After a humbling defeat at Leicester on Monday, Liverpool are back with a huge Premier League game at Anfield on Saturday. Arsenal are the visitors and Jurgen Klopp’s men will hope that their wonderful form against the top-six this season continues.
It will be a challenge though. The Reds are once again expected to be without Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren’s fitness is still uncertain. The captain, in particular, was missed against Leicester, as the midfield was easily overrun by Wilfred Ndidi and Danny Drinkwater.
Arsenal are suffering from a lack of confidence themselves. Their win against Sutton United last Monday night was their first after three successive losses to Watford, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. This could be a pivotal game in deciding the fate of the two teams’ seasons.
Here are some key individual battles to look forward to.
Joel Matip v Alexis Sanchez
Liverpool were done in by the pace of Jamie Vardy at Leicester and on Saturday, it’ll be more pace in the form of Alexis Sanchez. With the pace, there is the technical prowess and never-say-die attitude that Alexis possesses too.
Matip is a curious case. He is our best defender, without a shadow of a doubt, but he seems a little out of place, when he doesn’t have Lovren alongside him. Liverpool have not lost a league game this season when Lovren and Matip have played together.
With Alexis, one can be sure that he will not allow Matip time to pass the ball out from the back. He will harass, he will hound and he will coax defenders into making mistakes. Not for nothing is he among the top-3 goalscorers in the league this season.
But Arsenal will need to provide Alexis with proper service. The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott have been way too inconsistent, as usual. Also, Mesut Özil has refused to turn up on the big occasions that Arsenal have had this season.
But, if Lucas plays and plays the way he did against Leicester, Alexis will have a field day as Arsenal will exploit that side and leave Matip’s side alone. For that reason, it is important for Matip to stay tight to Alexis.
But the Cameroonian must ensure that he doesn’t get too tight, because with Alexis’s skill and pace, he can easily skin Matip and pose troubles for Simon Mignolet.
Adam Lallana v Mesut Özil
The two creative forces in midfield, Lallana and Ozil will be hugely significant entities in whatever the result is. Arsenal fans have recently got on Özil’s back for him not turning up in big games.
Against both Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and at Munich, Özil might well have sat on the bench. That was how little impact he had. The German will have to show a little more fight on the pitch, as Arsenal’s grip on the top 4 places seems dwindling with every game they play.
Lallana has faded away in recent games. He hasn’t been the same force that he was in the first half of the season. The running and the energy is still there, but he has gone back to being the frustrating player that he was when he joined the club.
The end-product has been shocking from Lallana since the turn of the year. He hasn’t been able to get his passing game going fully, and the goals have dried up too.
For messrs. Klopp and Wenger, their respective attacking midfielders must shoulder a big load of the creative responsibility if they are to get their respective seasons back on track.
Philippe Coutinho v Hector Bellerin
Coutinho has not been on his A-game since he returned from a lengthy injury layoff last month. His touch has been letting him down far too often. That is a concern, because for a player like Coutinho, his technique is his biggest ally.
When that lets him down he cannot rely on his physical strength or his pace because he doesn’t possess too much of either of those.
On Saturday, the man facing up to Coutinho has loads of pace. Bellerin has developed into one of the most consistent performers for Arsenal, but there are still question marks over the defensive side of his game. He gets forward consistently, and puts some terrific balls into the box, but he is still suspect at the other end of the field.
Coutinho must peg Bellerin back. Otherwise, with James Milner, behind him on Liverpool’s left, being as woeful as he has been in recent weeks, it could get ugly for Liverpool.
For Coutinho, the way he has started games recently has been a huge concern. it is important that he gets a few passes and dribbles going successfully in the first few minutes of the game. If that happens, his own confidence will rise and the crowd will get behind him. Then, he can feed off that for the rest of the game.