Is the season over? After the draw at Anfield on Wednesday night, have Chelsea got the title wrapped up and there’s nothing anyone can do about it? Probably. The West London club have been going at a ridiculous rate and are on target to secure one of the largest point hauls in Premier League history. The fact that Arsenal have gained more points than in 8 of their last 11 seasons, Tottenham than in 50 of their previous 51 and Liverpool than in 23 of our last 25 campaigns shows how well Conte’s team are playing to be nine points clear of second.
Yet after 24 games in 2013-2014 Liverpool were eight points off Arsenal who held top spot. We were six behind Chelsea and Man City. If we beat Hull at the weekend and the Gunners get a draw at Stamford Bridge then we’d be exactly the same number of points shy of the league leaders after the same number of games. We can’t afford to drop too many more points and we’d need another eleven game winning run, but stranger things have happened in football and you should never say it’s over until it is. So how will we approach our trip to the KC Stadium?
For the first time in what feels like forever, there seem to be a number of positives for Liverpool on the squad front. Andrew Beasley made the point on Twitter that if Jürgen Klopp’s favourite eighteen match day squad is the one that’s played the most games under him then they have only appeared together three teams all season long. This could be match number four, with the manager confirming in his pre-match press conference that there are no fresh injury concerns ahead of our trip to the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Sadio Mané couldn’t make the difference against Chelsea, but to be far to the Senegalese winger he’d only arrived back from the African Cup of Nations about half an hour before kick-off. I think I got to Anfield earlier than him. He is back now, though, and with plenty of space in between games moving forward – we don’t kick a ball between February 11th and February 27th – the manager can ask the likes of Mané to pour everything into these games and see what comes out in the wash. With Phil Coutinho back, Jordan Henderson seemingly over his heel problem and Joel Matip leading the defensive line things are looking up at last.
Given that the manager has got virtually his entire first-choice side to choose from, the biggest question is what team will the manager opt for? Having Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum in the same starting XI didn’t work for us at home against Swansea, but will he want to pack out the midfield against a Hull side that’s made real progress and marked improvement under Marco Silva? My instinct is that he’ll go with the strongest and most attacking team possible; the side that hasn’t played together since we beat Watford 6-1 at Anfield. My team: Mignolet – Clyne – Matip – Lovren – Henderson – Wijnaldum – Lallana – Coutinho – Mané – Firmino.
For the first time in ages we’ve had slightly longer to recover from our previous match than our opposition. Hull are heading into this one on the back of a 0-0 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford; a game they will have had to pour a huge amount of effort into. There’s more than enough time for them to get over their exertions, but that certainly works in our favour. There are no major problems for Marco Silva when it comes to his team selection, with the only exception being the absence of Ahmed Elmohamady after Egypt reached the final of the AFCON tournament.
In fact, when it comes to his line-up, the only issue the Hull manager might have is in choosing whether to start any of his new signings. The Tigers went into the transfer market in January, securing permanent deals for Kamil Grosicki, Alfred N’Diaye and Andrea Ranocchia. The latter appeared for the last twenty minutes or so at Old Trafford and gives Silva the option to go to five-at-the-back, whilst Grosicki is described by those who watched him play for Stade Rennais as ‘being able to score goals like Messi’. Given that Lazar Markovic is cup-tied, could he start in his place?
Let’s be honest, everyone’s pretty glad that January is done and dusted for Liverpool. It wasn’t a good month, with just one win and even that was against League Two opposition. We drew four games and lost four, seeing us crash out of both the League and FA Cups. When it comes to the Premier League alone things aren’t actually that bad. A decent draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford was followed up by shock loss to Swansea at home, but then we drew against the league leaders so we at least ended the month on a high. A win next, please?
Despite what some moronic, xenophobic morons in the media might have expected, Marco Silva has done an impressive job in turning around Hull’s form. The Portuguese boss got them a win from their first game under his management when they beat Bournemouth 3-1. They were then unlucky to lose 2-0 to Chelsea, with the Blues benefitting from some generous refereeing decisions. Their 2-1 win over Manchester United in the League Cup was well-earned and their draw on Wednesday saw them keep an Old Trafford clean sheet for the first time since 1952.
There’s a sense in the wake of the draw with Chelsea that the tide may be turning on Liverpool’s wretched last month. I’m not sure we’re ready to go and batter the Tigers, but I think we’ll head there with confidence and should cause them some problems. Here are my tips:
A Low Scoring Game?
One of the first things that Marco Silva appears to have done since taking over from Mike Phelan as Hull boss is to tighten things up at the back. They let in one versus Bournemouth and two to Chelsea, but the fact that the were able to keep a clean sheet at Old Trafford for the first time in more than sixty years is impressive. Admittedly they did concede four against Fulham in the FA Cup, which makes this argument a bit silly, but the signs are still there that they’re sorting out their problems at the back. Eldin Jakupovic was Man of The Match against the Red Devils and we know how goalkeepers love to have blinders against us.
That’s why I’m not convinced that this is going to be a goalfest. I can definitely see a scenario in which Hull put everyone behind the ball in the manner of Swansea, Southampton and others and frustrate the Reds. I’m hopeful that we’ll have enough to get the three points, but Liverpool to Win & The Match to Have Under 2.5 Goals is 14/5 and I find that very tempting indeed. I always like to offer alternatives, however, and it’s 9/5 for Their To Be Over 3.5 Goals, so that’s worth looking at too.
Who’ll Find The Net?
Whilst I do think that this will be a low-scoring game I don’t think it will be a 0-0. Hull’s defence is vulnerable and Liverpool are back to having the attack that scored the most goals in the Premier League in 2016. If you put a gun to my head and asked me to predict a scoreline then I’d go with 2-0, so it makes sense to pick two scorers for the Reds. Sadio Mané didn’t look at his exciting best against Chelsea but he still caused them some problems when he came on. Mané is 7/4 to Score Anytime, so you might want to consider that. Firmino had a number of great chances against Chelsea and will be back in the middle for this one, so Firmino to Score First at 4/1 has to be tempting.
I think it’s a sensible approach to always fear the unknown. Kamil Grosicki, the Polish winger I mentioned can ‘score goals like Messi’, found the back of the net four times in thirteen appearances for Stade Rennais before swapping Ligue 1 for the Premier League. He’s also scored nine times in 48 games for Poland, so he’s not afraid to try himself on the highest stage. The fact that Grosicki is 4/1 to Score Anytime means it’s almost silly not to have a punt on him. He’s quick, intelligent on the ball and basically everything that the Liverpool defence doesn’t like and the team doesn’t know how to deal with. As he’s almost certain to be Markovic’s replacement in the starting XI it’s something of a no brainer to me.
It’s rare that I go with a First Goal Scorer bet rather than an Anytime Scorer, but I fancy Roberto Firmino to put his miserable January behind him and open the scoring at the KCOM. Given that Firmino is 4/1 to Score First, there’s the chance of a decent return there. I’m also going to stick to my guns over it being a low scoring game that Liverpool take the three points from, so Under 2.5 Goals & Liverpool to Win @ 14/5 is my other chief tip.