Ahead of the new campaign, as the best footballers in the world prepare to pit themselves against each other in Europe’s top club competition, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to profile 10 players to watch across the group stage and beyond.
So let’s dive straight in…
Donyell Malen — Borussia Dortmund
He has already had a taste of Champions League football with former club PSV Eindhoven, playing a part in all six group games in 2018-19 as the Dutch side finished bottom in a difficult group containing Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan.
Malen will be hoping for a more successful European campaign at his new club, as the 22-year-old looks to lead the line for Dortmund alongside a certain Erling Haaland for new manager Marco Rose.
Looking at Malen’s smarterscout profile — which employs advanced analytics to break down elements of a footballer’s game into different performance, skill and style metrics to produce a score from 0-99 — at PSV last season, his attacking attributes are very strong. He regularly contributes towards his team’s creation of goalscoring chances (xG from shot creation 82 out of 99) and his 19 goals in the Eredivisie last campaign is evidence of that.
Despite his ability to get on the end of attacks, the Dutchman is not one to hang around the penalty area (receptions in opposition box 54 out of 99) and does like to drop deep and advance the ball into dangerous areas for others (xG from ball progression 73 out of 99), whether that is through his carrying or passing.
Jamie Carragher says Mohamed Salah will be in Liverpool’s all-time XI and wants to see him sign a new deal at Anfield.
Salah scored his 100th Premier League goal in the 3-0 win over Leeds United on Sunday and Carragher believes that his impact at Liverpool is still underrated.
"He is massively important and sometimes I feel sorry for Mo Salah because I think he goes under the radar in terms of Liverpool," he told Monday Night Football.
"When people talk about Liverpool winning the league, they always go back to Liverpool signing Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk. Mo Salah came in six months before [Van Dijk].
"It is the three of them but everyone mentions that it was the goalkeeper and the centre-back that took Liverpool to this next level. Mo Salah is a huge part of that."
"We should not forget as well that Salah plays from the right. Yes, he is a wide forward but he does not play through the centre. He is Johnny on the spot.
"If he goes a few games without a goal you just think there is one coming because it is Mo Salah. That is just how it is."FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's win over Leeds in the Premier League
A number of Liverpool favourites have agreed new contracts in recent months with Fabinho, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk and Andy Robertson all signing extensions.
Carragher wants someone else to join that list.
"While Liverpool have not spend big this summer like other teams they have had a lot of players sign new contracts. The one that is yet to sign is Mo Salah," he added.
"Now, he obviously wants a few quid. And rightly so. Good luck to him. He deserves it. He deserves to be one of the highest paid players in the Premier League for what he has done since he came to Liverpool, he really does.
"He is never injured and year after year he is top goalscorer. He just is. That is what he is.Watch Mohamed Salah's greatest Premier League goals as he brings up his ton
"I will say something else. When you pick your all-time Liverpool XI, there are positions where you just think, 'He is in.' Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, John Barnes, Steven Gerrard, Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish. You could fill all those positions no matter what this team does.
"There is nobody you ever think of on the right. Mo Salah will be in that position when he finishes his Liverpool career. He will be in that all-time Liverpool XI. There is no doubt for me about that.
"When you think about strikers getting to 29 or 30, we talk about Cristiano Ronaldo being 36, that guy is a machine in terms of how he looks after himself.
"I think Mo Salah is as professional as Ronaldo, he looks after his body and I think there are a lot of years left in Mo Salah so I just hope this gets sorted sooner rather than later.
"You always debate about money, the player wants a bit more, the club wants a bit less, but that needs to be sorted. Fingers crossed it will because he deserves it for what he has done for Liverpool."How Salah became a centurion
Salah's Premier League journey hasn't been as smooth as his run to 100 league goals would suggest. Remember the ill-fated 30-month spell at Chelsea which started it all?
The Egyptian winger had scored for Basel in both of their Champions League group games against Jose Mourinho's side, prompting his transfer to Stamford Bridge in January 2014.
But he would go onto make only 13 Premier League appearances for the Blues, and score only two goals, before he was shipped off on loan to Fiorentina and then Roma, who he joined on a permanent transfer in 2016.
