The Premier League is back and we start the season with a clash of champions between Liverpool and Leeds United on Saturday (5:30pm kick-off).
Last season’s winners Liverpool will host the 2019/20 Championship winners Leeds on their return to the top-flight for the first time in 16 years. Both sides dominated their respective divisions last season, but the Reds were particularly masterful, as they laid waste to all that stood before them in the English top flight.
Now they will open the season by facing each other, as Jurgen Klopp comes head-to-head with the godfather of systemic and intense pressing Marcelo Bielsa. It should be a riveting contest, but who will win? And what else will happen in the match? We’ve predicted a few outcomes.
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1. A specific gameplan from Leeds
Marcelo Bielsa is like the footballing equivalent of Batman, in that, given enough prep time, he could conceivably beat anyone. However, with the Premier League schedule being as congested as it is, the Argentine has scant time for his army of analysts and spies to create foolproof dossiers on a given opponent.
Of course, Bielsa still produces dossiers but with enough prep time they would be even more detailed and he’d have even more time to act on them. Such as right now, when he’s known for weeks that Leeds will open the season against Liverpool, and yet, has scheduled no friendlies in the build-up.
So while Liverpool have played four friendlies (including the Community Shield defeat to Arsenal), Leeds have been silently preparing to come at Liverpool with everything they have.
It’s impossible to predict just what unique tweaks Bielsa will make to cope with the sheer brilliance of Liverpool, nor how much new signings like Rodrigo Moreno may factor into that gameplan, but one thing is for sure: it’ll be fun to watch.
2. Lots of cards
Leeds are an intense pressing side. As with all Bielsa teams they try to win the ball back as high as they can to begin transitions as close to the opposition goal as possible. In last season’s Championship they made the third-most tackles (793) and had the second-highest total for possession won in the attacking third (221). They will run and run and in the Championship, and that ultimately led to dominance.
However against faster and fitter Premier League opponents, especially ones like Liverpool who are just a relentless force at both ends of the pitch, and are world-renowned for the physical dynamism of their style of play, there will be issues. Not that Leeds will be unable to play their game, but due to their opponents’ fitness levels their pressing will need to be at its sharpest if they are to avoid conceding lots of fouls.
Relevant odds from William Hill: Total Match Cards = 4 – 6 – 11/5
3. Salah to score
Mohamed Salah has played in three opening-day fixtures during his time with Liverpool, and on every occasion the Egyptian forward has got his name on the scoresheet. He scored his side’s third, with what looked like a game-winner until Miguel Britos’ stoppage time equaliser, against Watford in 2017. Then in 2018, Salah scored the opener as Liverpool stomped West Ham.
Finally last season began with the Reds routing Norwich and in that match Salah scored the second and set up the third. In fact, Salah’s opening-day scoring streak actually began during his final season with Roma, where he scored in a 4-0 win against Udinese to begin 2016/17. The Egyptian consistently starts his seasons with a bang, and there’s nothing to suggest Leeds will be able to keep him out.
Enhanced odds from William Hill: Mohamed Salah To Score 2 Or More – was 15/4, now 5/1
4. Liverpool to win big
In the three opening-day fixtures Jurgen Klopp has taken charge of, Liverpool have scored 11 times. The 3-3 with Watford was followed by a 4-0 win against West Ham and a 4-1 triumph against Norwich. The Reds are fast-starters. They know the value of big wins early on to both set the tempo for themselves and also to make a statement to intimidate their opponents.
So despite Leeds’ earnest approach and intense game plan, history would suggest the Reds will deal them a heavy defeat.
It wouldn’t even be that much of a surprise. Last season Norwich went to Anfield and gave as good as they got in open play. The Canaries were a constant thorn in Klopp’s side and the game seemed constantly in the balance until it just wasn’t anymore. Liverpool were ruthless in terms of dispatching their chances and it’s hard to see anything changing this season.
Alright, Leeds appear more coherent and rigid than Norwich so perhaps they’ll stave off the inevitable until the second-half, where their lungs may give out against the supremely battle-tested and ever-energetic Liverpool. But at some point the Reds will unload the full force of their awesome attack on luckless Leeds.
Enhanced odds from William Hill: Liverpool To Score Over 3 Goals – was 5/2, now 3/1