Premier League football returns this weekend with a fresh season for the fans to look forward to. And for the third campaign in a row, Liverpool are starting their season against a promoted side. Championship winners Norwich City will host the Reds, who finished third last season on Saturday evening to kick-off the season for both sides. While the Reds would be looking to start a journey to the title in this fixture, the Canaries will be looking to make a statement that they belong.
Norwich City endured one of the worst seasons a Premier League side has had to when they last played top-flight football two years back. With just five wins and six draws in the entire 2019-20 season, Norwich will be keen to replace memories of that season with fresh ones and will hope that the new memories are better. Manager Daniel Farke has stated that his goal for this season is to make Norwich a “permanent” member of the Premier League. The preparation to achieve that objective has not been ideal though. Of their seven pre-season games, two were cancelled due to Covid-19. Norwich beat King’s Lynn Town, Lincoln City, Huddersfield and Gillingham, before losing to Newcastle United in their last friendly. However, the club has done better in terms of upgrading their squad to meet Premier League levels. They have brought in Milot Rashica on the right wing, Christos Tzolis on the left wing, Josh Sargent upfront, Ben Gibson at centre-back, Dimitrios Giannoulis at left-back, Pierre Lees-Melou and Billy Gilmour (loan) in the midfield and Angus Gunn as a goalkeeper. Several of these newcomers will start against Liverpool and Farke will hope that they impress immediately.
Liverpool did not win any silverware last season but after the horrendous run of games in the middle of the season, they ended their season on a high – unbeaten in 10 games and winning the last five. In the end, they grabbed a Champions League position in the very respectable third place. However, Klopp’s squad might want to target silverware this season and injuries permitting, they have a fairly good shot at it too. In his innovative style, Klopp has prepared his squad for this season with a three-week camp in Austria, followed by a week in France and then a bit more than a week back home. In this period, the Reds have played 30-minute friendlies, 60-minute friendlies, and back-to-back 90 minute friendlies. Of these, they only lost to Hertha Berlin, drew against FC Wacker Innsbruck, Stuttgart, and Athletic Club, and won against Mainz, Osasuna and Bologna. In contrast to their hosts for the opener, Liverpool have not been very active in the transfer market. They have only signed Ibrahima Konate so far and do not seem very eager to add more signings. However, the return of their injured defenders – Van Djik, Gomez and Matip, along with a fully fit midfield and attack does reflect a very strong, if not refreshed, squad.
- In 66 games between these two sides since 1909 Norwich have won 14 and Liverpool have won 37. However, in their last 14 Premier League matches Liverpool are unbeaten (W12 D2). They have scored 44 goals (3.1 per game, largely thanks to Luis Suarez).
- Norwich do not start Premier League campaigns well. They are winless in their first Premier League match of the season in each of their last eight attempts. This is the longest such ongoing winless run by a current team. The last time Norwich won on the first day of a Premier League season was in 1992-93 – in the very first Premier League season.
- In contrast, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool generally start their campaign strongly. In their last five opening games, the Reds have scored 19 goals and conceded 10, winning on four occasions and drawing once.
- Norwich manager Daniel Farke has twice led the Canaries to the Premier League as the champions of the Championship and he is only the second manager to do so twice with the same club. However, his Premier League win-rate of 13.2% (P38 W5) is the joint-lowest in Premier League history.
Norwich have had an interesting transfer window and have strengthened many positions. However, the arrival of Milot Rashica from Werder Bremen is likely to be their most impactful transfer. The 25-year old Kosovan has declined in market value over the last two seasons, but injuries played a part in that decline. In his tenure at Werder Bremen, Rashica scored 26 goals and assisted 10 goals in 6811 minutes, amounting to a goal contribution roughly every two games. His xG90 for Bremen in 2020-21 was 0.23 and xA90 was 0.10, indicating roughly a 33% chance of contributing a goal in 90 minutes. However, Daniel Farke will hope that his right-winger can emulate his expected stats from the 2018-19 season, when he chalked up xG90 of 0.37 and xA90 of 0.24, a 60% chance of contributing a goal in 90 minutes. And Farke will hope that Rashica begins delivering from his first game.
On Liverpool’s right wing, it will not be a fresh-faced newcomer but rather a seasoned Mohammed Salah who will be looking to start his season with a bang. The Egyptian has scored in Reds’ first Premier League game of the season in each of their last four campaigns. If he scores on Saturday evening, he will become the first player to score on the opening day in five consecutive Premier League campaigns. Given that Harry Kane pipped him to the Golden Boot last season by just one goal, Salah will be highly motivated. He finished last season with 22 goals and 5 assists, with xG90 of 0.59 and xA90 of 0.19 – indicating a probability of goal contribution of more than 75% in 90 minutes. Jurgen will be hoping that his top-scorer for the last four seasons can at least continue that form, if not better it.
For Norwich, Sam Byram is likely to miss out due to the hamstring injury that kept him away from the pre-season. Todd Cantwell also suffered a knock, but Farke indicated that he might feature on Saturday. Billy Gilmour, on loan from Chelsea might slot in for his debut alongside the new signing Pierre Lees-Melou in the midfield. Canaries’ goal-scoring talisman – Teemu Pukki will lead the line surely. The likely lineup for the Canaries is likely to be Krul; Aarons, Hanley, Gibson, Giannoulis; Lees-Melou, Gilmour; Rashica, Vrancic, Cantwell; Pukki.
For Liverpool, Andrew Robertson suffered an ankle injury in a friendly against Athletic Club and will be out till mid-September. This could be an opportunity for Tsimikas to impress Klopp. Curtis Jones picked up a head-injury in the following friendly match against Osasuna and is also likely to miss out on Saturday. Henderson might also not start as he joined the pre-season late and might not be fully fit. In defence, Virgil van Djik and Joe Gomez could be back. Keita has impressed in the pre-season and will likely start alongside Fabinho and Thiago in the midfield. The front three pick themselves, which could mean that Jota starts on the bench. The likely lineup for Liverpool is – Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Tsimikas; Fabinho, Thiago, Naby Keita; Mane, Firmino, Salah.
Liverpool finished the last season unbeaten in 10 games. A visit to Carrow Road, especially when the hosts have had a muddled pre-season and are brimming with yet-to-be-settled newcomers in the squad, presents an opportunity for the Reds to stretch that run. The Reds are very likely to take it.
Norwich City 0 – 3 Liverpool