You’ve put up with the Euros. You’ve watched some of the football in the Olympics. You’ve got up at stupid o’clock in order to see the Reds play a meaningless friendly out in the US. And now you’re getting your reward: The Premier League season is back.
At 4pm on Sunday Liverpool’s latest campaign gets underway against Arsenal at The Emirates. But what should we expect from Jürgen Klopp’s new look Liverpool team? Will the lads get off to a winning start, or will the Gunners put a fly in our title-tilt ointment before we’ve even got it off the ground?
For the Reds there are a number of absences who have no chance whatsoever of making the game. Loris Karius was supposed to turn up at Anfield with his devastating good looks and sweep the faltering Simon Mignolet out of the door, giving us dependability and solidity at the back. Instead he broke his finger on Dejan Lovren’s head and won’t even be able to make the bench.
Joe Gomez recovered from his ACL injury only to do his achilles tendon upon his return to training, meaning he’ll miss out too. Mamadou Sakho was injured when he was in America before being sent home for being a naughty boy and neither of those defensive options are expected to be back before mid-September. Lucas Leiva is out for another week or two, if he were ever likely to play.
Daniel Sturridge missed both the Barcelona and Mainz games because of a hip injury, whilst James Milner limped off with a heel injury just before the end of the first-half of the game against Barca at Wembley. Out in Germany our new midfield powerhouse Marko Grujic tried gamely to battle on through an ankle injury but in the end had to give up.
On the positive side both Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip appear to have recovered from slight injuries, with Ragnar Klavan looking indestructible at the time of writing. (I know, I’ve jinxed him…) The rest of the squad seems to fit and raring to go, with options all over the front-line for Klopp to consider.
The good news for Liverpool is that Arsenal have all sorts of problems at the back. Per Mertersacker and Gabriel are both long-term injuries, with Laurent Koscielny also struggling for fitness. It means a likely centre-back pairing of the inexperienced Callum Chambers and Rob Holding, which would be lovely for the Reds.
Further forward and Jack Wilshere has declared himself fit even though Wenger says he’s not quite ready and he’s basically made of glass. Mesut Ozil hasn’t long returned from Euro 2016 duties with Germany, with the same true of Olivier Giroud. Alexis Sanchez will be playing, though, as will Arsenal’s new boy Granit Xhaka.
Liverpool come off the back of a mixed set of results during the pre-season. American losses to Roma and Chelsea came either side of a solid performance against AC Milan. Then came that 4-0 win over Barcelona in front of a near-record crowd at Wembley, before a 4-0 loss away to Mainz in Germany less than 24 hours later.
Arsenal’s pre-season has been more consistent and impressive, but they haven’t been playing against the same level of opposition. Seventeen goals were scored against the likes of Chivas de Guadalajara and Viking FK. They did manage a 3-2 win against Man City, though.
So what does all of this mean for the upcoming match? Is there much of a clue to how the game will go in all of the above?
There has been little evidence in the pre-season matches that Liverpool have corrected any of the defensive weaknesses they’ve suffered from far too consistently since the departure of Rafa Benitez. As good as the team’s performance was against Barcelona they still looked like they could concede with virtually every opposition attack. Arsenal have some lightening fast players in their ranks who could cause Liverpool some major problems.
Couple Liverpool’s issues at the back with Arsenal’s injury crisis and Both Teams To Score looks nailed on. Of course the bookies think so too, so it’s not exactly brilliant odds for that to come in on its own. Couple it with something like Liverpool to win in a BTTS & Win* bet and the odds go up a bit, though – 9/2.
Liverpool looked as good as they did against Barcelona because the team hunted in packs. I think there’s much more to be taken out of the Wembley game than the one at the Opel Arena the following day, with the Reds’ prowess in front of goal the number on thing.
Can Liverpool be involved in three 4-0 games in a row? Some bookies think that’s as far-fetched as 125/1. A repeat of the 5-1 win over the Gunners from 2013-2014 season is even more unlikely at 200/1. There’s probably a reason for that, of course, but if you like to chuck a big odds bet in with your smaller ones then either of those might just be worth a punt.
It definitely strikes me as a game that will involve goals. I can’t see it being a tight affair, considering the defensive issues both teams have got that I mentioned above and over 3.5 goals is as long as 9/4 with some places. If you disagree with me and think both poor defences will cancel each other out then be aware that the 0-0 draw can be found for 10/1.
The last thing I’ll mention is Last Goal Scorer. Divock Origi has been in excellent form when he’s played in the pre-season, but I think Klopp’s more likely to go with a front three of Coutinho, Firmino and Mané. That means that Origi will probably get a run out for the last half an hour or so, as the Arsenal defence is tiring. If that’s the case then I fancy him to get on the scoresheet and he’s around 7/1 to achieve exactly that.
Come on, Redmen! Off to a winning start, please.