Venue – Old Trafford, Manchester
Referee – Michael Oliver
Date & Time – Sunday, February 24th @ 14:05
Current Odds – Manchester United 2/1, Draw 5/2, Liverpool 5/4Form Manchester United Form
Manchester United are enjoying a new lease of life under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Ever since Liverpool put the final nail in Jose Mourinho’s United career-coffin in December, United’s former striker has overseen a great upturn in form.
Impressive league form, including a win away to Spurs when David De Gea was performing miracles, along with big FA Cup wins at Arsenal and Chelsea have shown just what this current United squad is capable of when the defensive shackles of Mourinho-ball have been removed.
Last week, United lost very convincingly at home to PSG, however. The French champions dominated the game at Old Trafford from start to finish, even without Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Adrien Rabiot.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have been better in their last two fixtures against Bournemouth and FC Bayern. A win on Sunday at United would really put some fresh impetus into The Reds’ title charge.
Liverpool have won just two of their last five games with the disappointing draws against Leicester and West Ham coming during that period.
As you can see from the average xG ratings on the table below, Liverpool are still controlling games and creating the best chances. However, they need to start taking those chances again and making their domination pay in order to push City and Spurs all the way at the top of the Premier League.
Team News Manchester United Team News
Solskjaer will be without Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.
I expect United to go with a strong midfield core of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera. Juan Mata will be tasked with linking midfield and attack, providing for Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford.
Ashley Young and Luke Shaw will be on the flanks in the backline with a central pairing of Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof.
Superman himself, David De Gea, will be the man to beat between the sticks.Liverpool Team News
Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both still out for Liverpool while Dejan Lovren is also likely to miss Sunday’s encounter.
Klopp has some decisions to make, mainly in midfield, after top-class performances during the week from Jordan Henderson and Fabinho. The Brazilian played at centre-back in the absence of the suspended Virgil van Dijk.
I think Klopp will pair Joel Matip with Van Dijk on Sunday with Fabinho in midfield alongside Gini Wijnaldum and Naby Keita. Keita has really grown in confidence in his last couple of games and will provide The Reds with a runner from midfield who can break the lines and link with excellently with the front three.Predicted XIs
Manchester United XI (4-3-1-2) – De Gea; Young(c), Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Pogba, Matic, Herrera; Mata; Lukaku, Rashford
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk(c), Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mané
When they last met
Liverpool beat United 3-1 at Anfield in December with goals from Sadio Mané and super-sub Xherdan Shaqiri (x2). Jesse Lingard had cancelled out Mané’s goal to make it 1-1 at half-time before Shaqiri came on and changed the game in the second half.
United won 2-1 when the sides met at Old Trafford last season. Two first-half goals from Marcus Rashford gave United a comfortable lead. An Eric Bailly own goal in the second half wasn’t enough to bring Klopp’s men back into the game.Prediction
Manchester United 1 – 1 Liverpool
Liverpool should be winning this. But, let’s be honest, it’s never easy at Old Trafford. United will be so pumped at the possibility of derailing their great rivals’ title challenge and everyone of their players will be up for it. Klopp has to make sure our guys are up for it too.
** Please note – “xGA” in the Form Stats tables symbolises “expected goals against” **
**All xG stats courtesy of Understat.com and FiveThirtyEight.com
It may not have been another great European night Anfield, but it’s hard for Liverpool fans to be too disappointed with a goalless draw against a Bayern Munich side who issued a reminder of their class.
Aside from a rather frantic ten-minute spell just before the break, the Reds struggled to fashion out many openings against their cautious and regimented opponents, who executed their game-plan well.
Importantly, though, there were relatively few nervous moments at the other end, even with usual fourth-choice Joel Matip alongside makeshift centre-half Fabinho at the heart of defence.
Their quality didn’t shine through this time, but Jurgen Klopp’s men will nonetheless be confident of securing a score draw, or perhaps better, when they head to the Allianz Arena in a fortnight’s time.
Alisson can expect a busier night in Germany, where the onus will be on Bayern to attack. The visitors could only muster two shots on target, and the Brazilian dealt with both comfortably. He did, however, set pulses racing on one or two occasions with some risky passing out from the back.
Trent Alexander-Arnold returned to the fold at right-back and was solid defensively, making three tackles and interceptions, but struggled to make an impact in the final third, his set-piece delivery often wayward. Only four of his eleven balls into the box found a red shirt.
Fellow full-back Andrew Robertson also failed to contribute going forward, and was uncharacteristically suspect defensively as Serge Gnabry tormented him. It was a very rare dip from the Scot.
But Fabinho and Matip, a pairing which failed to inspire any real confidence on paper, were both excellent. The former, who may well have saved his side with a brilliant challenge on Lewandowski – starved of opportunities all night, was so impressive in unfamiliar territory, while the latter, to his great credit, compensated effectively for Virgil van Dijk’s absence.
