Champions League: Runner-up (Real Madrid)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Third-round loss (Leicester City)
2017-18 FA Cup: Fourth-round loss (West Bromwich Albion)

2017/18 REVIEW

Liverpool opened its season with a rollicking 3-3 draw at Watford in which it rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits only to be pegged back in second-half stoppage time. The Reds then ripped off four straight wins, including a home-and-away sweep of Bundesliga side 1899 Hoffenheim by a 6-3 aggregate to advance to the Champions League group stage proper.

Jurgen Klopp’s team went into the international break on a sensational high after waxing Arsenal 4-0 as both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino each had a goal and an assist. But any dreams of grandeur were quickly tempered coming of the recess after a 5-0 thrashing administered by Manchester City, though the match swung on a red card to Sadio Mane in the 37th minute.

Liverpool opened group play with a 2-2 draw at Anfield versus Sevilla, its defence again called into question while Firmino missed a penalty that could have put the match out of reach. It was part of a seven-match spell in which the Reds won just one game but also lost just one — getting bounced by Leicester City in the second round of the Carabao Cup and avenging the defeat four days later on the same Midlands grounds as Simon Mingolet made a penalty save on Jamie Vardy to preserve a 3-2 scoreline.

Liverpool had another pair of draws around the October break versus Newcastle United and Manchester United before drilling Slovenian side NK Maribor 7-0 to record the largest English football away win in European competition. The low point of defender Dejan Lovren’s season came in Liverpool’s 4-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur in which the Croatia international was responsible for two goals and was pulled by Klopp on the half-hour.

Liverpool found its groove after that match, going unbeaten in 18 matches (13-5-0) across all competitions. The draws were not without some anxiety, though, as Alberto Moreno had a miserable time as Liverpool threw away a three-goal second-half lead in a draw at Seville in Champions League. That followed a draw against Chelsea in which Salah scored against his former team only to see the Reds pulled back late on a goal by Willian.

The Reds finished atop their Champions League group in style by flattening CSKA Moscow 7-0 in their final group match as Philippe Coutinho had three goals and James Milner had three assists. That led into the first Merseyside derby of the year, which played to a 1-1 draw as Liverpool put just three of its 23 shots on target and Lovren conceded a penalty that led to the Toffees’ equaliser.

Despite the lengthy unbeaten streak, the likelihood of Coutinho moving onto Barcelona in the January window became more apparent as the Catalan side repeatedly increased its offers for the Brazil international after each rejection from Liverpool. Still, the Reds marched on, playing a wild 3-3 draw at the Emirates against Arsenal during the busy fixture period in which the Gunners scored all three of their goals in a five-minute span of madness before Firmino rescued a point.

The excitement of the announcement that defender Virgil Van Dijk finally broke free from Southampton on a £75 million move was tempered the following week when Coutinho made his inevitable departure from Anfield. In the end, £142 million was a figure Liverpool could accept as Salah continued his blistering scoring pace.

The last two matches of the unbeaten streak were wins to savour — a 2-1 victory over eternal rival Everton in the third round of the FA Cup and then a 4-3 triumph over Manchester City that also marked the eventual champion’s first loss in league play. Firmino, Salah and Mane scored nine minutes apart to create a 4-1 lead before Liverpool held out after conceding two goals late.

While a letdown was not surprising, the shock 1-0 scoreline at Swansea City that Van Dijk contributed to with an error still banged around for a few days as arguably the biggest single-match upset all season. The hangover continued with an FA Cup exit at a similar relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion, but the streamlining of the schedule coupled with Man City’s dominance meant Liverpool could focus on Champions League play.

The Reds waxed FC Porto 5-0 on the road in their first-leg Champions League round of 16 tie, rendering the scoreless draw for the second one moot after a scoreless draw. There was a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford, but before dispatching Watford 5-0 on St. Patrick’s Day, Liverpool learned it would face Man City in the Champions League quarterfinals.

While much was made of Man City’s bus being subjected to the animated Liverpool supporters en route to Anfield, there was also no doubt Liverpool was the better side on that day with a clinical 3-0 beatdown of the champion-elect. Taking full advantage of the Anfield cauldron and Pep Guardiola’s inexplicable decision to start Ilkay Gundogan over Raheem Sterling, Klopp’s charges ran riot in the midfield in the first half-hour as Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mane all scored before a composed defence provided a needed clean sheet.