His return to the Premier League a year later would mark the start of something very different.
"He's a fantastic player with speed," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said after his move was agreed. "We said after last season that we would try to add things to an already really good squad.
"One of those things is speed. He brings that, as well as being able to provide and to finish. He brings all that."Image: Mohamed Salah celebrates his equaliser late in the first half
Salah would bring more than just speed. In his first season, he equalled Roger Hunt's record from 1961 of scoring 23 goals before the New Year, and went on to edge Harry Kane in the Premier League Golden Boot race with his 32-goal haul.
From there, things kept on getting better.
"This is very special," Salah told Sky Sports after becoming the highest scorer in a 38-game Premier League season when winning that Golden Boot.
"I am trying to improve every year so I am very happy. It's special to break the record here."
Salah hasn't quite hit those goalscoring heights since, but he has broken the 20-goal mark in two of his three other full seasons in the Premier League, while adding a title winners' medal, plus another Golden Boot, to his trophy cabinet.
Now, 2,732 days after his first goal, Salah has become the latest member of the Premier League 100 club, and only the second from Africa, after Chelsea legend Didier Drogba.
The speed with which he has reached the tally - Sunday's meeting with Leeds was his 162nd Premier League appearance - puts him among the very best goalscorers in the competition's history.
"Mo's record is crazy," Klopp told Sky Sports at Elland Road. "I don't know how many more records he can break but he's probably desperate to do so.
"What a player - and he's still hungry. I saw him in the dressing room and we were all in the situation concerning Harvey Elliott but he was still not happy for not scoring one or two other goals.
"That's how top-class players are"
And at 29, Mohamed Salah is far from finished yet.
Liverpool fans have a lot to digest both positive and negative on Monday, with a very impressive win over Leeds marred by Harvey Elliott‘s injury – and a Champions League game is fast approaching too.Elliott injury news and potential return
First up, the latest on our talented teenager who is set for an extended spell on the sidelines. Thankfully, Elliott appears to be past the initial worst of the incident – though a long road is ahead, of course.
He will require surgery which will take place in the next week, and while he acknowledges he’s “absolutely devastated”, Elliott has thanked the fans for well-wishes and messages of support sent his way.
Meanwhile, the view from the injury expert is that rather than the dislocation, it’s the potential fracture and ligament damage which might impact Elliott’s return to play timeline.
We could be looking at anywhere from three months to in excess of six without our starlet.Reaction to weekend win
How many more to come this season?!
All 100 Mohamed Salah goals in the Premier League.
I guess we all know the sweet spot for his curlers!? pic.twitter.com/enjzntEajp
— Marius Fischer (@Gegenpressing91) September 13, 2021
Tonight it’s the Ev and Burnley in maybe the most 1-0 sounding game in history.
We went into this one having overcome standoffs with the Brazilian FA and FIFA over the right for Alisson Becker and Fabinho to take part, while Naby Keita was rendered available only after being airlifted from the midst of a coup d’état.
Brazil stamped their foot, FIFA listened and pondered and a power dance-off then took place. Call me a cynic here, but this was nothing more than Nike being outraged that their flagship international football shirts weren’t being worn during the international break by many of the highest-profile players the nation has to offer.
Football not in the name of sport, but as product placement.
The problem for Nike is that what they really needed on Sunday afternoon was for some of the highest-profile players Liverpool have to offer to be wearing a ‘swoosh’ on their flagship club football shirts.
Football not in the name of sport, but as product placement.
Finally, Liverpool’s uneasy union with Nike has come up with something positive.
As preparations for a trip to West Yorkshire go, they proved to be a bit ‘out there’.
Suddenly, Leeds have become one of the most interesting concepts in the English game. Purveyors of a bold brand of football that is fast and skilful. Hugely watchable, they have morphed into a favourite of football hipsters everywhere. This has been disorientating for those of us that have lived in other eras during which Leeds have swung from brutal to agricultural and back again.
Don’t get me wrong, some past visages of Leeds have also been able to play the ball very well too, even the Don Revie version. They just as likely play the player as they would the ball, however. Even Brian Clough called them out for it.
