Stronger Liverpool can take down Manchester United
Liverpool’s absence from European football should help them maintain their energy levels as the season goes on
The English Premier League weekend opens with Chelsea v Leicester – the last two champions – and climaxes with Liverpool v Manchester United, and there is another top-six clash between Manchester City and Everton sandwiched in the middle.
That is a tasty menu, but the main course comes on Monday night. Liverpool v Manchester United is one of the most fierce rivalries in English football and, after the long years when one of the clubs was on their perch looking down on the other, it is more evenly poised than usual as both teams search for the formula that will take them into title contention.
Liverpool look closer to that target based on this season’s form, which has the limp 2-0 defeat at Burnley as the only weak link.
Juergen Klopp’s team are unbeaten in their other six league games, which is impressive considering that half of them have been against fellow big-six teams.
After mixed results last season, Klopp’s high-pressing game appears to have taken root and they are joint-highest scorers alongside Manchester City with 18 goals from the opening seven games. Again, considering they have visited Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea already, that goal tally is no mean feat.
The summer signings have played an important role, particularly defender Joel Matip and striker Sadio Mane, and Liverpool look stronger all round. Their absence from European football should help them to maintain their energy levels as the season goes on.
There is a suspicion that Klopp’s team remain best suited to counter-attacking but in their last home match they demolished defence-minded Hull 5-1 – the kind of result they struggled to achieve last season – and in their last away game they came back from conceding first to beat Swansea 2-1.
This is a bigger test against Jose Mourinho’s United, even though Liverpool are three points and two places above the visitors in the table.
Everything looked rosy for United when they started with four straight wins under the new manager (one in the Community Shield, three in the Premier League) but then came the 2-1 home defeat by Manchester City and their current run in the league is one win from the last four.
Strange as it seems, Mourinho has the look of yesterday’s man in terms of his tactical approach – with the high pressers of Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool having taken up residence in the top four – and he will be keen to prove that is not the case.
This match may well come down to how effectively Mourinho is able to combat Liverpool’s pressing and a key player will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will be the outlet ball for United to escape the press with a long pass.
If Ibrahimovic has a good game – and this is the type of big match he relishes – United will have a decent chance.
Liverpool look pretty good value, however, for a team in such good form. The doubt is whether they will be as effective at home to top-class opponents as they are on the road, but it is probably worth the risk at the odds. Over 2.5 goals looks a good bet, too.
Chelsea and Leicester, who start the action in tonight’s early kick-off, are both struggling for consistency and choosing where to place your money probably hinges on how you view Leicester.
Are they capable of getting close to last season’s heights – as their Champions League results suggest they might be – or are they likely to hang around mid-table?
Chelsea are far from convincing, with three of their four wins having come against teams in the bottom seven (and the other against 11th-placed Watford) and a little improvement from Leicester would make them dangerous at big odds.
The problem with Leicester is that they have had two terrible results on the weekends before Champions League matches, losing 4-1 at both Liverpool and Manchester United.
Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman – teammates from the Barcelona “Dream Team” of the 1990s – are in opposition when their Manchester City and Everton sides clash, and again there is some doubt over the short-odds hosts.
United are the only high-class, in-form team City have beaten this season and the doubt will remain until they have achieved that on a regular basis.
The pick of the bets in the Premier League is Bournemouth at home to Hull, whose good start has petered out.
Bournemouth home win
Decent form despite tough early fixture list
Huddersfield on handicap
No reason to doubt their form
Koln home win
Best bet of the weekend
Genoa home win
Another solid home bet
AC Milan on handicap
Only away defeat was at Napoli