Another draw in the Merseyside derby, this one 0-0 at Goodison Park, ran Liverpool’s unbeaten streak against the Toffees to 17 matches in all competitions, but the second leg at the Etihad loomed soon after. City gave itself an early lifeline through Gabriel Jesus in the second minute, and Liverpool bent repeatedly but never gave up the second goal — though one was disallowed — that could have resulted in the floodgates opening.

Salah delivered a needed away goal in the 56th minute, and Firmino finished City off in the 77th as Liverpool advanced 5-1 on aggregate. The Reds were also doing their part domestically to ensure a top-four finish as both Chelsea and Arsenal fell off the pace, trying to fend off Spurs for third.

The Champions League semifinal pitted Liverpool versus AS Roma, and once more the Anfield cauldron proved intimidating for 70 minutes as both Salah and Firmino had braces bookending Mane’s goal, but the Italian side pulled two goals back in the final 10 minutes to ensure there would be a proper second leg in Rome.

Mane and Wijnaldum scored around a Milner own goal in the first 25 minutes, but even at 7-3 on aggregate, Roma refused to capitulate. The Giallorossi pulled within 7-6 after a penalty deep in second-half stoppage time, but there finally was no more time for Roma to pull off one last miracle, and Liverpool had advanced to its first Champions League final in 11 years.

The Reds wrapped up the Premier League season in fourth place for the second straight year, and it was the first time they topped 70 points in back-to-back seasons since 2007-08 and 2008-09. Liverpool, though, was also 25 points adrift of champion Manchester City.

Real Madrid stood between Liverpool and its sixth European title as the Spanish side was seeking its third consecutive Champions League title. For nearly the first half-hour, the Reds were on level terms with the defending champions, then disaster struck as Salah got tangled up with Madrid defender Sergio Ramos. Depending on the point of view, it was either an awkward collision or Ramos, no stranger to the dark arts, angled his body in such a way to make Salah bear the full weight of the fall on his shoulder.

The Egypt international tried to play through the pain, but a short while after the injury, it was clear he could not continue. The image of him tearfully walking off the pitch lingered, and the match slowly titled in Madrid’s favor.

Keeper Loris Karius committed a terrible blunder to gift Madrid its first goal in the 51st minute as Karim Benzema stuck out his boot and deflected Karius’ throw before it agonisingly rolled into the net. Liverpool would draw level four minutes later through Mane as he tapped in Lovren’s header off Milner’s corner kick.

Madrid, though, would not be denied on this day. Gareth Bale, who entered the game as a substitute, reclaimed the lead for Los Blancos with a tremendous bicycle kick in the 63rd minute. Already with one howler to his credit, Karius — who in all likelihood played most of the match with a concussion after taking a shoulder from Ramos during a Madrid corner early in the contest — then flubbed a swerving 40-yard shot by Bale into the net seven minutes from time to complete the 3-1 scoreline.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Liverpool Lineup.png

Quick note, the numbers for Alisson and Fabinho are guesses based on what is available on the roster. While there are four new signings, only three of them are going to make the cut for the starting XI (Sorry, Xherdan Shaqiri). The two obvious changes are between the sticks, where Alisson supplants Karius, and in the midfield, where Naby Keita makes his long-awaited Liverpool debut after signing with the team before last season, and Fabinho was somewhat of a surprise addition this summer after coming over from Monaco.

The talent, though, oozes throughout the pitch. Van Dijk will have his first full season in Anfield, and while Lovren took his lumps last season, he should enter this term full of confidence after helping Croatia reach the World Cup final. Henderson was a key component of England’s World Cup squad that reached the semifinals before losing to Lovren and the Vatreni, and Alexander-Arnold will set out to prove his meteoric rise that included a trip to Russia with the Three Lions was no fluke.

It says something that Andrew Robertson could be considered the weakest link on the team, and he is anything but that at left back.

Fun fact: All three of Liverpool’s projected forwards in this starting XI scored in the World Cup as Mane netted a goal for Senegal in group play and Firmino potted one for Brazil while coming off the bench in four of the Selecao’s five matches.

The signings also give Klopp plenty of depth in the midfield as Milner, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum can all provide support in the forms of being cup and Premier League regulars while stepping in during the early part of the season.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

While saying all the right things about Karius in the summer, Klopp knew he had to get a new No. 1 for this season to make any realistic challenge at Manchester City. Alisson was the best keeper available, and despite the £65 million price tag to pry him from AS Roma, the Reds are somewhat fortunate he did not have a standout World Cup — note, Alisson did not have a bad World Cup — and did not have to pay that premium after the Selecao lost to Belgium in the quarterfinals.