A polarising football club. While part of me is happy to see them back at English football’s top table, another part of me isn’t so sure if it will be all that bothered if they do succumb to the much mooted ‘second season syndrome’.
Very much a real thing after a first season back, in which adrenalin can take a newly promoted team a long way, there is often a lull in the second season which can be fatal to hopes of a prolonged stay in the Premier League. Sheffield United were the latest victims of this phenomenon.
Talking of victims, some of the Leeds faithful completely embarrassed themselves with words chanted, while others were wonderful in their reactions to the stricken Elliott as the teenager was removed from the pitch on a stretcher and into a presumably elongated road to recovery.
A particularly galling loss, Elliott was on the brink of being replaced by Jordan Henderson when he sustained his injury. It was a needless challenge more than anything. Out of proportion with its situation and positioning on the pitch.
Much has been spoken in disapproval of the new refereeing mantra to allow games to flow. I am by no means an apologist for referees, but on this one, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I’m not against the spirit of the concept of a freer-flowing game though, although I think ignoring injury causing challenges should not be part of the shortcuts to a less fragmented game, no matter if they are generated by malice or chance.
On this occasion, it was blatantly clear that Elliott was in significant trouble. Football is a physical game; football happens and injuries will occur, some of them very serious ones. It is within the nature of the game, but there are better things football can do to tighten itself up when it comes to the flow of the game than waving aside players when they are crumpled to the turf with their foot pointing in the entirely wrong direction.
Elliott has started the season with a rich degree of maturity which has allowed Jurgen Klopp to ease Thiago and Jordan Henderson back after their involvements with Euro 2020(21). In recent seasons, this type of job — a massively crucial one — has fallen to James Milner.
We should be bouncing away from Sunday in at least a glass half full mood with a 3-0 victory, all be it one that could/should have been double that amount, against a team who offered us generous helpings of space yet shifted the ball around impressively when they could gain possession of it.
Sadio Mane was stunningly profligate yet again although, hopefully, the goal he did eventually get will break the floodgates. He wasn’t alone in missing opportunities that seemed nailed on goals, however.
As the old saying goes, it’s a bigger worry not to create chances than it is to miss the ones you do create. There is sleight of hand within this saying, though. If we are going to have any chance to reclaim the Premier League title then we are going to need to be far more ruthless in front of goal.
Yet, there was much to love about Sunday. Joel Matip was magnificent, his part in the opening goal the stuff of all self-respecting playmakers. Thiago was displaying his football as art, Fabinho was both destructor and constructor, while Henderson was pinging some stunning passes from deep during the final third of the afternoon. Trent Alexander-Arnold simply continued to embarrass a nation that doesn’t want to or perhaps doesn’t have the intelligence to get what he’s all about.
Onward we move, without Elliott for now, and into a reunion with AC Milan on Wednesday evening. Up the Reds.
Importantly it came thanks to an impressive performance on the pitch, with Liverpool carving out chance after chance to ultimately see the scoreboard flatter the home side.
– Trent Alexander-Arnold has created 20 chances in the league so far this season – 7 more than the next best in Jack Grealish and Salah (13).
– Salah is the 30th player to reach 100 Premier League goals – and he is only the second African to reach the milestone, following in the footsteps of Didier Drogba.
– Liverpool‘s 14-match unbeaten league run is currently the longest in the division (W11, D3). The last defeat was against Fulham in March.
– Fabinho scored his first goal away from Anfield, his fourth overall for the club.
– Jota created more chances than any other player from either side during the game, with 6.
– Trent’s assist for Salah was his 35th in the Premier League, only Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs hit that figure at a younger age.
These Reds are something else!
How did the chant at Elland Road go…”The Reds have got no money, but we’ll still win the league.”
With youth and very little previous history with injury, Harvey Elliott‘s recovery from an ankle dislocation has two early boosts, but all will depend on the extent of further damage.
Elliott had to be stretchered off the field at Elland Road on Sunday after a challenge from Pascal Struijk saw his left ankle bear the wait, where it ultimately was dislocated.