It was just a shame that two big chances fell to the big centre back. He certainly won’t want to watch that second-half slice ever again.
In midfield, Gini Wijnaldum wasn’t quite as effective as in his starring display against Bournemouth, but once again he played his understated part.
Naby Keita built on a promising display against the Cherries with a good all-round performance which included three tackles and a team-high four successful dribbles. He looked desperate to make something happen, ambitiously driving into space and even acrobatically going for goal in the first half.
There were still one or two frustrating moments – he twice failed to thread through a charging Robertson for instance – but undoubtedly the 24-year-old is on an upward trajectory.
Meanwhile, it wouldn’t quite happen for Europe’s most feared frontline. Mohamed Salah had a frustrating evening, typified by a slightly heavy touch and a near-collision with Wijnaldum as he wound up a shot, and struggled to find space in the areas from which he is often clinical. Perhaps that’s a credit to Bayern’s marking.
There were openings for Sadio Mané though, but not for the first time he failed to display the required composure. His swiveled miss was arguably the Reds’ best chance of the night. In truth, he fluffs his lines too often – it’s one of few weaknesses in his game which will have to be ironed out.
Mané ultimately drew more groans than bursts of applause, surrendering possession five times and failing to play through Divock Origi late in the game – either because of a lack of a vision or poor decision-making.
Roberto Firmino, the driving force behind the flurry of chances late in the first half, was the brightest of the three. His play was full of invention and inspiration at times and was deserving of a tangible reward. Three key passes, two dribbling runs and two tackles – it was almost vintage Firmino.
But the man of the match, on balance, was the skipper Jordan Henderson.
Just as he did last season on the biggest Champions League nights, Henderson turned in a real captain’s performance and rose fearsomely to the occasion.
One of the criticisms often levelled at Steven Gerrard’s successor is his supposed inability to lead by example, but that’s just what he did, in the first half especially. Henderson grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with his team-mates hesitant, charging into tackles with conviction (nobody in red made as many) and looking to kick-start attacks.
Most encouragingly, there was some incisive forward passing on show. One delightfully executed long ball to Salah very nearly proved to be the moment of the magic which yielded an opener for the Reds. It was a stunningly good bit of play.
Though he couldn’t quite make the same impact after the break, Henderson’s application was relentless and he continued to use the ball well.
Perceptions of the 28-year-old really ought to be changing. There’s reason to question if he will ever truly dismiss his doubters. There will always be those who reject his worthiness of the armband. And yet in the biggest games, with his team fighting for the biggest honours, he is developing a habit of silencing them.
He may not always be out there on the pitch – the form of himself, Fabinho and Wijnaldum gives Klopp an embarrassment of riches in defensive midfield – but his leadership may well prove crucial in what is shaping up to an emotionally-demanding few months.
And based on this performance at least, he is relishing that task.
A lot has been made of the fact that Joe Gomez has been out injured for Liverpool this season – and the impact that that has on Liverpool’s defence. But comparatively, not as much has been made of the impact of losing Trent Alexander-Arnold for a period of time – with Trent missing six of Liverpool’s last eleven games through two injuries and making his return as a sub against Bournemouth.
So how much impact does Trent have on the team – both in attack and in defence? In this article I want to explore how Liverpool have performed with and without Trent this year, as well as how well Trent has personally performed, to try and get to the bottom of that.
Starting with the results in general, and I want to focus on the Premier League as that’s where I can most accurately compare xG numbers using Understat . Liverpool have won 14 of their 17 Premier League games where Trent has featured predominantly (for clarity, I’m including the Burnley game where Trent came inside 25 minutes but not the Bournemouth game), drawing with Chelsea and Arsenal as well as their defeat to Man City. Conversely, they’ve won six of nine without Trent, drawing to City, West Ham and Leicester.
That’s a win percentage of 67% and 2.33 points per game without him, compared to an 82% win ratio and 2.59 points per game with him. Nine games isn’t a huge sample size, but 17 is almost half a season and that’s a 98 point season with Trent in the side (and an 89 point season without him).
In terms of defending, what actually sparked part of this article was this tweet (thread) by Simon Brundish – in which he points out Liverpool’s defensive record with and without Trent in the PL.But what’s interesting is that despite those numbers themselves indicating that Trent has made a big difference to the defence, the sample sizing again makes a huge difference to the numbers, as does whether you count Spurs’ late goal against Liverpool – a game in which Trent played 90 mins but Spurs scored as soon as he went off.
If you factor that goal as being in Trent’s tally, LFC have conceded nine in 17 games with him or 0.53 goals per game, and 0.67 without him (six in nine). If you take it out since he wasn’t on the pitch – which you should – then it’s 0.47 with him and 0.78 without per game.
