Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 4/6
Liverpool are set to travel to face Leeds United at Elland Road on Monday evening in the 32nd round of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign.
Though the match is certainly important for both teams, it’s probably more so for one than the other.
Having reached the English top flight after 16 years of struggle last summer, Leeds have done extremely well under Marcelo Bielsa. The experienced Argentine coach set up a team without big-name stars, but fully capable of matching any opponent on a football pitch through creative tactical ideas and the discipline which has the players sticking to the task relentlessly.
Last week they did something not many teams could (possibly no other team) – they beat league leaders Manchester City at the Etihad while playing the entire second half with 10 men. That fully shows the character of the team, though, as Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp pointed out in his pre-match press conference, it doesn’t say much about the way they usually play.
Leeds are comfortably nestled in the middle of the Premier League table – more than anyone would expect from most newly promoted sides in April. They are currently 10th with 45 points, completely safe from relegation, and in with a (long) shot at European football next season. After all, they are only seven points behind Liverpool in sixth, with seven matches to play.
The last six league matches Bielsa’s men played saw them win three, draw one and lose two. They lost 0-1 at home to Aston Villa, 2-0 away to West Ham, drew 0-0 at home against Chelsea, beat Fulham away by 1-2, beat Sheffield United at home by 2-1, and then Manchester City at the Etihad by the same scoreline.
Just as they had to during the second half at the Etihad, Leeds will be playing against Liverpool without captain Liam Cooper who is suspended for three matches for the straight red card he picked up, and Bielsa will pick either Robin Koch or Pascal Struijk to start in the heart of defence.
Having been unable to face his parent club, Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison will be available for selection on the wings this time, but Liverpool-linked Raphinha will have to pass a late fitness test after picking up an injury towards the end of the City game. Rodrigo Moreno is still recovering from a muscle issue and remains out.
Patrick Bamford is nailed-on to start in attacked, with Helder Costa set for a place on his flank if Raphinha doesn’t make it.
Liverpool’s season has been a strange one and their chances of defending the title they won last term are gone a long time. They’ve been hit heavily with injuries, particularly in the centre-back area, and at this point, Klopp will consider his squad with only four absentees, all of whom are ruled out for the rest of the season.
Be that as it may, the Reds seem to have stabilized themselves recently, winning their last three Premier League matches. Before that, they won one and lost two, so their last-six record reads four wins and two defeats. They beat Sheffield United away by 0-2, then lost two games at home, 0-1 to Chelsea and by the same scoreline to relegation-threatened Fulham, before bouncing back to beat Wolves at the Molineux by 0-1, smash Arsenal 0-3 at the Emirates, and finally win a home match, the first in 2021, against Aston Villa by 2-1.
Having been knocked out of the Champions League in the quarterfinals by 13-time winners Real Madrid, Liverpool are now locked in a fierce battle to secure a place in the competition next term. As things stand, they are sixth in the Premier League table with 52 points, for less than Leicester City in third, three less than West Ham in fourth and two less than Chelsea in fifth. They also have to look over their shoulders – Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are close with 50 and 49 points, respectively.
As has been said, there are no players missing for Klopp apart from Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson, none of whom is expected to play again this season. It means Nathaniel Phillips and Ozan Kabak are likely to continue as the centre-back partnership with Fabinho providing protection ahead. It remains to be seen, however, who starts alongside the Brazilian in midfield, with Klopp shifting through his options in that department recently, as well as if Diogo Jota is given a start ahead of someone of the usual front three.
These two teams played a very exciting match at Anfield in the opening round of the season, which Liverpool ended up winning by 4-3. There seems to be much more at stake for the Merseysiders now, and they’ll be entering this contest with immense motivation. Leeds may have had enough in their locker to stop a complacent approach from City last week, but facing Liverpool who have a lot to prove, both to themselves and the rest of the world, will be a different prospect.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 4/6
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