It’s been 16 years since Liverpool faced Leeds United in the Premier League – and 20 since Mark Viduka put four past the Reds at Elland Road. So it couldn’t be a much tougher ask for Marcelo Bielsa’s side for their first game back in the top flight, as they seek Leeds’ first win against Liverpool in 19 years.
Although Arsenal and Liverpool contested the Community Shield in August, Saturday’s late kick-off can be seen as a super-cup type fixture in its own right, as the Premier League champions host the winners of the Championship. Both teams know how to win week in, week out – albeit in different divisions – and will be on a high from their respective achievements last season.
That said, after Liverpool actually secured the Premier League title with seven games to spare, they looked laboured as they played several essentially meaningless fixtures. They only won four of those seven, being thrashed by Manchester City, failing to beat Burnley and losing at Arsenal. Jurgen Klopp’s charges also lost to Arsenal on penalties in the Community Shield, so punters looking for Liverpool weaknesses need look no further than this.
The recent run of form, however, has mainly been affected by a lack of intensity – in the Community Shield due to a lack of pre-season fitness and in the Premier League due to the title already being wrapped up. Liverpool’s 4-0 win against Crystal Palace in June, when Klopp’s men still had a league to win, still stands out in the memory as one of the team’s best performances under the German. So expect something closer to the motivated Liverpool side that dominated the Premier League this weekend than the team Man City swept aside at the Etihad Stadium several days after.
But, under Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds are no mugs. Finally dismissing the ‘bottlers’ tag that had become perennially associated with the Yorkshire club, Bielsa’s men won six games in a row to claim the Championship title – two of them by at least four goals.
Confidence will be high and it is unlikely Leeds’ high-intensity pressing will make life easy for Liverpool. With Leeds not having played in the Premier League for 16 years – and Bielsa never having managed in the competition – there is an element of uncertainty as to exactly how far they can go in the top flight.
The contrasting fortunes of promoted Norwich and Sheffield United last season equally sets out two distinct paths Leeds can follow. While they are heavy outsiders in the betting at Liverpool, though, expect Leeds not to embarrass themselves upon their top-flight return.
Liverpool’s summer has once again been devoid of too much transfer activity, with the rumoured departure of Georginio Wijnaldum to Barcelona and touted signing of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich still not materialising. January signing Takumi Minamino has looked sharper in pre-season and may well have a greater role to play against Leeds and throughout the season.
On the injury front, Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain Liverpool’s biggest fitness concerns against Leeds and may not feature, while the one summer signing the club have made (Kostas Tsimikas) missed international duty through illness.
Leeds’ new signing Robin Koch and club-record signing Rodrigo should both be fit for this one. Midfielder Kalvin Phillips travelled to England duty, so should also be available, while Adam Forshaw could be ready for action soon following a long-term lay-off, although his return may not come soon enough for the Liverpool match.
While we don’t expect a thrashing, and Leeds are likely to give a good account of themselves, the odds favour Liverpool for a reason. Klopp has spoken of “attacking” rather than “defending” the Reds’ title, so expect their campaign to kick off with a signal of intent.
It’s not easy to find value when one team are such heavy favourites, but it may just be possible in the ‘win and BTTS’ market here. Liverpool to win and both teams to score is 7/4 with Sky Bet and, given the fact the Reds are not fully firing just yet, Leeds could well be in with a shout of netting at Anfield. United scored 77 goals in 46 games last season and Liverpool have conceded in their last six competitive games.
In the goalscorer market, Takumi Minamino’s impressive pre-season form makes him good value to score at any time, at 15/8 with Ladbrokes.