Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 8/11
Leeds United are set to welcome Liverpool to Elland Road on Sunday afternoon in what should be a very interesting match. Both Premier League clashes between these teams last term were certainly interesting; the Merseysiders won 4-3 at Anfield on the opening day of 2020-21, but Leeds managed to snatch a point at Elland Road in April with the match ending with a goal apiece.
Marcelo Bielsa’s team started the new season in the worst manner possible, by getting thumped 5-1 at Old Trafford by Manchester United. An exciting contest at home against Everton followed, where they fought back from a goal down twice to earn the first point of the campaign. In the last round, they played Burnley at Turf Moor, with a late Patrick Bamford strike earning them another point after Chris Wood gave the Clarets the lead. A 3-0 victory over Crew Alexandra in the Carabao Cup came between the last two league matches.
These results have put Leeds in 15th place at the moment, with the same tally (2) as Southampton and Crystal Palace in 13th and 14th, respectively, and with one point more than Burnley and Newcastle directly below. With the international break now over, they face a difficult task of trying to book the first triumph of the season against one of the title contenders.
The two teams share a concern regarding the availability of certain players for this match, though it affects Leeds slightly less than Liverpool. The Brazilian FA have asked FIFA to ban players who failed to report for international duty over the break for this round, and the matter is yet to be definitely resolved. The clubs affected are putting up a fight, and it remains to be seen which way in pans out.
For Leeds, it means that winger Raphinha, linked with Liverpool at one point, could be missing on Sunday.
Speaking to the press ahead of the match, Bielsa confirmed that fullbacks Stuart Dallas and Junior Firpo are available, as is midfielder Mateusz Klich. The same goes for Manchester United loanee Daniel James, who is likely to be highly motivated against his parent club’s fiercest rivals.
The only confirmed absentee for the match is centre-back Robin Koch, who is injured.
Having won the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League in 2020, Liverpool had a disappointing campaign last term as severe injuries depleted their centre-back ranks. They managed to pull themselves together and produce a great string of results late on, which proved just enough to warrant a place in the Champions League again.
Buoyed by the return of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez to fitness, and the acquisition of Ibrahima Konate, their only signing of the summer set to make sure the crisis of the previous season doesn’t repeat itself, the Reds started this campaign on the front foot. Norwich City were beaten at Carrow Road by 0-3 in the opening round, followed by a 2-0 win over Burnely at home. Then came the first real test as Chelsea arrived to Anfield. Kai Havertz opened the scoring for the visitors, but the Blues’ lead was nullified by Mohamed Salah from the spot as Reece James picked up a red card for handling the ball on the goal-line, and the match ended 1-1.
Liverpool are now fifth in the league, in a cluster of teams with seven points which stretches from the second to the sixth place, joined by West Ham (2nd), Manchester United (3rd), Chelsea (4th) and Everton (6th). Tottenham Hotspur sit at the top as the only team to have won all three matches so far.
Manager Jurgen Klopp is sweating over the availability of three players, all rather important for his team, due to the issue with the Brazilian FA. Those players are namely goalkeeper Alisson Becker, midfielder Fabinho, and forward Roberto Firmino, though the latter probably wouldn’t play anyway due to a hamstring injury he picked up in the first half of the Chelsea clash.
If the trio are banned from this match, Caomhin Kelleher is likely to take Alisson’s place between the posts ahead of Adrian. There are plenty of options for Fabinho’s role, with captain Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara perfectly capable of providing protection to the back four if need be. Vice-captain James Milner has been injured, and it remains to be seen if the veteran midfielder returns to fitness in time.
Firmino’s absence means the front three pick themselves – Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota. Japanese forward Takumi Minamino returned early from international duty with an injury.
FIFA has confirmed in an official statement on Saturday morning that the Brazilian players will be able to play.
“Based on positive signals and constructive dialogue FIFA has received from the UK government towards the international match window in October, recognising that players have no control over the extreme situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and sanitary restrictions currently imposed and, as a sign of good faith, goodwill and cooperation, the member associations of Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Paraguay, in close consultation with FIFA, have taken the decision to withdraw their complaints in relation to the England-based players, and players bound to play in England, who were not released for the recent international matches,” the statement says.
“On 8 September 2021, the FIFA President, The FA Interim Chair and Premier League Chair sent a joint letter to the UK Prime Minister. The UK government is now open to find a reasonable solution with the three organisations, who are working closely together in a spirit of mutual understanding, in the interests of everyone.”
It won’t be an easy match for either side, but Liverpool are certainly the favourites to win due to their vast quality and the form they showed before the break.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 8/11
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