The Premier League took a winter break, possibly for the first time in its history last week. That means that most of the sides were able to go on a break but not all. But two sides that did manage to go on a break – Liverpool (at least the first squad) and Norwich City will go head to head this Saturday, when the Premier League action resumes. Liverpool will travel to Carrow Road for a 5:30 PM kickoff on Saturday.
Norwich City are in genuine dire straits. They did go into the winter break having eked out a goal-less draw at Newcastle United. But that solitary point still leaves them 7 points from safety and at the bottom of the table. This fate in February would have seemed extremely unlikely for the Canaries at the start of the season, when they were beating the likes of Newcastle, and even Manchester City at home. Now they are faced with a 13-game run-in, where every game will seem like a must win, but the first game in the run-in is the toughest of them all as the Reds come rampaging towards the title.
Liverpool just need to win six more Premier League games (of 13) to be crowned champions. Fans who were afraid of jinxing their side’s chances early on are shedding the inhibitions and are belting out the chant of “We’re going to win the league” wholeheartedly. They have good reason for the belief. Liverpool are unbeaten in 25 games and have dropped merely 2 points in the league thus far. They genuinely have a chance of going unbeaten through the entire league campaign as no Premier League side is looking capable of taking points of them, let alone beating them. On top of their form, they are – at least their first team are – rejuvenated after the winter break. Before going into the break they beat Southampton 4-0 at home in the league and then their youngsters beat Shrewsbury Town 1-0, making it possible for the senior side to have a crack at the domestic double or even a treble (including Champions League).
- Norwich would be forgiven if they genuinely dread this fixture. After winning two of their first four Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D1 L1), the Canaries are now winless in their last 13 against the Reds in the top-flight (D2 L11). Liverpool have won each of their last six league games at Carrow Road, scoring 20 in the process and at least twice on each occasion.
- In fact, of the 359 fixtures to have been played more than 10 times in the Premier League, Norwich vs Liverpool has the highest goals-per-game average (4 per game).
- Norwich’s record against the side starting the day at the top of the table is woeful as well, with their only victory in such a fixture coming against Manchester United in November 2012 (1-0). The current points tally of the Canaries vis-à-vis the Reds’ tally gives an idea of the mammoth odds facing the home team on Saturday. Norwich are 55 points behind Liverpool. This is the 13th different Premier League game in which a side has been 55+ points behind their own opponents of the day, but none of the previous 12 occasions were played as early as February.
- Liverpool would have no such qualms. They have won 33 of their last 34 Premier League games, winning each of the last 16 in a row and keeping a clean sheet in nine of their last 10. The Reds have won as many points in 2020 as Norwich have all season so far (18).
Teemu Pukki began the 2019-20 Premier League season with a goal against Liverpool at Anfield. Since then, he has scored 10 more goals and assisted 3. An xG90 of 0.41 and xA90 of 0.14 indicate a 55% chance of him contributing a goal if he plays all 90 minutes. Pukki had a few poor fixtures during the holiday period but lately he has been back to form, scoring the winner against Bournemouth and the consolation solitary goal against Tottenham. Norwich are extremely dependent on Pukki (he has contributed 14 goals out of a total of 24 scored by the Canaries) and will be hoping that the Finn can at least cause some trouble for Klopp’s team.
Firmino’s goal tally (8) is lagging those of Mohamed Salah (14) and Sadio Mane (11), but his number of assists (7) is second only to Trent Alexander Arnold (10). More importantly, Firmino loves to score in away games. All his 8 league goals this season have come in away fixtures. Firmino’s importance to this Liverpool team is stressed often by several players and the manager, and perhaps the reason lies in his overall goal contribution – his xG90 (0.54) + xA90 (0.27), indicate a 81% chance of him contributing a goal if he plays 90 minutes. Only Salah has better numbers on this front (100%), while Mane is tied with the Brazilian. Firmino’s recent love for away goals, his previous record at Carrow Road (2 goals in the previous appearance), and Sadio Mane’s potential absence make him the key man for Klopp on Saturday.
For Norwich, Timm Klose is the only injury concern. Emiliano Buendia was only fit enough for the bench in Norwich’s 0-0 draw at Newcastle last time out, but he should come back into the XI. Ben Godfrey could also return having served his suspension and replace Grant Hanley in defence . The likely lineup for the Canaries – Krul; Aarons, Zimmerman, Godfrey, Byram; Tettey, McLean; Buendia, Duda, Cantwell; Pukki.
For Liverpool, Klopp might have one eye on the trip to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday and might affect his selection on Saturday. Sadio Mane will be hoping to be fit enough to start on Saturday but might be preserved for Madrid. James Milner and Xherdan Shaqiri are also aiming to be fit for Saturday and might also hope to play, at least off the bench. The likely lineup for Liverpool could be – Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Origi.
While Norwich have sprung a few surprises this season, they are unlikely to manage any such upset on Saturday. The league table shows the gulf that separates Norwich from Liverpool in terms of quality and form and it is very likely that it will show up in the game itself as well. Liverpool should win comfortably, even if Pukki manages a few heroics.
Norwich City 1 – 3 Liverpool