For any team in a title race at this stage of the season, the nerves and anxiety are, at least, double what they usually are. Liverpool fans will have watched last weekend’s victory over Cardiff from behind their hands, not least for the fact that it took until the 57th minute for their side to score. Then again, they’ll have been at least as nervous about the two recent games their title rivals Manchester City have played. Hope may have sprung when City reached half-time in Wednesday’s Manchester derby without getting on the scoresheet, but it was punctured eventually. Following a narrow win over Tottenham, that win took the Mancunian side top of the Premier League; with three games left, Liverpool now have it all to do.
“It all” starts this evening with a home game against Huddersfield. While football has no foregone conclusions, this match at least comes close to being a sure three points for the Reds – the Terriers were officially relegated weeks ago, and are rock bottom in the league. Even when they had something to play for, Jan Siewert’s side would have been expected just to make up the numbers here this evening. Nonetheless, at this point in the season, strange things can happen. Just as Liverpool will be praying for a Man City slip-up at Burnley this weekend, they’ll need to avoid a calamity of their own here. Let’s look deeper at what could happen this evening…
Time for a squad reshuffle?
In the perfect timeline for Liverpool, they would win their remaining three league games and watch as Manchester City drop a couple of points somewhere. They would also overcome Barcelona and reach the final of the Champions League – which, for some reason, is scheduled at the beginning of June. To achieve this, the Reds will need to negotiate five games in a little over two weeks. They’ll need to marshall their squad resources carefully, which means resting some players at some point. A home game against the Premier League’s worst side seems like a prime moment for rotation.
Rotation for Liverpool here could mean starts for the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, barely seen since February, as well as Adam Lallana and potentially Joe Gomez, who is fit and available after a long-term injury. Of these three, Shaqiri is the one with the greatest potential to turn a game, and his 4/1 odds at Paddy Power for the first goal here are well worth looking at. They’re even better value when you bear in mind that, if at all possible, Jurgen Klopp will not want to risk Sadio Mane or Mo Salah less than a week before a visit to Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium.
Liverpool want to take care of business
At this stage of the season, every game is a big one and there is rarely any time for a team to take a breath. Liverpool have at least five games left, and if all goes well, the end result could be a two-trophy haul that would mark one of the finest seasons in the club’s history. It’s essential that they don’t find themselves chasing points and goals in the latter stages of games; with awkward fixtures at Newcastle and at home to Wolves to come, it would be ideal if they could have this contest wrapped up well in advance of the closing stages. Essentially, they want to have a commanding lead in this game by the time the sun goes down – which will be about half an hour after kick-off.
The good news for Klopp and co. is that the Terriers have conceded at least two goals in each of their last six games. Since their relegation was confirmed, their defence – the highest-performing part of their team – has become markedly softer, and if Liverpool are on top of their game, they can expect to build that commanding lead. Unibet have odds of 7/2 on the exact winning margin being three goals in the home side’s favour – which is just about the “Goldilocks zone” for a team wanting to make sure they win the game, but not bust a gut chasing additional goals.
Top performers to the fore for Liverpool
Although the ideal scenario for Liverpool would be to field eleven backup players and win this game, that’s not how football works; they’ll need to pick at least the frame of a first-choice side, and decide who they’re not going to risk. So there is every chance that Mo Salah won’t start, as well as Gini Wijnaldum or another central midfielder. One, or perhaps both, of the excellent full-back tandem of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold will also likely be kept out of the firing line.
One player it is hard to see being left out is Virgil van Dijk. He’s essential to the side and, ideally, Liverpool would be able to rest him ahead of the trip to Catalonia. However, his defensive organisational capabilities and his distribution are too central to the way they play to leave him out. Starting van Dijk and then substituting him with the game in the bag is a much better choice and, while he’s on the field, he may well be a goal threat. He’s notched five already this season from a central defensive berth, and BetVictor have him at 8/1 to score a header. This is exactly the kind of game where a stalwart like van Dijk can make a decisive intervention, and we would take that bet.
Bets of the Day
Liverpool to win by three (Unibet, 7/2); van Dijk to score a header (8/1, BetVictor); Shaqiri to score first (Paddy Power, 4/1)