This is not to invalidate Brundish’s point, merely to demonstrate that fine margins make huge differences when you’re dealing with sample sizes. Neverthless, again you have a relatively big sample size with Trent on the field – over 1500 minutes, and conceding just eight goals in what is now 1519 minutes on the field (190 minutes per goal) is terrific (as mentioned – essentially 0.47 goals against per 90).
However, if you look at the underlying numbers, that’s where things get a bit more complicated. Liverpool have conceded 0.72 xGA on average in those 17 games where Trent has played, compared with 0.82 when he has played. So despite conceding considerably less goals, Liverpool tend to ship a slightly higher xGA.
So I looked at big chances against, to see if that made a difference related to their league position. The Reds have shipped five big chances without Trent on the field, at a rate of 0.55 per game. When he has been on the field, they’ve shipped 20 in 17, or 1.18. So defensively, despite conceding more xGA and more big chances, Liverpool have shipped considerably less goals. Again, sample sizes, but that’s interesting.
The bigger difference is actually, considerably so, in Liverpool’s attack. With Trent in the side, Liverpool manage 2.37 xG, without him that dips to 1.63. The Reds have created 14 big chances at 1.54 per game without him, compared to a staggering 57 with him – that’s 3.35 per game.
That difference doesn’t necessarily translate entirely to goals – Liverpool have scored 40 goals at 2.35 with him and 19 at 2.11 without him, but nevertheless, that level of creativity in attack is massive. With Trent, that’s a 90 xG, 89 goal season with 127 big chances, compared to 62 xG, 80 goals (that seems an unsustainable ratio) 59 big chance season. That’s a genuinely colossal difference and again, whilst the sample sizes play a factor, there’s no doubt that that’s noticeable.
Trent himself has made a sizeable contribution to the attack too – as you might expect. Whilst he’s only on one goal and three assists, he’s been a somewhat solid creative force for the team. In terms of xA/90, he’s fifth in the squad on 0.16 behind Salah (0.34), Milner (0.32), Robbo (0.21) and Bobby (0.20)and higher than Mané (0.14), Shaqiri (0.12) and comfortably higher than any of our CMs not named Milner. To fit that, he’s also fifth on assists for LFC with three – Milner and Bobby on four, Robbo on six and Salah seven.
And on top of that, in terms of xG Build/90, he’s also fifth of Liverpool’s regular starters (those who have played at least three full sets of ninety minutes) on 0.42 – this time behind Milner (0.52),Hendo (0.47),Naby (0.46) and Robbo (0.43).
What these numbers show is that whilst Trent isn’t necessarily a pivotal player in the attack, he’s one of the most important cogs outside of the front three. Both of Liverpool’s full-backs are hugely important to the way that they play football, as these numbers demonstrate with Robbo consistently up there too, and it really shows that when Trent is missing, Liverpool don’t have the same threat.
When you think of Liverpool’s most important players, you think of Van Dijk, Salah and Mané. But Alexander-Arnold isn’t necessarily a player that people would include on that list. Nevertheless, it’s clear that he’s a player with not only a huge future for the club, but already a player that Klopp can find himself relying on.
It would be easy to see Trent as simply one for the future, and even announcements such as this one from ESPN about his new contract indicate that his renewal isn’t as important as say the renewals of Salah or Firmino, but it’s fair to say that he’s not just a player with a bright future, but a player that is already of critical importance to the way that Liverpool play.
Again to make the comparisons with Gomez. Liverpool have largely been able to cope with Gomez’s injury defensively, with Lovren and Matip filling in admirably, but they haven’t been quite able to cope with Trent’s loss in quite the same way, especially not when both have been out at the same time.
If Liverpool are to win the league, which right now you’d say they are still favourites to do, then Trent’s fitness could prove a key feature. Right now, if I were a betting man, and certainly I think that this title race will end up proving an interesting one to bet on, then I’d say that the odds of Liverpool winning the title will improve now that Trent is fit, and Klopp will be hoping that he stays fit.
As for the future? If Trent is already one of Liverpool’s most important players, then who knows how good he can be when he hits his prime. Liverpool are really lucky to have him, and that has been demonstrated this season.
Venue – Anfield, Liverpool
Referee – Gianluca Rocchi (ITA)
Date & Time – Tuesday, February 19th 2019 @ 20:00
Current Odds – Liverpool 1/1, Draw 14/5, FC Bayern 23/10Form
Liverpool stumbled to two draws in their last five games and at the turn of the year, they lost their first and only Premier League game of the season at Manchester City. However, The Reds bounced back last weekend with a convincing 3-0 win at home to Bournemouth before jetting off to Marbella for a warm-weather training camp during the week.
In Europe, Liverpool just about scraped out of the group stages after winning their three home fixtures but losing all three games on the road. There will be no more room for such complacency on their travels as the Champions League now gets down to real business.
