Even before Liverpool fans had completely savoured the glory of their side being crowned the Premier League champions in 30 years, the Premier League is back with a new season. Liverpool’s defence, or “attack” (as Jurgen Klopp put it) of the Premier League title begins at home when on Saturday evening they host the winners of the Championship – Leeds United, led by the seasoned and well-respected Marcelo Bielsa. The parallels do not end in the two managers being two of the biggest names in the football world. The two clubs, named after the cities they are located in, are both followed by legions of proud fans, whose decades old wishes came true last season. Both teams play attractive, attacking football and both would like to start the season strongly.
Thanks to being knocked out at the last 16 stage in the Champions League last season and that too before the Covid-enforced break, Liverpool have had what can be called a proper break between the two seasons. They have also managed to play a few friendlies to ensure that the team is well-warmed up for the start of the season. The last of these friendlies was a home game against Blackpool that the Reds won 7-2. Prior to that, Liverpool missed out on the first silverware of the season, when they lost the penalty shootout in the Community Shield after ending up with a 1-1 in 90 minutes. While the recent rout of the minnows suggests that the Reds are back to their rampaging best, Klopp will be keen for that form to translate into the league games from the first game. Doubters are wondering if Liverpool can sustain their peak form for the third season straight. Klopp and his team will be keen to put those doubts to bed as soon as possible.
If being back in the Premier League after 16 years itself was not enough Leeds United have more reason to cheer. Their much-revered manager Marcelo Bielsa has signed a new contract and has confirmed that he is staying put at Leeds. He has his work cut out. He needs to ensure that the Whites establish themselves again as a Premier League side and that they do not drop back immediately to the 2nd tier. That is much easier said than done. But as his new contract and the reaction to him signing it shows, the club and fans are all behind him in that effort. The big question for Bielsa is that whether his team, so impressive in the Championship, will be able to step up to the top-level or not.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last eight games against Leeds United in all competitions (W6 D2), since a 1-2 defeat in the Premier League in April 2001. When they are the reigning Champions, the Reds like to start the season in with swagger. They have lost only once on the opening day of a top-flight season when they are the reigning champions in 18 previous occasions (W12 D5), losing 0-2 to West Brom in the 1923 – 24 campaign.
- Although Leeds have lost their last three away matches against Liverpool in all competitions, they have played more Premier League matches on Match Day 1 without losing than any other team in the competition’s history (P12 W5 D7), this despite a 16 year absence from the league.
- Liverpool have won six of their last seven games on opening day (W6 D1), scoring 15 goals in their last four, when they have been playing under Jurgen Klopp.
- This is the seventh time in the Premier League that the reigning champions are starting the season against a newly promoted side at home and the champions have won on all six previous occasions. Even if the newly promoted side is the winner of the Championship from the previous season, they find the step up slightly difficult. Previous season’s Championship winners have not won their Match Day 1 game in Premier League since Sunderland in 2007 – 08. All 12 sides since have failed to win (D3 L9).
One can say that Mohammed Salah did not have the best of the run-ins last season, at least in terms of goal scoring. When the Project Restart started, he was vying for the Golden Boot award. By the time the season ended, he was fifth in the goal-scoring charts. Thanks to a goal-less streak in the last four games (3 goals scored in 8 games in Restart). That goal-less streak has extended to the friendly and Community Shield games this season. That is a total of 8 appearances without a goal. That is completely unlike Mohammed Salah, who has been the Reds’ top scorer in the last three seasons. He has scored 73 league goals for three seasons for Liverpool and will be hoping to reach a century of league goals this season. He also likes to score on Match Day 1. He is looking to become only the second player to score on MD1 in four consecutive Premier League seasons, after Teddy Sheringham (1992-93 to 1995-96). If he scores on Saturday, he would be the first Red to achieve this Liverpool’s entire league history.
While some Leeds United fans might not have liked Patrick Bamford’s wastefulness last season – he scored 16 goals while his xG for the season was 35 – he was Leeds’ top scorer last season and was key for Bielsa’s attack. That is why the Argentinian was reluctant to drop him. He is not new to Premier League, having played for the likes of Middlesbrough, Burnley, Norwich and Crystal Palace between 2015-16 and 2016-17. In his last game in Premier League, he played 90 minutes for Middlesbrough at Anfield in the final game of 2016-17 season, racking up just 2 shots for a total xG of 0.15. Bielsa would hope that his striker has a much better game in this trip to Anfield.
For Liverpool, some of their key stars from the last season could be doubts for this game. Captain Jordan Henderson is back in training but may lack match fitness to start on Saturday. Similarly Trent Alexander Arnold, who has just won the PFA Young Player of the Year award, missed the entire pre-season tour of Austria and has not featured in the friendlies. Neco Williams could feature in his place in the starting line-up on Saturday. Reds’ only new signing Tsimikas is also struggling to be match-fit but might not have featured in the starting XI anyways. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out injured as well.
For Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa has no injury worries. While the Whites have signed Rodrigo Moreno from Valencia, Bielsa is likely to persist with Bamford for a tough trip to Anfield. New signing Robin Koch will replace the loanee Ben White, who has now returned to Brighton. Manchester City winger Jack Harrison, who is on loan at Leeds, will likely start and would like to give his parent club a headstart in their push to regain the title by thwarting the champions at the first hurdle.
Jurgen Klopp sides usually start their seasons strongly, especially at home. We can expect a high-intensity game between two very entertaining sides but Liverpool should not have too much trouble in beating the visitors on Saturday.
Liverpool 3 – 1 Leeds United