Those attending to the 18-year-old on the field were able to put his ankle back in place before he was taken to Leeds General Infirmary, where he was later discharged and now awaits surgery.
Jurgen Klopp was emotional when speaking of the injury post-match and his recovery timeline will now rest on how much damage was sustained to the area around his ankle.
He is in the best possible shape to bounce back from the horrible injury, but physiotherapist Dr. Rajpal Brar explains how his return date can only be determined once the extent of the injury is known – with many factors in play.
“The injury has been confirmed as an ankle dislocation, which almost always involves an ankle fracture as well as potential ligament and cartilage damage,” Dr Raj said on his YouTube channel3CB Performance.
“The player is scheduled for surgery on Tuesday to further stabilise the ankle along with addressing any other damage.
“The full severity of the injury, in particular, the extent of ligament and fracture damage will determine Elliott’s return timeline.
“For example, Everton‘s Andre Gomes had minimal ligament damage and returned to training in 86 days, whereas Leicester’s Wesley Fofana will miss six-plus months due to severe ligament damage and a fractured fibula.
“Physically, the key for Elliott will be maintaining range of motion and then building up strength and fitness levels.
“At just 18 years of age, time is on Harvey’s side and he has minimal previous injury history and limited wear on his body. Both of which will help in recovery.”
The mental battle will be another hurdle to overcome, but Elliott has already nodded to the overwhelming support he has and will continue to receive from Liverpool‘s “incredible support network.”
Further to that, sportsinjuryexplained on Instagram provided some tentative return timeframes dependent on possible outcomes from the injury.
A dislocation with no fracture would see an absence of three to four months, a fracture with dislocation up to six months and any further extensive damage or setbacks would push beyond the six-month mark.
But the point to hang on to from Dr Raj is that “Although ankle dislocation-fractures look bad, they typically have good outcomes in terms of healing and return to play and performance, unless there’s nerve damage or further complications.”
But this was a contest made for Mane, against a Leeds side using their typically aggressive man-to-man press across the pitch. Whereas Salah was a threat primarily with his speed in behind, Mane was capable of coming short to receive the ball to feet, spinning past opponents and turning in either direction. He was Liverpool’s key attacker.
While Diogo Jota is arguably ahead of the injured Roberto Firmino in Jurgen Klopp’s pecking order at the moment, this would have been a useful match for Firmino. His deep positioning between the lines would have caused Leeds’ man-marking problems, and his recent performance against Chelsea demonstrated how effective he remains at collecting the ball in clever positions between the lines. Jota, for all his qualities running towards the opposition goal, isn’t quite as adept as Firmino in those situations. Therefore the attacker playing the Firmino role here was, effectively, Mane.
Mane has rarely been used centrally under Klopp.
Jamie Redknapp has produced a rarely correct assessment of Thiago, with many in the media failing to see what the Spaniard brings to the side in the last year.
The Reds were exceptional at times in their 3-0 victory at Elland Road o Sunday, comprehensively outplaying a Leeds side considered dangerous opponents.
Thiago was arguably as good as anyone, however, dictating the pace of the game, biting into tackles and playing a part in two of the Reds’ goals.
Not only did the 30-year-old complete 89 percent of his passes and register an assist, but he also played two key passes, won six of his seven duels and three-quarters of his tackles.
The Spaniard has been used as a scapegoat at times, with some claiming he doesn’t suit Klopp’s team and many lazily claiming he ‘slows down play.’
But Redknapp delivered a staunch defence of Thiago on Sky Sports on Sunday:
? "When Liverpool go on a bad run, people say he slows the play up, he can't handle the intensity, absolute garbage! This guy is one of the best technicians you will see in world football."
Jamie Redknapp calls out the criticisms that Thiago received last season pic.twitter.com/xC6QEG2WQ5
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 12, 2021
“This guy is one of the best technicians you’ll see in world football don’t matter what kind of pressure you put him under, he’s never panicked.
“He relaxes on the ball. There was a lot of times (on Sunday) where he was in good positions to help out the defence.