FC Bayern Form
Niko Kovac’s Bayern Munich team is currently second in the Bundesliga, two points behind Borussia Dortmund but having played a game more.
The German champions won Group E in the Champions League group stages ahead of Ajax and Benfica. Bayern are still unbeaten after their six CL games so far this season.
Kovac’s men won 3-2 at Augsburg last Friday evening in their final game before travelling to Anfield.
Liverpool Team News
Jurgen Klopp will be without his man-mountain of a defender, Virgil van Dijk, for Tuesday night’s game. Van Dijk is suspended for the first leg.
Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are both still out injured while Dejan Lovren is facing a race to be fit enough for selection.
Trent Alexander-Arnold should be okay to start with Joel Matip and Fabinho the most likely pairing in central defence.
Klopp will probably opt for last season’s tried and somewhat-trusted midfield of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner while it will be the usual three up front.
FC Bayern Team News
Corentin Tolisso is out injured for this fixture while there are also doubts about whether wide-men Arjen Robben and Kingsley Coman will be available for selection.
Bayern forward Thomas Muller is suspended for both legs of this tie.
Kovac has set Bayern up in either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 shape so far this season. I would expect a 4-2-3-1 formation on Tuesday night as he may look to overpower the home team in the midfield third.Predicted XIs
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson; Henderson(c), Wijnaldum, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mané
FC Bayern XI (4-2-3-1) – Neuer(c); Kimmich, Sule, Hummels, Alaba; Alcantara, Martinez; Goretzka, Rodriguez, Coman; Lewandowski
When they last met
The last time these two teams met each other in a competitive fixture was the European Super Cup of 2001. That night in Monaco, goals from John Arne Riise, Emile Heskey and Michael Owen gave Liverpool a 3-2 victory.
Liverpool and FC Bayern have only met once before in the European Cup and that was at the semi-final stages of the 1980/81 tournament. After a 0-0 draw at Anfield, Liverpool progressed to the final thanks to a Ray Kennedy goal which gave them the 1-1 draw and a victory on the away goals rule.Prediction
Liverpool 2 – 1 FC Bayern
Whatever happens on Tuesday night, this tie will be far from over. I expect two tense fixtures from two teams who can be lethal on the counter-attack. Both sides will view this fixture as a monumental task to overcome with no clear out-and-out favourite to progress to the quarter-finals (Liverpool currently at 4/5 to qualify, FC Bayern at 19/20).
I think the power of Anfield will push The Reds over the line 0n Tuesday night, just about.
** Please note – “xGA” on the Form Stats Tables symbolises “expected goals against”
All xG stats courtesy of Understat.com and/or FiveThirtyEight.com
Liverpool moved back to the top of the Premier League for the time being with a fantastic 3-0 win over Bournemouth. But what are the key stats from yet another top performance at Anfield?Midfield Maestro Naby Leads The Charge
Overall, Liverpool’s midfield were absolutely excellent, and at the heart of that was Naby Keita. His all-round game was outstanding, winning 7/8 tackles, making 97 passes at 91% accuracy means that he was able to completely control the game. But he was also highly influential, and his xG Build of 1.45 – with Naby directly involved in all three goals – the highest for a player since the opening day of the season where three players bettered that – including Keita himself.
Keita was suitably helped by the two around him though. Although Keita was the midfield controller, Fabinho was also important defensively in generating turnover with 4/4 tackles and Wijnaldum turning in a rare attacking performance – three key passes, including one big chance for 0.49 xA and of course, his stunning goal. Liverpool played their best midfield in this game and they delivered.
Front Three Fire At Once – For Once
First 16 games 2 of Mané, Mo or bobby contributed goal/assist in the same game 8 times
In the last 9 games they’ve only done it twice
— SimonBrundish (@SimonBrundish) February 5, 2019
As this tweet from Si Brundish demonstrates, in the last handful of games Liverpool have struggled to get their front three in the game. But in this one, all three were firing close to on all cylinders, all three contributing either a goal or an assist.
Firmino was back to his creative best, creating four chances, two big chances including an assist for Salah, with 0.95 xA. Sadio Mané scored for the fourth PL game in a row in the same season for the first time in an LFC shirt – having scored in the first three of the season and Brighton on the last day of last season.
And Mo Salah was absolutely everywhere. 77 touches, seven shots, a big chance, 0.7 xG, a goal, three key passes, 0.21 xA, 1.30 xG Build, 2.10 xG Chain (!!!!!), two dribbles. He now has 24 goal contributions this season, with both Mané and Firmino up to 13, that’s 50 goals or assists between them. Top stuff.Defensive Issues Abate – For Now
Whilst the alarm bells had been ringing defensively over the last handful of games, this was a much better defensive display from the Reds. Bournemouth’s tally of 0.39 xG is the 5th lowest of the season that we’ve shipped, and the 2nd lowest since we last played Bournemouth in December. They had six shots inside the box, but Liverpool were able to block four of them.
