Verdict: Sadio Mane to score
Best odds: 6/5
Liverpool will be taking on Burnley at Anfield on Saturday in what will be a part of the second round of the 2021-22 season in the Premier League. The 19-time English champions will not only be looking to build on their impressive win over Norwich City in the opening round; they’ll also be aiming to triumph over the team that broke their amazing run of 68 home league matches without defeat and started their immense decline in the title defence bid last term.
Many have already started writing off Liverpool’s chances of winning the league this season, basing their stance purely on the fact that the Merseysiders haven’t signed a player for a vast fee this summer, unlike Manchester City, United and Chelsea. However, the addition of Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig is certain to help in their effort to avoid the kind of centre-back injury crisis that hit them so hard in 2020-21, and the rest of their team has already proven its quality on many occasions in the last few years.
Instead of signings, Liverpool have focused their activities over the summer on extending the deals of existing key players. Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Fabinho and Trent Alexander-Arnold have already signed new contracts. An agreement in principle has been reached with captain Jordan Henderson, and talks have started with the representatives of Mohamed Salah. Sadio Mane is rumoured to be next.
There is still little to be said about form regarding any team, but Jurgen Klopp’s team really looked well-gelled in that opener at Carrow Road. Goals from Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Salah made sure the points all went back to north-west with them.
Van Dijk and Joel Matip, who both missed a large part of the previous campaign through severe injuries along with Joe Gomez, have shown that they’re 100% ready to play. The same goes for Gomez. However, Andy Robertson still isn’t fit after the ankle problem he suffered late in pre-season, which means Kostas Tsimikas is likely to start on the left defensive flank again.
Thiago Alcantara and Henderson joined the team for pre-season training rather late, and neither is likely to start against Burnley. The problems in midfield Klopp is facing have been enlarged by the personal tragedy of Fabinho, whose father has just passed away. It means the German will probably select the same trio that started against Norwich – James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, though young Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones will also be hoping to be chosen.
Xherdan Shaqiri was left out of the squad against Norwich, and the same is likely to happen again as the Swiss international works on sorting out his future, possibly away from the club.
Klopp has four high-quality attackers but only three places for them in his team, and unless he deviates from his usual 4-3-3 system (it’s possible), one of Salah, Mane, Firmino and Jota will have to settle for a place in the bench. Last time it was Firmino, but the Brazilian came on from the bench to score.
Not many would have seen Burnley still in the Premier League after their promotion back to the top flight in 2016, but here they are, and they’ve proven quite a tough nut to crack for most, Liverpool not least. Last term, however, they struggled severely, and only the woeful results of Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham stood between Sean Dyche’s team and the drop.
Nonetheless, Liverpool were, as has been said, one of the teams they managed to stun, and they’ll be hoping to do so again.
The new campaign didn’t get of to the best of starts for the Clarets. In the opening round, they suffered a home defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, with Neal Maupay and Alexis Mac Allister overturning an early Burnley lead, the work of James Tarkowski.
Burnley signed two centre-backs this summer, Nathan Collins from Stoke City and Jacob Bedeau from League Two side Scunthorpe United. They’ve also brought in goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey from Crystal Palace. Meanwhile, centre-back Ben Gibson has been sold to Norwich and put in a decent performance for the Canaries against Liverpool last week.
Dyche won’t be able to call upon centre-back Kevin Long and midfielder Dale Stephens for the Anfield trip. Both of them have had surgery recently and haven’t yet recovered, but the rest of the team should be at the manager’s disposal.
Despite the arrival of Hennessey, Nick Pope’s place between the posts is in no danger at the moment. Ben Mee and Tarkowski should take their usual places in the heart of defence, with Matt Lawton and Charlie Taylor on their flanks. Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood are the likeliest pair in the middle of the park, with Dwight McNeil and Johann Gudmundsson out wide in what will probably be a flat 4-4-2 shape again.
Dyche will have to choose between Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez for the two places upfront.
This is arguably among the most difficult matches in the Premier League to call in advance. The clashes between Liverpool and Burnley have been known to end in almost every way imaginable, despite the clear difference in quality between a team that’s fighting for the title and one that’s strives to stay in the league.
Burnley have somehow frequently been Liverpool’s sore spot, though the Merseysiders did run complete riot over them a few times. Much will depend on the way the game opens, and Liverpool will probably work hard to score as early as possible, while the visitors seek to slow the game down and hit back when the opponents drop their guard.
You’d still fancy Liverpool to win, and with Jota, Firmino and Salah all on the scoresheet the last time, Mane will be desperate to open his own account for the season.
Verdict: Sadio Mane to score
Best odds: 6/5