Finally, after weeks of distractions in the form of an exciting Euro 2012, an endless round of transfer speculation and a couple of early competitive taster games against Gomel of Belarus, the real business of Premier League football returns this Saturday, and the Brendan Rodgers era at Liverpool FC begins in earnest.
We all know how frustrating last season was for the club. The fans and, you would strongly hope, the players, have been itching for the new season to start so that the team can right the wrongs of the previous campaign and start to play to their potential by delivering results on the pitch.
With a couple of Europa League qualifiers already under their belt, Liverpool will be very keen to hit the ground running and get the Brendan Rodgers regime off to a flying start. Not traditionally fast starters, Liverpool have won only two opening day Premier League fixtures in the last eleven years, and with a difficult run of opening home games (Liverpool’s first three games at Anfield are against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United), Rodgers will want to pick up some points early to ease some of the pressure.
Opening day fixtures also have an uncanny habit of setting the tone for the campaign ahead – last year’s 1-1 draw against an under-strength Sunderland side at Anfield saw a missed penalty, chances hit the woodwork and ultimately two points dropped at home against a team that Liverpool would have expected to beat. That pattern was repeated so many times over the rest of last season that Liverpool finished with their worst home record in Premier League history. Take the 2008/09 season opener by contrast, Liverpool won 1-0 away against a much stronger Sunderland side – they went on to finish second and have their best ever season under Rafa Benitez. Of course, it’s only one game, but sometimes it’s important to start as you mean to go on.
Looking ahead to team selection, Liverpool are almost certain to field a similar XI to the team that started the second leg against Gomel at Anfield, with the only change likely to be Joe Allen coming in for his Liverpool debut in place of Jonjo Shelvey. The Reds will be looking to build on several of the positive signs on display in the return leg against Gomel, with the link-up play between Gerrard, Suarez and Borini particularly impressive, together with the very welcome return of Lucas to the midfield.
West Brom have made a number of new signings already this summer, the most high profile of which has been Romelu Lukaku on a season-long loan deal from Chelsea. Argentinian midfielder Claudio Yacob, Swedish international striker Markus Rosenberg and Belgian winger Yassine El Ghanassy have all joined Clarke’s new West Brom side, and they will be anxious to impress on the opening day. Always well organised and in front of an expectant home support, West Brom will present a real challenge to Liverpool as they seek to start the campaign with three points.
It’s worth noting that the same fixture last season saw Liverpool record one of their better away performances of the campaign with goals from Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll securing a 2-0 victory. It’s a sign of how quickly things change in football that neither Adam or Carroll are expected to start on Saturday, and both have been heavily tipped for the exit door.
It’s always difficult to predict what will happen on an opening day, with so many new signings and unknown factors. However, it’s at this point in the year where fans are most blinded by optimism and hope for the season ahead, and I’m no different. I’m backing Liverpool’s extra sharpness from two competitive games against Gomel together with a desire to start well and make progress under their new manager to lift them to a positive opening result at The Hawthorns.
L4L Prediction: West Brom 1-2 Liverpool
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