Van Dijk and Matip were in tandem for the first time in a while and this was VVD’s best performance in a while. He wasn’t dribbled past (again), and blocked a shot, whilst between him and Matip they won 9/9 defensive aerial duels, made 17 clearances and two interceptions. Much, much better defensively from Liverpool.
The way that Liverpool treat their young players is interesting to me. They seem to fall into two groups under Klopp, and it’s curious to see how Klopp treats, and has treated, both young players and the loan system that they fit into.
Take for example, Trent Alexander-Arnold. His meteoric rise may have been accelerated because of an injury to Nathaniel Clyne before the start of the 17/18 season, but it was always clear that Jürgen Klopp intended for Trent to take over as first choice in the right-back slot, or at least to rotate with Joe Gomez, as early as 2016.
Then there’s Gomez himself, who is just a year older than Trent, and is already clearly a mainstay in the Liverpool team too, having been used across the defence, and is a hot prospect at centre-back. Clearly Klopp has no issues relying on young players and sees his team as one that is happy to utilise them – if you’re good you’re old enough.
On the other hand, there are those that despite the occasional first team appearance, are happily moved on relatively straightforwardly. Ryan Kent, Sheyi Ojo and the like will make Liverpool money, as Dominic Solanke has done already in this window, being sold for nearly £20m having been picked up for a nominal fee once the matter was settled between the Reds and Chelsea. Jordon Ibe making £15m is another great example under Klopp.
Which brings me onto three current players in the youth set-up, who are being discussed a bit more this window – as ever.
To begin with Rhian Brewster, who is just 18 years old, but is seemingly one of the obstacles to Liverpool potentially signing Timo Werner. Obviously, this talk is just speculation from journos, but on a certain level it makes sense. Klopp has been talking consistently about getting Brewster into the first team squad once he has fully recovered from his injury, and if he steps in, he’d automatically jump Origi and Sturridge in the pecking order anyway – and both have just 325 league minutes between them. So it makes sense that Brewster is seen as a long term squad option, and in the same way that Gomez has been preventing Liverpool buying a centre-back and Trent has prevented Liverpool buying a right-back, Brewster might be one of the reasons Liverpool aren’t dipping into the striker market.
In contrast, let’s talk about Harry Wilson. His current loan spell at Derby has finally borne fruit, as he’s ended up with ten goals and two assists in the Championship so far this season.Nevertheless there remains very little confidence that he will be a long term option for Liverpool. Personally I’ve written and spoken at length on Wilson before, but the point is that the club have given very little indication that he is seen as a serious long term option. More likely, he’ll be moved on once his loan spell ends, potentially bringing in something like £25m for the club.
And then there’s Marko Grujic, a player who is probably somewhere in the middle. Grujic’s injuries mean that despite playing well for Hertha Berlin, he’s made less than ten appearances in the Bundesliga, although he’s starting to find a run of form.
Whilst Grujic could easily come back to Liverpool in the summer, he’d be wrestling for a spot with the likes of Henderson, Fabinho, Keita and Wijnaldum. Whilst Henderson in particular won’t be around forever, with Grujic I think selling him might end up being what the player would prefer, as he clearly gets on well in Berlin and he’s not a local lad like Trent. Nevertheless, he’s another player that the club could easily move on for a huge profit considering he was another free pickup.
The point I want to make here, is that the club’s policy on young players is quickly developing into a win-win policy. Pick up lads like Grujic or Solanke on a free, or people like Trent or Wilson through the academy. Give them sniffs of first team action. If they’re good enough, let them play and nail down a spot in the team. If they’re not, loan them out until someone bites and is willing to pay you decent money for them. It’s a great system both for the club and the players.
If they’re good enough – and to be clear most of them aren’t – then they can be regular starters for Liverpool and great additions to the squad for minimal expenditure. And if they’re not, then the club can make a good profit, which can be used to spend on buying quality instead. The club could easily make £70m from Wilson, Grujic and Divock Origi, and reinvest that money intelligently in the squad, and that’s before the other deadwood is shifted.
And these are players who aren’t necessarily negatively affected either. Solanke for example, was rotting at Chelsea’s reserves and opted to leave. Now he’s got a place – when he’s fit – at a decent mid-table PL club, which is probably about where his ceiling is. Grujic, even if he doesn’t come back, has gone from Red Star Belgrade through to a mid-table Bundesliga club where he could easily become a key player over the next twelve months. And Wilson, assuming he doesn’t come back either, will surely be playing the Premier League next season, either with Derby or someone else.
Naturally some of the players on this list are still players whose futures are in flux. Wilson I suspect will leave, but Grujic genuinely could go either way – again I’m leaning towards leaving. Whilst Brewster will stay, much will depend on whether or not Liverpool do move in for Werner. Liverpool remain somewhere in and around the odds with the betting sites, and whilst betting on transfers is rarely straightforward, it’s usually at least worth keeping an eye on the best odds.
