Verdict: Mohamed Salah to score
Best odds: 4/5
The two teams that finished top of of the top two tiers of English football in 2019/20 are set to bless us with a direct contest on the opening day of 2020/21 – an exciting start to the upcoming season for sure. It’s Premier League champions Liverpool against the Championship winners Leeds United at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
There is a lot of talk around the title defenders at the moment. All of their major rivals – Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and even Everton, have made big-name signings this summer, each obviously determined to snatch that trophy away from Liverpool. On the other hand, the only first-team signing Liverpool have made so far was that of Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiacos – a backup option for Andy Robertson on the left defensive flank. They have been heavily linked with Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara while Geroginio Wijnaldum is a reported target for Barcelona, but there has been no tangible development on either front except that Wijnaldum held ‘positive’ talks with manager Jurgen Klopp about staying on Merseyside.
Many see Liverpool’s lack of activity in the transfer market as a sign of weakness, and Klopp himself stressed more than once that club are being careful with their funds due to the financial implications of the Covid-19 pandemic, whose full scale impact is probably yet to be felt.
Be that as it may, Liverpool won the title last season in a very convincing manner, and the puzzle seems complete, and even though a player like Thiago could add another dimension to their midfield, it is a well-stocked department when the champions are concerned.
Speaking to the press ahead of the match, Klopp confirmed that midfielder Jordan Henderson and winger Xherdan Shaqiri are both back in training after recovering from their respective injuries, but it remains to be seen whether either of them will be involved on Saturday. Defender Joel Matip has already returned to action and could even be given a start, with Joe Gomez returned only recently from international duty.
The occasion is likely to be a huge one for James Milner, who came through the ranks and played 50 games for Leeds, before moving to Newcastle United in 2004.
Speaking about huge occasions, they don’t come much bigger than this for a team that’s been absent from the English top flight for 16 years and have been drawn to play away to the defending champions on their first day back. They will be going to Anfield likely still buoyant from their Championship triumph and the home team’s record of 59 home games in the league without defeat isn’t likely to scare them. They will certainly be helped by the fact that there will still be no fans in the stadium.
Under Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds play a truly competitive style of football, well-balanced between defending and attacking, and even Klopp was full of praise for them in his press conference. The same can be said of Bielsa, who was adamant that Liverpool’s title last season was fully deserved.
Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani recently revealed that the club’s ambitions are to come close to the top six in the Premier League in the next several years, but they obviously need to do a lot before they can get there. Nonetheless, there are very few doubts that Leeds will be an exciting team to watch in 2020/21.
Bielsa won’t be able to call upon Liverpool-born midfielder Adam Forshaw, who is struggling with a hip problem. Winger Helder Costa and midfielder Kalvin Phillips have recovered from their respective injuries and are likely to be included.
Having come from Valencia this summer as a club-record signing, Rodrigo Moreno is likely to lead the attacking line.
The opening round is probably as good as any for Leeds to play away to the defending champions and it’s not likely to be an easy day at the office for the home players. Nonetheless, Liverpool remain the favourites to win the match. Klopp has instilled a winning mentality into his team, clearly shown by the string of trophies they won in the last 15 months, and they need to get off to a good start regardless of the opponents.
Mohamed Salah has scored in every opening league match of the season since joining Liverpool in 2017, three times in a row. Only Teddy Sharingham has managed to score on four such occasions, and the Egyptian will be keen to equal that record. The chances are, he’ll hit the back of the net at least once.
Verdict: Mohamed Salah to score
Best odds: 4/5
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