With the season fast approaching, the bigwigs here at FMG asked me to preview the biggest 5 games out of the first 15 in Liverpool’s league campaign. “That’s tricky. Klopp thinks we’ll win the league – they’re all important!” I said. “Just pick the must win ones,” they said. “They’re all must win,” I said. “Shut up and do as you’re told,” they said. With so much to take into consideration it seemed an impossible task. From the future of a player who doesn’t even play for us (yet), to the potential form of our potential rivals, there are so many variables to take into consideration. But, me being the top employee that I am, I did as I was told. So here I am, figuratively standing before you, presenting you with 5 out of Liverpool’s first 15 league games that we simply have to win.
Watford (A), Saturday 12th August
It may seem a bit harsh to call the first game of the season a ‘must win’ game, but there are a number of intriguing factors for Liverpool which could swing either way depending on the result. First of all, the recent transfer request of Virgil van Dijk is fresh in everyone’s minds and, according to some, Liverpool are to blame for turning the Dutchman’s head. It is a viable argument to be fair, you know, with the tapping up and all. If Liverpool put in a poor defensive display on Saturday then van Dijk’s name will be even harder to detract from a sentence containing the words ‘Liverpool’, ‘defensive’ and ‘frailties’. Virgil van Dijk has been seen as the answer to all Liverpool’s defensive woes for the past 6 months if you believe every pundit in the game. A loss on Saturday will see the van Dijk rumours undoubtedly intensify. Another man’s future who is apparently in the balance is that of Philippe Coutinho. With the little Brazilian wanting a move to Barcelona this summer it is important that we not only win on Saturday, but that he plays. Reports coming out of Melwood are that Coutinho has been showing a first class attitude as always and will only move if a deal is done amicably. But if Coutinho is absent from the starting line-up on Saturday, then what kind of message does that send? The rumour mill will go into overdrive regarding Coutinho’s happiness and mindset. A poor result could be blamed on the uncertainty regarding his future and then we have a situation where we are all talking about matters off the field once again.
Arsenal (H), Sunday 27th August
Arsenal notoriously do not do well at Anfield. The last 10 league fixtures at our home ground between the 2 clubs has seen 39 goals scored in total, the majority going to Liverpool. So this is historically a game full of goals. Despite Arsenal’s quiet but impressive summer in the transfer market, they are still vulnerable. They have signed a capable goalscorer in the form of Alexandre Lacazette but he is far from proven in the Premier League and, by the time Arsenal visit Anfield, he will be still be settling in to life in England. They have not sufficiently stiffened up at the back. Sead Kolasinac is a decent signing but he has his weaknesses and, like Lacazette, will be trying to find his feet with his new club. Arsenal are ripe for the picking at Anfield. Although they have already won the Community Shield with an impressive victory over Chelsea, the fans are still unsure over Wenger. A couple of dodgy results before September and he is back in the same position he was in at the end of May – fighting for his future with the club. This weekend also sees Chelsea take on Everton at Stamford Bridge. Both and Everton and Chelsea will be in and around us this season so it is important that we capitalise on any slip up either team has. Arsenal will also be one of our rivals, no matter what our targets are this season, so a home victory against them is imperative.
Manchester United (H), Saturday 14th October
When is this not a must win game? Liverpool must always aim to beat Manchester United, especially at home. A draw is not enough, a loss is unacceptable. Jurgen Klopp has already said that he can see us challenging for the league this season. If that is the case then we must beat Manchester United at Anfield. We must make Anfield a fortress, so that every team fears coming to play us at our own ground. Manchester United are many peoples’ favourites to go all the way this season, including mine. Mourinho will turn up looking to frustrate and contain Liverpool. If Liverpool can break a stubborn and horrible United side down, then belief will soar in the dressing room and the stands. A victory over United will see Klopp’s belief in a title challenge certainly imprint onto the fans. But a loss could be disastrous. A loss against Mourinho’s men at Anfield will be seen as an opportunity blown to stake an early claim for the title. It will be a sign that nothing has changed at the club and that we are still some way off being title challengers. It is vitally important that United head back to Manchester pointless.
Tottenham Hotspur (A), Saturday 21st October
A week later comes another crucial game. This one really depends on how Spurs start the season. They have not had a very successful transfer window, failing to invest in the squad despite making £53 million out of Manchester City for Kyle Walker. That being said Spurs are still a very good side. They have finished very close to the league winners the past 2 seasons now and will be looking to lose their “chokers” tag. There are a lot of doubters that they will be wanting to shut up and decent early season form will go some way to doing that. But they are certainly a scalp to be taken and a team that we should be beating to gain an early foothold in the title race. We were unbeaten at White Hart Lane since November 2012 when Gareth Bale scored all the goals – including ours – in a 2-1 defeat. Wembley is a massive pitch and Spurs had a torrid time playing their Champions League games there last season. A Liverpool win would not only deal a massive blow to the North Londoners, it would also send a message that Liverpool are serious now. Spurs are there for the taking.
Everton (H), Saturday 9th December
Similar to the Manchester United game, a defeat to Everton at home is inexcusable. Everton will be coming to Anfield looking for their first win away in a Merseyside derby since 1999. Having invested heavily this summer and bringing Wayne Rooney back to the club, spirits are high for all in blue and they feel this is the season that Kevin Campbell’s is no longer the last Everton winner scored across Stanley Park. Put all league matters to one side for a moment – this is about putting Everton back in their place. Despite bringing in major and necessary reinforcements, Everton can still be got at. They have undertaken spinal surgery to their side. These are good players in vital positions for Everton, but there are a lot of them. These players should just be starting to settle in by December but Liverpool are an incisive and dangerous proposition these days. You have to fancy the pace of Salah and Mane against an Everton side devoid of such an attribute. Everton cannot come to Anfield and leave with a point.