Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 4/6
The 2020/21 season in the Champions League resumes this week, with round four of the group stage up next. In group D, Liverpool are set to host Atalanta at Anfield on Wednesday. The other match of the group will be played between Ajax and Midtjylland in Amsterdam.
The talk these days when the Premier League champions are concerned mostly revolves around the numerous injuries that have struck the squad, but the fact remains that Liverpool are undefeated since their shocking 7-2 loss away to Aston Villa in early October. Between then and now, they played a total of eight matches in all competitions, winning six and drawing twice – only city rivals Everton and arguable title rivals Manchester City managed to scrape a point at Goodison Park and the Etihad, respectively.
At the moment, Liverpool top Group D with a maximum of nine points from the previous three rounds. They first beat Ajax in Amsterdam by 0-1, then Midtjylland at Anfield by 2-1, before destroying Atalanta in Bergamo by 0-5.
In the Premier League, Jurgen Klopp’s men are second to Tottenham Hotspur on goal-difference, with both teams standing at 20 points. Their 3-0 win over Leicester City a few days ago was particularly impressive, and against all odds, the Reds are currently on good form.
Klopp won’t be able to call upon his two first-choice centre-backs for a long time yet. Both Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are out with serious knee injuries. Like Van Dijk, midfielder Thiago Alcantara has been out since the Everton game in October, and the manager has confirmed the former Bayern Munich man still isn’t back in team training. Captain Jordan Henderson picked up an injury on international duty last week, as did Xherdan Shaqiri. Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is out with a calf problem which hit him at the Etihad. Midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is yet to feature this season, and this is another game he’ll miss. Naby Keita went off with a hamstring issue against Leicester.
The good news for the Merseysiders is that Mohamed Salah has tested negative for Covid-19 after previously testing positive twice, and he is in contention for this game.
Joel Matip paired up with Fabinho at the back on Sunday, but for this one, Klopp might opt to give a chance to 19-year-old Rhys Williams, who has so far done very well when called upon. James Milner played right-back, but Neco Williams made a decent cameo and could be given a start here. In midfield, Klopp is likely to name Georginio Wijnaldum, and should he be relieved of the right-back duty, Milner is likely to play alongside the Dutchman and young Curtis Jones in the absence of Henderson and Keita. Upfront, Klopp is likely to name his preferred trio of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, but he could also decide not to put the Egyptian straight back into the fray and start the in-form Diogo Jota instead.
The Serie A side currently sit in third place in the group with four points from the previous three matches, having beaten Midtjylland away by 0-4 and drawn 2-2 away to Ajax. They are ahead of the Dutch team on mere goal-difference, and it seems that they will be battling for the remaining spot which leads to the knockout stages alongside Liverpool until the end.
In Italy, Atalanta occupy the place number seven right now, with both Napoli above and Lazio below on the same tally of 14 points. Atalanta were among the more prolific teams in Europe’s top five leagues until quite recently – since the triumph away to Midtjylland, they’ve only managed to win one of the six games they played. They travel to the north-west of England on the back of two draws – an encouraging one against Inter Milan which ended with a goal apiece, and a hugely underwhelming, goalless one away to Spezia.
The Spezia game had one positive side to it – left-back Robin Gosens, midfielder Marten de Roon, centre-back Jose Luis Palomino and goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini all returned to action following different injury problems. Coach Gian Piero Gasperini will, however, be without defender Mattia Caldara, who likely won’t play before the turn of the year due to a knee issue. Midfielders Ruslan Malinovskyi and Fabio Depaoli have been ruled out as well.
Both teams need the points on offer in this game, with Liverpool looking to mathematically secure passage to the round of 16 and Atalanta trying to be there with them, probably not counting on Midtjylland doing them a favour against Ajax.
But if Gasperini’s men fell to a five-goal defeat at home against Liverpool, it’s hard to see them having any realistic hope of avoiding the same outcome at Anfield, where only Atletico Madrid have managed to pull off a surprise in recent years.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 4/6
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