Hull City come to Anfield on Saturday afternoon for one of Liverpool’s biggest games since Manchester City in 2014. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration but there’s no question that this game feels huge. The Reds have struggled to break down defensive teams like the Tigers for as long as I remember, with the ’13-’14 season being something of an outlier when we dealt with the dross but lost out to the big teams.
Having beaten Chelsea and Arsenal in their own grounds, drawn with Spurs in a game that we really should have won and absolutely battered the defending Premier League champions in front of the new Main Stand, Liverpool’s season thus far has only been blighted by our performance against Burnley at Turf Moor. It’s reasonably safe to say that Hull will be more in the mold of the Clarets than any of the other teams, so will we be able to produce a better performance this time around? More importantly, what bets should you be looking to place for the big game
Right now things are rather nice for Jürgen Klopp. His team is performing well on the pitch and he’s not having too much of an injury crisis to worry about. The players are very kindly taking it turns to pick up slight niggles and there is yet to be a moment when several players from the same position are out at the same time. The manager is also of the opinion that we ‘have no weak teams’, meaning that he was able to rest several players against Derby County in Tuesday night’s EFL Cup match without fear of getting knocked out of the competition.
The biggest question the German needs to ask is whether to stick with Loris Karius after he helped the Reds to achieve a clean-sheet at the iPro Stadium or to bring Simon Mignolet back into the goalkeeper’s position. For most supporters – myself very much included – it isn’t even a question. Karius’ debut wasn’t pitch perfect in the week but he exudes a confidence that his Belgian rival can’t even pretend to replicate. He also allows the whole team to start much further up the pitch and that will help to keep Hull pinned in if they want to try to play a defensive game.
The other major question is over who to start up front. Daniel Sturridge went off early in the second-half against Chelsea with a slight strain and only returned to training yesterday. He’s been playing well when he’s been selected but Klopp may choose not to risk him and to go with Roberto Firmino instead. Adam Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum with both return to the starting XI and Emre Can is likely to be on the bench. My team for kick-off, for what it’s worth, would be: Karius – Clyne – Lovren – Matip – Milner – Henderson – Lallana – Wijnaldum – Coutinho – Mané – Firmino.
At the start of the season everyone thought Hull were nailed on for relegation. This was largely because they barely had enough players to field a team and have a full substitutes bench. They’ve since gone on to field an unchanged side in even Premier League game they’ve played. They made nine changes for their game against Stoke City in the Cup on Wednesday and still came away with a win. Only one team in recent times has played the same side for longer than five games in a row and that was Aston Villa in 2008-2009 who managed it seven times.
The biggest conundrum for Phelan is whether he should reward any of his players for their performance against Stoke. Ryan Mason knocked in an equaliser with a spectacular volley after the Potters had taken the lead through Marko Arnautovic. Markus Henriksen then netted a winner in injury time to send the Tigers through to the competition’s last sixteen. Would it be worth gambling with the squad’s unity in order to bring in a player who performed well in the week, or should he show his side that he operates a system of meritocracy? Equally, he described Livermore’s sending off as ‘harsh’ after the Arsenal match, but should he punish his midfielder for his lack of discipline?
Liverpool are the form side in the Premier League at the moment, behind only Manchester City and, bizarrely, Everton. The Reds have had tougher fixtures, though, so Klopp will be confident in the way his team are performing. The interesting thing about our form as far as this match is concerned is historical. We have never lost to them at home in any competition and inflicted their joint-worst top-flight defeat to them when we beat them 6-1 in 2009. They’ve played at Anfield seven times in the league and haven’t won, yet they have been a thorn in our side in the past. When we missed out on the title in 2008-2009 we drew 2-2 with them at Anfield. When the same thing happened in 2013-2014 we lost 3-1 away. If either of those results had ended with a win we might have been Premier League champions before now. We’re in a rich vein of form, but Hull are a side who know how to cause us trouble.
Mike Phelan, who will be celebrating his birthday on the day of the game, has recently been offered the Hull manager’s position on a permanent basis. That was in no small part thanks to the club’s excellent start to the season when they won three games on the bounce and only narrowly avoided earning a home draw against Manchester United. They beat Leicester City at The KC Stadium, won away to Swansea and beat Exeter in the EFL Cup. Since then, though, they drew away to Burnley and lost at home to Arsenal 4-1. It’s been a mixed bag for the Tigers and an early goal for the Reds could see them facing a long afternoon. That said, the scoreline flattered the Gunners a touch and they were assisted by a sending off for Hull’s Jake Livermore. Liverpool can’t assume this will be an easy game as the Tigers scrap for every ball. under the former United assistant manager.
Taking all that into account, then, what should we expect from the match? What are some sensible bets that might be worth placing some money on? I’ve had a think and here’s what I’ve come up with:
This is arguably the most difficult game of the season so far to predict. On the one hand Liverpool have been scoring goals for fun this season. On the other hand, the only game we didn’t do that in was the 2-0 loss to Burnley and Hull will be similar to the Clarets when it comes to tactics and playing style. They were actually much better against Arsenal than the 4-1 result suggests. I’m tentatively suggesting there will be goals in this game but it feels as though it’s likely to be closer than most Liverpool fans are thinking.
I rarely opt to suggest betting on a correct score as it’s such a lottery, but Liverpool To Win 2-1 @ 10/1 feels like a decent punt if you want to go for a specific scoreline. If you are not quite as sceptical as me and think the Reds are going to run riot then the home side to win 5-0 is 20/1 and that might also be worth a punt.
Personally I think it’s going to be a close match with Liverpool putting in a professional performance and getting the win. The Reds With A Handicap of -2 is 6/4 and that might be a way in to betting on a close game without having to be overly specific on the scoreline. It will also help if Liverpool do indeed run riot. The Reds to win both halves is 27/20, which is another bet worth looking at for a game that has all the hallmarks of a tight home win.
Robert Snodgrass has scored in two games on the bounce for the Tigers. He is yet to score in three during his Hull career, so could this be the game where that all changes? He’s around 20/1 as FGS or 7/1 to Score Anytime. Hull midfielder Tom Huddlestone is known to have a speculative shot or two when he gets a chance. If Karius starts and adopts his starting position high up the field then don’t be surprised to see the Hull midfielder try to lob him. Huddlestone is as long as 9/1 To Score Anytime.
For Liverpool the goal scoring options are a lot less predictable. There are goals from all over the park at the minute, with Coutinho and Firmino top of the likely to score charts as far as the bookies are concerned. If you want to go with slightly longer odds then there are two players worth looking at. We’re starting to a be a bit more threatening from set-pieces so it feels like it’s only a matter of time until our new centre-back from the Bundesliga gets on the scoresheet. Joel Matip is about 7/1 to Score Anytime. Another new signing scored ten for Newcastle last term and was known as a bit of a homer. He’s yet to get off the mark for the Reds but the 5/1 you can get for Gini Wijnaldum To Score Anytime looks good to me.
In a game that is difficult to predict it’s probably best to play as safe as possible. For that reason the two bets I’m going to recommend above all others are 6/4 for the Reds to have a Handicap of -2 and the slightly longer 5/1 for Wijnaldum To Score Anytime.