“He is incredible to watch and it did my head in last year listening to people who don’t understand the midfield role. How to keep the ball, what to do, how to be in the right position. how to show quality, how to set people up for chances.
“It’s because people are always looking for a scapegoat. Someone to say it’s their fault. he is brilliant and that’s why Jurgen Klopp played him today.
“It would have been easy to go with Keita or Henderson and try and outrun this Leeds side. He realised you need a brain. You need someone that’s gonna show composure, be relaxed on the ball and play to a red shirt. that’s’ what he does.”
Redknapp is spot on in his assessment, with Thiago so harshly judged for much of his time at Anfield to date.
There have been clear mitigating circumstances surrounding some of his struggles, but with Liverpool now firing on all cylinders, he looks fit, fresh and ready to go up another level.
It’s also easy to forget that Thiago was arguably the Reds’ best player in the final 10 games of last season, during which time they won eight and drew two of those matches.
Blaming Thiago for any shortcomings has become a lazy narrative and it is refreshing to see a high-profile pundit shoot it down.
With Harvey Elliot now set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Thiago‘s influence and availability will become even more important.
A deadline day move for 20-year-old Williams ensured he had to wait to take to the field in the colours of Swansea City, but he did so at the first opportunity on the return from the international break.
Russell Martin continued with his back-five, and Williams was deployed on the left of the centre-back trio, next to Ryan Bennett and Kyle Naughton, for Hull’s visit to the Liberty Stadium.
“Rhys Williams settled in brilliantly, he played like he had been here for a long time,” Martin would explain post-match after the 20-year-old helped keep a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw, impressing with a number of diagonal balls as Swansea dominated possession and territory.
Elsewhere in the Championship, Ojo was named in the XI for Millwall as they faced league leaders West Brom, replacing the injured Benik Afobe to line up on the left of the attack.
The 24-year-old got off to a slow start with his new team against a physical Baggies outfit, but it was one he would slowly grow into, most notably after Millwall got back on level terms in the 55th minute.
But an opportunity to clinch victory off his boot would be snuffed by Sam Johnstone as he allowed his intentions to be known as he bared down on goal after refusing to give up on the play, he would be withdrawn after 80 minutes.
“It was a tough game for Sheyi,” manager Gary Rowett said. It’s a game of second balls, a game of fighting.”
To finish off the action in the English second division, Sepp van den Berg continued his attempts to add to his goal tally as Preston’s right-wing-back, but his early strike would fly over the crossbar to keep his total at two.
He would be asked questions defensively before the match settled into a back-and-forth encounter that would also end 0-0.
The draw theme would continue for Ben Woodburn in Scotland, with the youngster featuring for 71 minutes as Hearts were held against Hibernian.
It was not without Woodburn’s best efforts, however, with the youngster heavily involved in the final third throughout, showing an eye for a pass but was guilty of one or two over hit deliveries.
And we was denied what would have been a brilliant assist after threading the ball through the defence at an angle, only for Mackay-Steven to see his effort saved.
Finally, there was a second clean sheet of the season for Jakub Ojrzynski, while Luis Longstaff made his Scottish League One debut as a 65th-minute substitute for Queen’s Park, in you guessed it…a 0-0 draw.Liverpool Loan Watch Roundup
Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku, and Mohamed Salah. They are three of the world’s best forwards, and all three made a difference for their team this weekend, with five goals between them and plenty to unpick.
United’s Ronaldo 2.0: More occasions on the ball but more efficient with it
“Well, I didn’t expect that — to score two goals. I expected one, but not two.”
Actually, Cristiano, based on the quality of the chances you had in the game, you should have expected to score 1.4 goals. Small sample siren, I know, but it is of little surprise to hear that the 36-year-old had more than double the xG of any other player on the pitch on the day.
It wasn’t just the two goals that were of interest, but also the manner in which Ronaldo got on the ball for Manchester United, in his second coming.
As you can see below, a large proportion of his touches were dropping off between the lines to link the play, often pulling to the left-hand side to find some space before directing his focus towards goal.
In total, Ronaldo had 63 touches in the game — or more accurately, 63 separate occasions where he had possession of the ball. Here, Opta defines touches as the “sum of all events where a player touches the ball”.
