Defending Premier League champions Liverpool will begin their title defence with a clash against newly-promoted Leeds United, and it promises to be an enthralling encounter with two proactive managers at the helm.
Leeds finally conquered their Championship ghosts last season to return to the top-flight after 16 years, and although the consensus for promoted teams is usually to secure safety, the Whites will aim higher.
In Bielsa, they have a manager with a winning mentality, and someone who won’t relax until the team reaches its full potential on the pitch. The Argentine is an excellent man-manager, and a tactician, so expect Leeds to challenge for a mid-table finish, even if they start slowly.
It will be interesting to see how Jurgen Klopp approaches games this season. In his characteristic tone, Klopp said that Liverpool “will not defend the title next season; we’ll attack the next one,” so expect fireworks every now and then, be it without the fans.
Here are three burning questions ahead of the blockbuster clash at Anfield later today:
Liverpool vs Leeds United: 3 burning questions ahead of the clash
#1 Gegenpress vs Bielsa ball? Or a more cagey Leeds team?
Bielsa’s side rarely took their foot off the gas last season, as they played quick, and a direct style of football that did not allow opposition teams any time to settle down with or without the ball. That left them susceptible to the break at times, but the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Ben White, and Liam Cooper did well and held the fort.
In the top-flight, the same bold approach might see them concede a few more goals. Like Norwich found out last season, the gung-ho approach of the Championship will not always work in the Premier League.
There are counter-arguments of course, as Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea City managed to keep their style, survive, and even beat some of the top sides in the division in 2012.
Liverpool, on the other hand, adapted their game at times last season as Klopp knows they cannot always be a pressing machine. It was astonishing how many times they got over the line despite not playing at their best as the winning mentality prevailed in the dressing room and on the pitch.
The clash against Leeds could be something similar to what the Reds faced in their opening fixture of the 2019-20 season when they came up against a brave Norwich City side. Norwich were easy to score against, but troubled Liverpool on occasions. Unless of course, Bielsa has a trick up his sleeve.
#2 Liverpool – where are the new signings?
While Leeds have signed some good top players to strengthen their team, Liverpool have only roped in Kostas Tsimikas, and have let go of Adam Lallana, and Dejan Lovren; two players who gave them the depth and were leaders in the dressing room last season.
So often, top teams strengthen even when they are at their strongest, and that is something Liverpool have not been able to do so far in the transfer window, and it could cost them this season.
The Liverpool first-team looks pretty settled, but the quality depth is missing. The Reds did suffer a few injuries last season as Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, and Alisson Becker missed games. But the Reds were sufficiently covered in those areas.
Any injury to any of the front three, or possibly their defence could be uncomfortable for Klopp. Their defence has just three senior centre-backs in Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip, and Joe Gomez, and barring the Dutchman, the rest are injury-prone.
The Reds have been linked with Thiago Alcantara, but still haven’t signed him. The Reds usually get their new signings in quickly to allow them maximum time to settle, so you wonder if they will sign Thiago.
The upcoming season will be a gruelling one considering we are already a month behind the usual schedule. Add the cup games and European commitments, and Liverpool’s squad will be stretched. They are playing a risky game, one they could regret come the end of the season.
#3 Will we see Koch and Rodrigo at some point against Liverpool?
Losing Ben White as a big blow to Leeds because he was an important part of the build-up play, and part of the spine of the team. Leeds prefer bringing the ball out from the back, and White was excellent at that last season.
In Koch, they may have signed a good replacement. Koch is more experienced, an aggressive front-footed defender, and can bring the ball out from the back as well. The German need a bit of time to acclimatise, but the sooner he starts the better as Leeds will likely use a makeshift backline until he plays.
Rodrigo, on the other hand, is likely to be slowly integrated considering the Leeds attack is more settled than the defence. Patrick Bamford was the club’s top-scorer with 16 goals last season, but his position will be under threat.
While Rodrigo will offer more tenacity in attack, his conversion rate, and composure in front of goal is also greater than that of Bamford. As a more experienced forward, he will be expected to eventually replace Bamford when he gets more used to the style at Leeds.
Rodrigo also played a lot of minutes for the Spanish national team in the recent international break, and could perhaps get some minutes off the bench against Liverpool later today.