The return of the Premier League is finally here. More than 100 days have passed since there last was a fixture in the top division.
More importantly, we are days away from Jordan Henderson and co striding out at Goodison Park to restart what we all believe to be a final push towards a first Premier League title.
With a 25-point lead it is a matter of when this is going to happen, not if. With nine games left in the Reds’ season, we look here at their next three match-ups which are key to ending their 30-year wait to be champions.
Everton (A) — June 21
The first game back, and what a fixture to resume hostilities. A game that means so much to both sets of supporters and the city as a whole. There won’t be any spectators, but the players know the importance of representing their half of the city to the satisfaction of fans — no matter what your league position, bragging rights are everything. Prime time on Sunday evening and free for the whole nation to watch, the country’s attention will be firmly fixed on Merseyside for these 90 minutes.
For Liverpool it is imperative that they refocus their attention to get the title wrapped up as quickly as possible. There could not be a better fixture to get themselves mentally zoned in than a meeting across Stanley Park. With a couple of lacklustre performances before the break against Bournemouth and Watford, they will want to start sharply and dominate the early proceedings so they can grow into the game, which they have done effectively for the majority of the season.
It could be the case on Sunday night that, if Manchester City fail to beat Arsenal, Liverpool would be one win away from wrapping up the league — a further incentive for many of the players, as if they needed one. With a fully fit squad at his disposal, Jürgen Klopp can call upon all of his main weapons against a side they brushed aside 5-2 back in December.
Everton on the other hand will be looking for revenge after that embarrassing evening which ultimately cost Marco Silva his job. Now, with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, the Italian will be looking to exact his own revenge after a harrowing 1-0 FA Cup defeat in January to a Liverpool ‘B’ team. This Blues side is much improved under the former Napoli manager after the early-season struggles, but with one point from their last three outings they will be seeking to sort out their own patchy form.
Ancelotti has been successful with Napoli against Liverpool over the last couple of seasons where he implemented a five-man midfield and counter-attacking style. During these fixtures the Reds’ engine room struggled to dictate play and they have been caught on the break conceding key goals. I would expect a similar approach from the Everton manager in this head-to-head, though he doesn’t exactly have Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne to call upon…
Crystal Palace (H) — June 24
This is a pivotal game due to subplots associated with this fixture. This meeting is currently scheduled to take place at Anfield, but this could change depending on the title race and whether the authorities deem it safe.
With many expecting Manchester City to beat Arsenal, this is realistically the game in which Liverpool can end that 30-year wait and win the Premier League title.
With spectators not being allowed to attend games, winning the trophy at Anfield would be the next best thing for many. However, Crystal Palace are a formidable side who have generally turned up against the bigger sides and produced impressive performances. Looking past them would be a mistake.
For many supporters a fixture against Palace brings back a lot of memories, and not many are positive. Few will be less pleasant than that fateful night back in 2014, with Liverpool on the brink of a first Premier League title only to squander a three-goal lead in the final ten minutes and give Manchester City the opportunity to snatch the title away. Jordan Henderson was part of the squad that year and he will make sure that the team will know the importance of this fixture.
This Liverpool side though feels completely different to the 2014 team that fell apart that night. There is a calmness and assurance about them that whatever the situation they would be able to find some way of making the scoreline end in their favour.
Evidence of this was shown earlier in the season when the going got tough at Selhurst Park. Liverpool on that day weren’t at their best, but remained calm and composed. They stuck with the game plan and managed to carve out a 2-1 win which previous Liverpool sides may not have been able to achieve.
Crystal Palace appear to be a well-oiled machine when they come up against the big teams in the league. Their game plan will be to sit back and exploit the space with counter-attacks when they present themselves with a key component to their game being set-pieces. The Reds will have to be wary of the height and strength the eagles possess and nullify this when possible to avoid being overpowered.
Klopp will need to be mindful of these factors as Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have all dropped points to Roy Hodgson’s side this season. A fascinating match up awaits in this midweek fixture and hopefully, if the Reds have not been confirmed as champions after the Everton game, this will be the coronation we have all patiently waited for.
Manchester City (A) — July 2
Quite simply this is a massive game. The best two teams in the country facing off against each other. Whether the league is over or not, there is a lot to gain for both sides. This fixture is scheduled to be played at the Etihad, but once again this will be subject to the authorities giving a safety certificate.
Liverpool will be looking to do the double over their main title rivals after a comfortable 3-1 victory earlier in the season at Anfield in order to put down a marker as the team to beat going into next season. City, on the other hand, will be looking to avenge that defeat whilst putting down a marker themselves to re-establish the dominance they have enjoyed over the last few seasons. Clearly a lot is on the line.
Jürgen Klopp’s side have had the better of the head-to-heads in recent times, managing five wins in the last eight fixtures, whilst Guardiola’s team has a single victory to their name during this run. This poor form combined with a potential dethroning of the Premier League champions before this fixture will see Pep’s side come out with something to prove.
I can see City attempting to dictate the play, press high and target the space down the wings and behind the Liverpool full-backs. During their 2-1 victory at the Etihad last January, Guardiola got his side pressing high up the pitch and when they gained possession took advantage of this space. Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sané proved extremely successful during that 90 minutes, instigating several attacks and proving the difference between the two sides on the night.
Klopp on the other hand will need to adjust his own tactics during the fixture. Each game this season Liverpool have taken the initiative, dominated the ball and broken-down teams, but for this contest they will likely have to play on the counter-attack whilst Alexander-Arnold and Robertson will have to limit their ventures forward. The Sky Blues have been susceptible to conceding goals in the early stages against the Reds so Henderson and co might look to strike early once again before sitting back and working on the counter.
This game has the potential to have it all. The tactical battle between the managers and the physical struggle between the best two teams in the league is mouth-watering and are the ingredients for a stunning game of football. It will be compelling viewing and hopefully Liverpool can come out on top to prove to the watching public that they truly are worthy champions of England.
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