Verdict: Total goals over 3.5
Best odds: 13/10
Norwich City begin their new Premier League spell at home on Saturday, when six-time European champions Liverpool come to Carrow Road in the opening round of the 2021-22 season.
It took Norwich just one season to claw their way back into the English top-flight, after suffering relegation in 2020; a fine achievement by manager Daniel Farke and his men. Their Championship campaign was rather convincing as they ended it topping the table with 97 points, six more than Watford who have also moved straight up. Brentford are the team that completes the promotion trio, having won the play-offs.
The Canaries have added to their ranks at several points this summer. They’ve signed wingers Milot Rashica from Werder Bremen and Christos Tzolis from PAOK, defender Ben Gibson from Burnley, striker Josh Sargent from Werder, and goalkeeper Angus Gunn from Southampton. They’ve also acquired the services of Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour on loan for the season.
The most notable name among those who have left the club is certainly Emiliano Buendia, snapped up by Aston Villa early in the window. The transfer is believed to have generated an income of around £35m for Norwich.
The Canaries played a number of pre-season friendlies this summer. They beat lower-league side King’s Lynn Town by 3-1, Lincoln City by 1-0, Huddersfield Town by 2-0, Gillingham by 5-0, and eventually failed the final test, losing 3-0 to Newcastle last week.
Todd Cantwell, linked with a switch to Liverpool in the past, is a doubt for this match due to an ankle problem, as is fellow midfielder Lukas Rupp. The ongoing pandemic has hit Norwich hard at the moment, with newcomer Rashica, defender Grant Hanley, winger Onel Hernandez, striker Jordan Hugill, right-back Bali Mumba and winger Przemyslaw Placheta all testing positive for Covid-19 recently. It remains to be seen if any of them recover in time to make the Liverpool match.
Following two extremely successful seasons, one which saw them win their sixth European crown and the other which ended in the long-awaited Premier League triumph, Liverpool fell rather short of initial expectations for 2020-21. It looked for a while they’d be fighting for the top again, but a heavy injury crisis which hit their centre-back department soon prompted a series of hugely underwhelming results. By mid-March their finish within the top four looked a very remote possibility, but a late surge of good form propelled them back and they ended up third, behind the two Manchester teams and just ahead of Champions League winners Chelsea.
The summer has been rather quiet in terms of transfers at Anfield. The only senior player who has arrived so far is centre-back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig – an understandable move as the Reds aim to avoid going into the campaign thin in the area again. Manager Jurgen Klopp recently said he was happy with the players already at his disposal, but he didn’t rule out further signings.
Also, it’s quite obvious Liverpool decided to focus on key players signing new contracts this summer. That has so far been the case with goalkeeper Alisson Becker, right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, midfielder Fabinho, and most recently, centre-back Virgil van Dijk. Talks have been held with captain Jordan Henderson as well, and there are reports claiming new deals for left-back Andy Robertson and forward Mohamed Salah are in the pipeline.
As for departures, only the players who had been out of Klopp’s plans for years, such as Harry Wilson (Fulham) and Marko Grujic (Porto) have gone so far, apart from the well-publicized exit of Georginio Wijnaldum who ran down his contract and signed for Paris Saint-Germain. Xherdan Shaqiri is reportedly close to sealing a move to Olympique Lyon, and the club are believed to be open to offers for Divock Origi.
Liverpool’s pre-season consisted of a couple of shortened practice matches, followed by four regular friendlies – a 1-0 win over Mainz 05, a 3-4 defeat to Hertha Berlin, a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao, and a 3-1 win over Osasuna.
Klopp will be without Robertson and young midfielder Curtis Jones for this match. Robertson injured his ankle against Bilbao, while Jones suffered a concussion against Osasuna. The manager is unlikely to risk Van Dijk and Joe Gomez who have just return from long-term knee injuries, even though he has confirmed both are in contention, which means Joel Matip should start next to Konate in the back line. Henderson could also be left out, having joined the team in training only recently. The same goes for for fellow midfielder Thiago Alcantara.
Kostas Tsimikas is likely to get a start on the left defensive flank in Robertson’s absence, but it will be interesting to see Klopp’s choices elsewhere in the team. Apart from Tsimikas, only Alisson in goal seems nailed on to start, along with Sadio Mane and Salah upfront.
Liverpool will be eager to show straight away that what happened last season was a fluke, and they’ll hit the Canaries hard from the start. The home team will, however, have nothing to lose in this game and as is Farke’s custom, they’ll probably try to match the Merseysiders, hitting fire with fire. In such a contest, anything is possible of course, but Liverpool should still come out on top in a contest with plenty of chances, and possibly goals.
Verdict: Total goals over 3.5
Best odds: 13/10