So where does that leave us? Well the future of individuals players might not be decided until the summer, but Liverpool have got a healthy system developing now, where decent young players make them good money, and some of the best young players are ending up playing for Liverpool. And that’s something we can all celebrate.
Remember the sweet tranquility of those 1-0 snooze-fests that we used to complain about early in the season? How much would you give for a few of those now?
Jurgen Klopp set Liverpool up with a few surprises. Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson were absent with injuries, leaving a skeleton crew with Adam Lallana starting in midfield and James Milner at right-back. A strong enough eleven none the less, embarked on an up and down affair with both teams getting good looks early on.
Sadio Mané struck first through Adam Lallana splitting two defenders on the right, Milner getting away with an assist from an off-side position. A quick turn and fire from Mané took much of the tension off of Liverpool… or it should have, as it should have against Leicester.
However, six minutes later The Reds’ set piece defence let them down again. Antonio sprinted around the right side of the wall, a step ahead of Naby Keita, and finished smartly into the far corner, past a diving Alisson.
Back and forth, up and down, end to end Liverpool would go without really creating much of anything. The pace made for exhausting viewing, to say nothing of the players on the pitch. Liverpool were trying lots of one-touch stuff and low percentage crosses with none of it coming off. A Mané header was the best chance to go ahead, but it went right at Fabianski.
With Joel Matip looking like the best attacking player in checkered grey, Liverpool needed a miracle. Would Shaqiri be able to provide the spark? A Divock Origi special perhaps? With 20 minutes to go things were looking grim for the away team.
Andy Carroll coming on is a thing that happened.
A free-kick pinged off of Virgil van Dijk’s chest nearly provided a chance for the winner, but he was a half step slow, still not right since the team’s Dubai break. Naby Keita provided some gasps from the crowd with some dazzling dribbles late, but like most things on this evening, it all fizzled in the end.
The match ended with Origi one-on-one with the keeper, but it was not to be. Three points clear and clearly struggling. Major changes are needed before Bournemouth if Liverpool intend to stay in this race.
Manchester City visit Everton on Wednesday, who will be in no mood to do The Reds any favours. A win would put City top of the table on goal difference with Liverpool having to wait until Saturday to battle back.
If Jurgen Klopp’s injury reports are to be believed anymore, Bournemouth could see the return of Wijnaldum, Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Inspiration is needed from somewhere. The news of Joe Gomez’ injury setback cast a negative light over the proceedings, but that shouldn’t have translated to the team with so much at stake. There is a lackadaisical aspect to the last few matches that the club needs to shake. Anyone parachuted in from outer-space would not believe Liverpool had so much to play for. Casual balls and slow reactions abound in a moment where you would think minds would be sharp.
Liverpool still have everything to play for and City have shown they are not the juggernaut we once thought.
Saturday at Anfield, we go again.
Venue – London Stadium, London
Referee – Kevin Friend
Date & Time – Monday, February 4th @ 20:00
Current Odds – West Ham 15/2 Draw 17/4, Liverpool 2/5Form West Ham Form
Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham are currently 12th in the Premier League table. They have lost their last three games including an exit from the FA Cup at the hands of League One’s AFC Wimbledon.
Their last home fixture, however, was an impressive 1-0 win over Unai Emery’s Arsenal when Declan Rice popped up with the only goal of the game to win it for The Irons early in the second half.
Liverpool have found it tough since the start of the New Year. A first league defeat of the season at Manchester City was followed by an FA Cup defeat to Wolves at Molineux.
Two hard-fought victories over Brighton and Crystal Palace followed with the Palace game, in particular, showing the nervy, shaky side of a title race. Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw with Leicester was a continuation of that as The Reds barely stumbled their way to earning a point at Anfield.
Liverpool need to ensure that February sees a return to better form all over the pitch and that starts with this trip to London.
Team News West Ham Team News
Manuel Pellegrini has had to deal with a huge amount of injuries at West Ham this since his arrival. The Hammers currently have eleven members of the first-team squad on the injury list.
Marko Arnautovic, Lukas Fabianski and Aaron Cresswell will all face late fitness tests ahead of Monday night’s game. Arnautovic, in particular, is touch-and-go as to whether he will be available for selection. Former Red, Andy Carroll, could deputise lead the line for West Ham in Arnautovic’s potential absence.
Declan Rice and Mark Noble should form the two-man base of the West Ham midfield. Michail Antonio, Felipe Anderson and Robert Snodgrass could make up the creative trio behind the lone striker. Samir Nasri usually plays the ’10’ role behind the striker but he is also expected to miss this game due to injury.Liverpool Team News
Jurgen Klopp is still without Liverpool’s young defensive duo of Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold because of injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is not expected back until April.
