PREVIEW | Liverpool v Leeds United (Premier League)

PÁDRAIG O’CALLAGHAN lets us know what we can expect in the clash between the Reds and the Whites at Anfield on Saturday evening.

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Liverpool begin their defence (or attack, as Jürgen Klopp keeps reminding us) of the Premier League title as they welcome Leeds United for the first time since 2004.

Both clubs have had short pre-seasons due to the travel impacts caused by Covid-19 as both clubs managed a combined total of five games to prepare for the new season, Liverpool playing three whilst Leeds only managed two.

Liverpool comfortably won two of their three friendlies, victories over VfB Stuttgart and Blackpool FC by a combined score of 10-2, while they came back from two goals down to draw with Austrian League side RB Salzburg.


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Leeds lost 3-0 to Stoke City in their first pre-season game. Manager Marcelo Bielsa named a weakened side with only a handful of important squad players making an appearance in the 80-minute game. Their second and final friendly saw them defeat Portuguese side Pacos Ferreira 3-1.

Team news

Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are ruled out of the game through injury, while new signing Kostas Tsimikas is reported to have contracted Covid-19. Jordan Henderson returned to full training this week and Trent Alexander-Arnold got a couple of minutes under his belt for England having missed pre-season due to injury.

Alisson will start in goal, ahead of the usual back four of Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson. The quintet looked lackadaisical once the league was wrapped up, the Reds conceded as many goals in their last seven games (12) as they did in the 20 previous.

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Naby Keïta impressed alongside Fabinho in a midfield two, with Takumi Minamino excelling when played just behind the front three. This would leave no room for Gini Wijnaldum as rumours grow of his departure.

The usual front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino will be looking to do the business once again this season, they have scored a total of seven goals in three games when they have started together in the opening game of the season.

Predicted Liverpool XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Keita, Minamino, Salah, Firmino, Mané.

Leeds have added Spanish striker Rodrigo and German defender Robin Koch to their ranks ahead of the upcoming season. The duo did not partake in pre-season games so it’s unlikely they will start the game at Anfield.

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The team that did win against Pacos Ferreira is likely to start Leeds’ first top flight game in over 15 years, with Kalvin Phillips being the only absentee due to a call up to the Three Lions.

Leeds do have the attack to hurt Liverpool. Hélder Costa and Jack Harrison are tricky players who have a burst of pace, though the player they will be supplying, Patrick Bamford, is notoriously unpredictable in front of goal.

Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich control the midfield for the Yorkshire side as Pablo Hernández takes charge of joining the attack and chipping in with a few goals which he has done quite well the last couple of years.

Predicted Leeds XI: Meslier, Ayling, Cooper, Berardi, Dallas, Costa, Hernández, Phillips, Klich, Harrison, Bamford.

Prediction

Norwich visited Anfield as a newly-promoted side last season and lost 4-1 in a one-sided match, but this game won’t be as easy. Leeds have the players and the tactics to cause Liverpool problems despite their imperious home record – the Reds have gone unbeaten at home since April 2017.

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Ultimately, Liverpool should get their title defence off to a winning start. Hopefully Keïta can finally get his Liverpool career rolling and Minamino carries his pre-season form into competitive action.

Leeds should and will give a good account of themselves at Anfield, with a couple of new signing some players playing for their regular place in the starting XI.

Bamford often frustrates the Whites supporters, and with a huge gulf in class between the top two divisions in England he has his work cut out to keep Rodrigo on the bench on a permanent basis.

Predicted final score: Liverpool 3-1 Leeds United


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