Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 4/6
There’s a lot of work to do for Leeds United and Liverpool between now and the end of the season, and for both, every point they can get is absolutely vital. Therefore, it’ll be everything to play for when they meet at Elland Road on Monday evening within matchday 31 of the Premier League season.
Having spent two fine seasons in the English top flight, Leeds are currently struggling to keep their place among the elite. The poor results they had earlier in the campaign saw manager Jesse Marsch get his marching orders, and at the moment, the team is being conducted by former Watford and Valencia boss Javi Gracia.
The results since the change have been mixed, some surprisingly good, some very bad. In the last six games in all competitions, Leeds lost 1-0 away to Chelsea, drew 2-2 at home against Brighton and Hove Albion, won 2-4 away to Wolves, lost 4-1 away to Arsenal, beat Nottingham Forest at home by 2-1, and suffered a proper thrashing at home at the hands of Crystal Palace last week, 1-5.
Not the best of moments to entertain a team like Liverpool, even if they did manage to grab all three points at Anfield earlier in the season against the struggling Reds.
Be that as it may, Gracia’s team are now in 16th place with 29 points, not in the relegation zone but much closer to it than they’d have liked to be. Only two points and Everton separate them from it at the moment as Nottingham Forest, who are in the zone, as well as Everton, have a tally of 27 apiece. Leicester City are 19th with 25, and Southampton at the bottom have 23. All those teams have already played 31 matches, which means now would be a good time for Leeds to try and pull a bit further away.
Gracia won’t be able to rely on the versatility of Stuart Dallas, who remains out with a thigh injury, just like midfielder Tyler Adams. Defender Max Wober, on the other hand, could be available following a thigh problem of his own, but Gracia offered no guarantees on that front in his pre-match press conference.
One would expect changes to be made after the Crystal Palace embarrassment, but Gracia played such notions down. It remains to be seen how true he stays to his word, but if he does, Illan Meslier will be in goal, with Pascal Struijk and Robin Koch as the centre-back pair, Luke Ayling on their right and Junior Firpo on their left. Weston McKennie and Marc Roca will act as a double pivot in midfield, while the trio of Luis Sinisterra, Brenden Aaronson and Jack Harrison support striker Patrick Bamford upfront.
Liverpool have emerged from a trio of tough fixtures last week with just two points, and their chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season have most likely gone beyond recall at this point. Their last-six run started so well, with a 7-0 thrashing of Manchester United at home, but then came a slap in the face in the form of a 1-0 defeat away to Bournemouth. It was followed by a 1-0 defeat away to Real Madrid in the round of 16 of the Champions League, and a 4-1 defeat away to Manchester City. Then came a goalless draw away to Chelsea, and a very interesting 2-2 draw against Arsenal at Anfield.
In that match, Liverpool started very poorly and went two goals down within the first half of an hour. And just as they looked bereft of any desire and already beaten, they snapped into life, turned the flow of the game around, pushed the league leaders up against the wall and were eventually unlucky not to have won. It was another glimpse of what Liverpool are capable of when they’re in the right mood.
But such glimpses have been very rare this season, and that’s why they’re currently eighth with 44 points, 12 less than Newcastle in fourth, nine less than Tottenham Hotspur in fifth, six less than Aston Villa in sixth, and five less than Brighton in seventh.
What’s more, it seems the club hierarchy have come to terms with not having the money that comes with playing in the Champions League next season, and they’ve toned down their transfer expectations for the summer by pulling out of the race for Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham, to the dismay of their supporters. Recent reports suggest they’ve turned their attention towards Bayern Munich’s Ryan Gravenberch.
The biggest positive news for Liverpool at the moment is the long-awaited return of Luis Diaz to full fitness after five months of absence. As Klopp himself confirmed, the Colombian winger is in contention for this match, though he probably won’t start.
There have, on the other hand, been a few worrying signs through the week. Defender Ibrahima Konate and goalkeeper Alisson Becker had some training disruptions, but Klopp expects them to be ready for Monday.
Defender Calvin Ramsay and midfielder Stefan Bajcetic are, of course, out for the season.
Alisson will likely start in goal, but it remains to be seen if Klopp risks Konate or gives Joel Matip a chance alongside Virgil van Dijk in the heart of defence. Joe Gomez in an option too. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson should start on the defensive flanks, but expect the former to drift into midfield every now and then. There he would play alongside Fabinho, with captain Jordan Henderson and Harvey Elliott further ahead.
It’s been a while since Liverpool had their full attacking department fit, and that’s where it’s hardest to guess what Klopp will do. As has been said, Diaz probably won’t start just yet, which means Darwin Nunez or Diogo Jota could play on the left, with Cody Gakpo or Roberto Firmino in the central area. Mohamed Salah will surely be attacking from the right.
Quite apart from the three points out for grabs, Liverpool have a score to settle against Leeds and if they can recreate anything resembling the second-half performance against Arsenal, Leeds could find themselves having another tough day at the office.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 4/6
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