James Milner returns after being suspended for the Leicester City fixture.
Klopp used Jordan Henderson as a make-shift right-back on Wednesday night and I think we might see our captain there again for this trip to London. I expect Dejan Lovren to start alongside Van Dijk in central defence while the midfield trio should consist of Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum and Naby Keita.Predicted XIs
West Ham United XI (4-2-3-1) – Fabianski; Zabaleta, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Noble(c), Rice; Antonio, Anderson, Snodgrass; Carroll
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Alisson; Henderson(c), Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mané
When they last met
Liverpool won 4-0 when the sides met at Anfield on the opening weekend of the season. Goals from Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané x2 and Daniel Sturridge ensured The Reds’ season got off to the best possible start.
Liverpool have won their last two games at London Stadium (4-0 and 4-1) so will be hoping to make it three wins in a row at the former Olympic Stadium.Prediction
West Ham United 1 – 3 Liverpool
Liverpool struggled against Leicester City on Wednesday night and the defence has found it difficult to cope with the recent injuries they have suffered. However, I think Klopp will get his side to bounce back in the best possible fashion on Monday night.
Liverpool to win and Salah to score at least one.
** Please note – “xGA” in the Form Stats tables symbolises “expected goals against” **
**All xG stats courtesy of Understat.com and FiveThirtyEight.com
Rafa Benitez became an even greater figure in the eyes of Liverpool fans on Tuesday night after guiding Newcastle to a surprise 2-1 victory against Premier League holders Manchester City, coming back from behind to give Klopp’s side the opportunity to extend their position at the top to seven points. A golden opportunity to go into February with some extra breathing room, the Reds failed to make the opportunity count, stuttering against a resilient Leicester City side in a frustrating 1-1 draw.
Sadio Mane’s early opener promised to bust the game wide open, giving Liverpool the best possible start and putting the away side firmly on the back foot, but defensive frailties would later be exposed as Harry Maguire ghosted in at the back post to convert from close range. Huffing and puffing in the second half, Leicester were never truly threatened – in part due to some incredibly suspect officiating – leaving Jurgen Klopp five points ahead of Pep Guardiola heading into the new month. Here are the observations from the match.Fine margins and suspect officiating
Cast your mind back to Liverpool’s defeat at the Etihad. A night of fine margins having been denied an equaliser by literally inches, this was very much a case of deja vue as Martin Atkinson and co. struggled to get a grip on the content. First, Harry Maguire was incredibly fortunate to avoid a red card after hauling down Sadio Mane, who would have otherwise run through on goal unopposed. He would, of course, go on to grab Leicester’s equaliser before Naby Keita was adjudged to not have been brought down inside the area despite a blatant stomp on his toe. A later offside call on Sadio Mane inside the area would rub salt in the wound on a night where few refereeing decisions went the home team’s way. However, such complaints shouldn’t overcloud what was a frustrating performance from a Liverpool side who have delivered so much more this season.Trent Alexander-Arnold a big miss
With Fabinho missing the build-up to the tie through illness, Jordan Henderson was given the nod at right-back in a back-four that caught the attention of many. Clearly a vulnerability in a side that have shown few avenues of exploitation this season, Leicester were quick to pounce, fixating their attacking moves down the Liverpool captain’s flank. A relatively bright start that saw him venture forward and deliver deep crosses into the box aside, it was a hard night for the England international, who was forced to camp out inside his own-half such was the pace and exuberance of the away side.
Indeed, this was a night that really showed just how crucial Trent Alexander-Arnold has become for the Reds. Defensively strong and quick in the tackle, he possesses the pace to recover when caught out by his opposite number while his attacking abilities and marauding runs have added an extra dimension to Klopp’s team this season – something that would’ve been incredibly useful in a second-half that saw Leicester fall deeper and deeper into their own half. The Scouser is currently injured but fans will be praying on a swift return for the games ahead amid somewhat of a right-back ‘crisis’.Not enough ingenuity on a night that called for creative football
Liverpool have hardly been the fluent side we saw last season, operating in a more pragmatic and controlled manner, taking their time to carve open the opposition. Such was the case against Brighton and Crystal Palace most recently, with the team taking their time to break through and score to grab much needed three points. However, there was no such luck here as Liverpool struggled to show any ingenuity and creativity in a midfield that had promised to do just that. The selection of Xherdan Shaqiri and Naby Keita, who was finally utilised through the middle, did little to break down and stretch a well-disciplined Leicester defence who were content to sit back in numbers, frustrating the home crowd.