But as players and staff regrouped there was little talk of how they had put Leeds United to the sword. Thoughts were elsewhere. “It was very subdued in there,” one senior player tells The Athletic.
By then Harvey Elliott was sitting in a hospital bed at Leeds General Infirmary. He had family members and club doctor Jim Moxon for company. His phone was soon buzzing with a succession of WhatsApp messages from concerned team-mates. “We’re all here for you mate,” promised captain Jordan Henderson.
Every serious injury cuts deep but this cruel hand dealt to such a vibrant youngster feels especially heartbreaking. Elliott had been the surprise package of Liverpool’s flying start to the season. His was the feel-good story.
He had earned the faith of the manager, the respect of the senior players and the adoration of the supporters with how he had seamlessly adjusted to a new midfield role since returning from his loan spell at Blackburn Rovers. With talent in abundance and a tireless work ethic, the fearless teenager had given a fresh dynamic to the right-hand side of Klopp’s purring unit.
He was living the dream for the club he’s supported since he was a toddler. Now his world has come crashing down but he won’t walk alone during the long rehab programme facing him. He will be surrounded by love and support every step of the way.
Gary Neville discusses Cristiano Ronaldo instant impact at Manchester United, has likened Thiago’s performance for Liverpool at Leeds as ‘Paul Scholes-like’ and predicted Chelsea will be hard to stop this season.
Speaking on the Gary Neville Podcast following Liverpool's 3-0 win over Leeds, the Sky Sports pundit also had his say on why this season's Premier League season could be the greatest in terms of quality and his early thoughts on the title race.
"I walked out into Manchester's city centre on Saturday morning and I've not seen it as alive for five or 10 years. What he's done to the Premier League for interest is exciting but for the city, he's absolutely got it buzzing with excitement - and this was even before he scored the two goals.
"I was at Salford and saw the news that he scored. I could only imagine what the atmosphere was like and I spoke to a couple of people who were there and they said it was out of this world, bouncing like they've never seen it before. And, Salford scored in the last minute which meant it was the perfect football day."FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United's win over Newcastle in the Premier League. Neville on...the quality of the Premier League
"In the first half of the Leeds game, I sat back and was marvelling at the speed, quality and atmosphere. We always tend to look back and say there was more tackling in the 80s and 90s, it was more real, standing on the terraces. But what I've seen in the first four weeks of this season, takes some beating in terms of quality. This is as good as I've seen. We lauded the players for being brilliant through Covid last season in difficult times and all the fans frustratingly having to watch at home. It was desperate at times with no fans in the stadium. But it's more than made up for it at the start of this season - it's a compelling watch. And Ronaldo coming back has put the cherry on top of a very good cake."Neville on...Liverpool's title chances and classy Thiago FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool's win over Leeds.
"Everyone is talking about Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United, Manchester City being champions and Chelsea signing Romelu Lukaku, so everything has been away from Liverpool with people questioning if this team is over the hill or past their best. But this was a really good performance, they did everything they were asked to do.
"That Liverpool midfield wasn't perhaps the most athletic or mobile - he could have played Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Naby Keita to match Leeds up. But it was all about composure. It reminded me of the way Paul Scholes played at Anfield. There would be a frantic spell in the game and all of sudden there would be a small guy in the middle of the pitch who would get his foot on it and there would be calm and peace. Michael Carrick could do the same. And Thiago did the same today. Today was an example of what he has been signed to do. When it's frantic and desperate, put your foot on the ball and play the pass that opens the game. He did that."Neville on...Chelsea being difficult to stop
"There is a feeling about Chelsea. They keep clean sheets, their striker is guaranteed to score, there's a good midfield. They will be very difficult to stop. The talk will be all about Manchester. Pep Guardiola, Ronaldo, but everyone knows Chelsea are serious. I watched them at Anfield and it was a real performance. It's a brilliant Premier League. I'm looking forward to see what happens in the next few months. We just have to let it develop - everyone will want to try and predict the champions this early. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea but Liverpool are really in it. They really are in it."