Klopp magic in dire need amid Liverpool injury crisis
Covid-19 once again dominated discussions during the international break, with a number of positive cases raising questions of the need for meaningless friendlies amid the ongoing crisis.
While there is perhaps a smaller argument in support for the staging of qualifying play-offs for the rescheduled Euro 2021, Uefa Nations League contests and 2022 World Cup qualifiers in South America, there really is no fathomable reasoning for the endless friendlies.
Well, except the obvious...financial greed!
One Premier League manager who will be ruing the international break more than most is Jürgen Klopp, who is facing somewhat of an injury crisis ahead of the return to domestic action.
Ahead of Sunday’s visit of table-topping Leicester City, the defending champions’ injury list just grows and grows. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. And now, potentially, Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson, too.
Liverpool will be without at least three of their first-choice back four, and could be missing their captain and their top scorer, too. Klopp may need to tweak his system, ask players to play new roles or, perhaps, trust in a youngster or two.
Newcastle United v Chelsea
Chelsea will be aiming to extend their unbeaten run in the league to seven matches in their trip to Tyneside.
Frank Lampard’s side secured back-to-back wins ahead of the break and will be confident of maintaining their unbeaten run on the road, having not lost an away fixture this season.
Summer signing Timo Werner is also hitting his stride and could become the first Chelsea player to score in five successive matches in all competitions since Didier Drogba in November 2009.
Newcastle will be aiming to bounce back from a 2-0 defeat by Southampton last time out and can take encouragement from having lost only once in their past seven home league games against Chelsea, winning five.
Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion
Having halted a run of successive defeats with an impressive 3-0 victory over Arsenal, Aston Villa will be confident of continuing their winning ways against struggling Brighton.
Villa talisman Jack Grealish has been in fine form and gained a lot of plaudits during the international break for his displays for England, while big-money signing Ollie Watkins has hit the ground running since arriving from Brentford, scoring six goals already.
Brighton manager Graham Potter will be desperate for a change in fortunes with his side recording only one win from their eight matches, which came back in September.
The Seagulls sit in sixteenth place, just three points above the drop zone and are in danger of getting cut adrift of the sides above them.
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City
One of the standout encounters of the weekend pits in-form Tottenham against inconsistent Man City.
The high-flying hosts are on an unbeaten run of seven games, including three straight victories, to leave them in second place just a point adrift of Leicester.
All three wins came courtesy of a single goal difference and manager José Mourinho will no doubt be keen to see the full devastating effect of one the league’s fiercest-looking front threes in Harry Kane, Gareth Bale and Son Heung Min.
In contrast, tenth-placed City have failed to string a run of back-to-back wins together all season, following up a victory with a draw, as they have over their past five games.
Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion
West Brom will be aiming to halt their away-day hoodoo and attempt to win for the first time on the road in seven attempts.
Slaven Bilic’s strugglers find themselves in the last relegation spot — a point off safety — and still searching for their first win of the season.
A trip to Old Trafford would not normally be seen as an ideal fixture; however, United have yet to register a win at home in the league this season and are languishing in fourteenth position.
As well as their general overall poor form on the road, West Brom have also failed to win in their previous two visits to United.
Fulham v Everton
Having topped the table in the early stages of the season, Everton’s form has taken a drastic turn for the worse, resulting in three straight defeats.
On paper, a trip to lowly Fulham would appear the ideal opportunity to reignite their campaign, with Scott Parker’s side sitting in seventeenth place.
The home side will also be without a host of squad players, including Kenny Tete, Terence Kongolo and Josh Onomah through injury, while Aboubakar Kamara, Kevin McDonald, Jean Michaël Seri and Stefan Johansen miss out through suspension.
Sheffield United v West Ham United
Basement boys Sheffield United are another side who are in desperate need of an upturn in form, having taken just a single point all season.
A slight glimmer of hope for Chris Wilder’s side is that they have lost by more than a single goal only once at home, while their solitary point also came at Bramall Lane.
A lack of goals has been their major issue, scoring just four times in total from their eight matches while conceding 14 in the process.
West Ham come into the match on the back of a 1-0 win over Fulham, which halted a run of three without victory. One concern for David Moyes could be that they haven’t beaten Sheffield United in their previous two visits.
Leeds United v Arsenal
An intriguing encounter at Elland Road pits two inconsistent sides against each other with both just as capable of scoring as they are conceding.
The hosts come into the game on the back of successive 4-1 defeats against Leicester and Crystal Palace when the Leeds defence was opened up with worrying regularity.
The positive for Leeds is that on their day they’re capable of scoring, particularly through Patrick Bamford, who has notched seven times already.
Arsenal will note their hosts have failed to win at home in their past three games.
Liverpool v Leicester City
The other contender for match of the week pits two early title contenders against one another at Anfield.
Just a single point separates leaders Leicester and third-placed Liverpool ahead of the clash, with the visitors targeting a fourth straight victory.
Despite not having beaten Liverpool in their past six meetings, Brendan Rodgers men may be considered favourites on paper, with the home side suffering from an injury crisis.
With at least three of their first-choice back four, captain and top scorer all set to miss out, Liverpool’s 63-game unbeaten league run at home could finally be set to come to an end.
Burnley v Crystal Palace
Burnley manager Sean Dyche recently conceded a change in fortune “needs to come quickly" with his side second from bottom in the standings with two points having failed to register a victory so far.
A typically solid defensive unit, Burnley have been anything but this season, shipping 12 goals already. Concerns also remain over a blunt strike force which has only returned three goals from their opening eight matches.
Worryingly for the hosts, Crystal Palace arrive at Turf Moor fresh off the back of a 4-1 thumping of Leeds United in which Eberechi Eze shone, including scoring his first goal for the club with a sublime free kick.
Deployed on the left against Leeds, Eze was free to link up with forwards Jordan Ayew and the in-form Wilfried Zaha, who he has already matched his goal involvements of last season with five goals and two assists.
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Southampton
Arguably the biggest surprise package of the campaign has been the emergence of Southampton.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side find themselves in fourth place in the standings, just two points adrift of the leaders following a six-match unbeaten run, which includes three successive victories.
Ninth-placed Wolves saw their own four-game unbeaten run brought to an end with a 1-0 defeat by Leicester before the international break.
Despite inconsistent periods this season, victory would see the home side join Southampton on 16 points and possibly climb as high as fifth.
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