This was a night where you needed your Fabinho’s or Oxlade-Chamberlain’s, someone to drive forward at the heart of the defence and force players out of position, thereby creating space for their teammates. Sadly, none such qualities were on show.Set-pieces squandered
A defence marshalled by the height and dominance of Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk should pose a real threat from set-pieces in theory. In theory…
Time and time again the Reds squandered their opportunities to make their chances count from dead-ball situations, struggling to beat the first man or whip the ball into dangerous areas. There was only one real headed chance of memory for either, with Joel Matip’s header going off target in the second half as Liverpool attempted to pile on the pressure. It’s something that could, and quite frankly should be a real source of danger for this side as we’ve seen in the past, but here it provided the perfect summation of the performance – not good enough.Still, five points clear…
The silver lining is, of course, that Liverpool are now five points clear at the top following Manchester City’s defeat against Newcastle. Albeit not the seven points they would’ve hoped to be, it still represents an incredibly healthy position for Klopp’s side heading into February. They remain very much in the ascendency with their fate in their own hands for what remains of the season. Improvement is of course needed, but this is a position any Liverpool fan would’ve taken at the start of the season.
Venue – Anfield, Liverpool
Referee – Martin Atkinson
Date & Time – Wednesday, January 30th @ 20:00
Current Odds – Liverpool 9/50, Draw 6/1, Leicester 12/1Form Liverpool Form
Liverpool seem to have overcome the minor blip they suffered in early January with defeat at Manchester City being followed up by an early exit from the FA Cup at Wolves.
Since then, The Reds turned in a professional performance to take all three points at Brighton while their last fixture at Anfield was more of a topsy-turvy affair which Jurgen Klopp’s men finally managed to get the win from too.
As you can see from the xG stats below, Liverpool are back to creating plenty of big chances per game in the last few weeks, despite that FA Cup defeat at Molineux.
Alisson Becker didn’t perform to the standard we are used to in the win over Crystal Palace with Max Meyer’s late goal a particular cause for concern with regards to our goalkeeper. However, Alisson has already proved to be a fantastic signing for Liverpool and he’s bound to return to the level of performance we have become used to since the Brazilian international’s arrival. Let’s hope he gets back to his best immediately.
Leicester City Form
Leicester have lost four of their last five games in all competitions, including a shock 2-1 defeat at League Two’s Newport County in the FA Cup.
Claude Puel does seem to be under a certain amount of pressure in his role at the King Power Stadium these days yet it’s just over a month since The Foxes defeated the mighty Manchester City 2-1 in the Premier League.
It’s hard to know which Leicester team will turn out at Anfield on Wednesday night but it’s likely they will raise their game significantly at the home of the Premier League leaders.
Team News Liverpool Team News
Klopp has watched on as Liverpool’s injury list has continued to grow since December. Currently missing for The Reds are Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Virgil van Dijk (illness), Gini Wijnaldum (knee) and Fabinho are also fighting to be fit in time for Wednesday night’s fixture. Fabinho, in particular, will be needed to fill in at right-back with Gomez and Alexander-Arnold both injured while James Milner is suspended after his red card against Crystal Palace.
Liverpool might have to revert to the 4-3-3 formation for this fixture due to injuries at the back so I expect Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and Wijnaldum, if fit, to make up the midfield trio.
Joel Matip should partner Van Dijk in the centre of defence with Fabinho and Andy Robertson on each flank.Leicester City Team News
Harry Maguire is expected to be fit again in time for the trip to Anfield so that would mean that Daniel Amartey will be Leicester’s only absentee due to his broken ankle. Amartey isn’t expected to be match-fit again until March.
Puel will most likely set his team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Nampalys Mendy and Wilfred Ndidi forming the base of the midfield. James Maddison will play a more advanced central-midfield role while Jamie Vardy should be the lone striker. Vardy has scored seven goals in his eight Premier League appearances against The Reds, his best record against any team in England’s top flight.Predicted XIs
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Alisson; Fabinho, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson(c), Wijnaldum, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mané
Leicester City XI (4-2-3-1) – Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan(c), Maguire, Chilwell; Mendy, Ndidi; Pereira, Maddison, Gray; Vardy
When they last met
Liverpool have won the last three meetings between the two teams. Back in September, Sadio Mane and Bobby Firmino scored on the way to a 2-1 win at the King Power Stadium.
Last season at Anfield, Mohamed Salah scored a second-half double as Liverpool came from behind to win 2-1 after Vardy had given the away team a very early lead.Prediction
Liverpool 2 – 1 Leicester City
I don’t see an easy win here. Leicester may be a few years past their Premier League title success now but they are still a very good top-half team. Also, Vardy seems to just love playing against Liverpool so there will always be the threat of counter-attacks from The Foxes.
The Reds should win but, again, it could be another fence we just about make it over on the way to a potential 19th league title in May. Of course, I’m hoping I’m wrong and that it’s 4-0 by half-time 🙂
** Please note – “xGA” in the Form Stats tables symbolises “expected goals against” **
**All xG stats courtesy of Understat.com and FiveThirtyEight.com