Liverpool should heed Arsenal warning to combat Leeds powerhouse at Anfield

As they did against Norwich City last season, Liverpool begin their Premier League campaign against something of an unknown quantity as Championship champions Leeds United visit Anfield on the opening day.

Daniel Farke’s Canaries were ultimately swept aside by Liverpool in last term’s opener, losing 4-1, but they asked some questions of Jürgen Klopp’s men, with Teemu Pukki getting on the score sheet as the newly-promoted side registered a rare tally of five shots on target at Anfield.

On their visit to Merseyside, Leeds will be looking to maintain last season’s momentum, having emphatically secured promotion by taking the most points of any side post-lockdown, finishing 12 points clear of third and 10 points ahead of runners-up West Brom. They’re certainly a fascinating prospect, and in terms of underlying data come up as one of the second tier’s most dominant sides ever, registering the league’s highest share of possession, 59.6% – the exact same proportion of the ball Liverpool registered in their title-winning campaign last term.

Leeds had the highest expected goals (xG) and the lowest expected goals against (xGA) in the division, and in terms of expected points (xP – extrapolated on that chance quality on a game-by-game basis) Marcelo Bielsa’s side were on track for over 110 points (per Infogol ). The Liverpool analytics team will no doubt be hard at work behind the scenes studying their patterns of play in the Championship last term, but for many it’s difficult to know exactly what to anticipate from next Saturday’s visitors.

But they’ll likely have an opportunity to scout one of Bielsa’s key players over the coming days, with defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips potentially making his England debut in one of the upcoming Nations League games. If he features against Denmark (having not made it off the bench against Iceland), he’ll be the first Leeds player to play for England since Alan Smith in 2004 and the first outfield player yet to make an appearance in a top-five European league since David Nugent in 2007.

It’s a tremendous show of faith from Gareth Southgate to hand the 24-year-old – who has only ever played in the Championship and never represented his country at youth level – a first call-up. By contrast, Jack Grealish only made the squad after Marcus Rashford dropped out and vacated a space, despite having impressed for Aston Villa last season, his boyhood club’s indisputable player of the year as they narrowly avoided the drop.

As Southgate has said, that’s partly due to the comparative dearth of competition at the base of midfield – a situation that Phillips will be looking to exploit ahead of the Euros next summer – but it’s also testament to just how good Phillips has been at Leeds. For a long while, a box-to-box midfielder, a jack of all trades but master of none as Leeds drifted to mid-table finishes in the second tier, Bielsa…

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