Keita had a solid final season with Red Bull Leipzig, totaling eight goals and seven assists in all competitions and got a taste of Champions League for the second time in his career.

While Fabinho’s signing was a bit of a surprise, and he will have plenty of motivation to impress after not making Brazil’s World Cup roster, Xherdan Shaqiri’s signing is an intriguing curiosity. The Switzerland international had a goal and an assist in helping his side reach the round of 16 at the World Cup, and while he is behind Salah in the pecking order on the right side, the Egyptian’s room to roam means Shaqiri can be a devastating 30-minute sub from his favored right side or be used as a rotation player to keep others fresh.

A relative bargain of a signing at £13.5 million after Stoke City was relegated, Shaqiri could wind up with a surprising goals per 90 minute average if utilised correctly.

In the other direction, midfielder Emre Can moved to Juventus on a free transfer, while backup keeper Danny Ward — who dropped to No. 4 in the pecking order with Alisson’s arrival — joined Leicester City on a £12.5 million move. Ben Woodburn was loaned out to Sheffield United, and there is talk No. 3 keeper Simon Mingolet could move to Barcelona.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Mohamed Salah (F)

Forty-four goals in all competitions, including a record 32 in the Premier League made the world sit up and take notice of the Egypt international.

Silky smooth on the ball, an adept finisher in any style you like, Salah was more than the linchpin of Liverpool’s offence, he was the Swiss Army knife because he could pop up anywhere in the attacking third and find a way to score a goal. He had eight match-winners in league play and put nearly half of his shots on target in the back of the net.

That is some ruthless efficiency.

Expected to be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that coast him Egypt’s World Cup opener while still scoring two goals for the Pharaohs in their other two matches, the only real concern for Salah is fatigue/burnout from the cumulative long season when including Champions League play and the World Cup.

Defenses will obviously key on him, but there is still so much offensive firepower on the Reds that step back in goal haul may be negligible. The bigger short-term concern is how quickly he gets a read on new midfield teammates Keita and Fabinho as the attacking six look to wreak havoc and misery on opponents.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool is the second-choice favorite to win the Premier League at 4/1 odds and has 2/9 odds on repeating a top-four finish for the third straight season. The Reds also have 4/1 odds to be at the top of the table on Christmas Day and 3/1 odds on finishing outside the top four.

Salah is a 4/9 favorite to finish as Liverpool’s top scorer, with Firmino (4/1) and Mane (6/1) rounding out the top three. For the Premier League’s Golden Boot, Salah is second-choice at 5/1 odds behind Tottenham’s Harry Kane, and Firmino is eighth on the list at 20/1.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 12 — West Ham United (13th) H
Aug. 20 — Crystal Palace (11th) A
Aug. 25 — Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) H
Sept. 1 — Leicester City (9th) A
—————-
April 20 — Cardiff City (N/A) A
April 27 — Huddersfield Town (16th) H
May 4 — Newcastle United (10th) A
May 12 — Wolverhampton (N/A) H

OUTLOOK

Will it be enough? That is the question which will trail Liverpool all season. Will the signing of Alisson be enough to help Liverpool get back to a Champions League final for a second straight year? Will Keita’s long-awaited arrival and Fabinho’s surprising signing be enough to strengthen the spine of a team that, while inconsistent at times, still allowed only one goal per game in league play? Will Shaqiri’s influence on the wing provide enough offensive diversity?

Liverpool’s mayhem-inducing, high-pressing style gives it the shortest distance to make up among the Premier League teams chasing Manchester City — remember, the Reds beat them three out of four times in all competitions last season — but 25 points is still a large gap to narrow. That’s not to say it cannot be done, but Liverpool will need the same rub of the green it got last season in Champions League play to follow it into domestic play.

How Klopp shuffles his players in the early going as players recover from World Cup summers will be something to watch. This is the first time Liverpool is playing back-to-back Champions League seasons since a six-year run from 2004-10, and the World Cup compresses recovery time further.

But the good news is Liverpool has both a favourable run-out and perhaps the best run-in of any title contender in the event it needs to make up ground in the final four matchdays. Of that ending quartet, only away to Newcastle United appears to be a tricky test, and the other three teams could be facing relegation.

There are teams that are good stalkers and teams good at being stalked. Liverpool is a perfect example of the former, and the Reds have a perfect foil in Manchester City as the latter. This time around, there should be a title race.

PREDICTED FINISH

2nd place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City