Virgil van Dijk stated Liverpool had room for improvement despite a 3-0 win at Norwich City on his long-awaited Premier League return.

Van Dijk was playing a competitive match for the first time since suffering a serious knee injury in a collision with Jordan Pickford during the Merseyside derby against Everton at Goodison Park last October.

Goals from Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino either side of half-time put Liverpool in control before Mohamed Salah established a new Premier League record by scoring for a fifth consecutive opening weekend.

The Reds were able to close out a clean sheet but a final Opta expected goals (xG) calculation of 1.6-1.4 in Norwich's favour suggested Liverpool rode their luck at times and Van Dijk certainly thought this was the case.

"Winning here 3-0 sounds comfortable but at times we made it difficult for ourselves," he told Sky Sports.

"Maybe that's fatigue, we have to do better. But we can’t be negative about tonight.

"I need games. The manger knows it, I know it. It's time to recover and hopefully I'm ready for next week and it’s going to be a very tough one again against Burnley."

Van Dijk explained how tough it was to watch on from the sidelines as an injury-ravaged Liverpool squad saw their title defence subside last time around.

"In the beginning, mentally it’s tough," he said. "You are going from one day being fully fit to the next day you can't walk, you're full of medication and you can't sleep.

"Everyone has their opinion and you read those things because you have nothing to do.

"We struggled last season with key injuries in key positions. We couldn't play our game with high pressure. When you have midfielders playing centre-back it's not easy and the guys did a fantastic job coming third."

In terms of whether Liverpool can mount a sustained title bid against the likes of champions Manchester City, Manchester United and European champions Chelsea this time around, Van Dijk was keen not to be drawn – instead focusing upon his excitement over being back in the heat of battle.

"I don't know. The only thing we can focus on is the next game," he added, having topped the Liverpool charts for touches (92), passes (85) and successful passes (79) over the course of the 90 minutes.

"I think it's exciting to see the Premier League like this. The quality that the Premier League has with the players coming in and coming back is exciting.

"I enjoy that. If I'm thinking about our team, if we stay fit, we have a good chance to be up there. We'll see what the season brings, we have to enjoy it.

"To play against world class strikers and world class teams against where you can't predict. It’s amazing."

Liverpool got their Premier League title bid off to an untroubled start with a 3-0 win at newly promoted Norwich City.

Diogo Jota opened the scoring in the 26th minute, having been selected to start alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane up front.

Roberto Firmino, recently back in training following Brazil's run to the Copa America final, replaced Jota with an hour played at Carrow Road and swiftly got on the scoresheet.

Salah claimed both assists – the second seemingly far more intentional than the first – and duly got in on the act, finishing emphatically with 16 minutes remaining and becoming the first player to score on five consecutive Premier League opening weekends.

Tim Krul extended himself to tip over an 11th-minute header from Portugal forward Jota before his opposite number was given some work.

Teemu Pukki got in behind the returning Virgil van Dijk on the end of Todd Cantwell's dinked throughball and Alisson had to save sharply at his near post in the 19th minute.

A pleasing back and forth had developed as Salah crashed a volley just wide from Mane's chipped delivery and it was Liverpool who found the breakthrough when the Egypt star failed to control Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross, with the ball falling kindly for Jota to slot home.

Salah made a truer contact on the volley when a left-wing corner was partially cleared, with his strike blocked by Ben Gibson before Pierre Lees-Melou got in the way of Joel Matip's follow-up.

Last-ditch Norwich defending continued early in the second half as Max Aarons and Grant Hanley combined to thwart Mane.

Konstantinos Tsimikas, playing at left-back for Liverpool in the absence of Andy Robertson, stung Krul's palms after the hour and the second goal inevitably arrived when Salah retrieved another blocked Mane effort and cut the ball into Firmino's path for a simple finish.

The goal Salah's endeavours deserved arrived when he snaffled a Gibson clearance and curled impeccably beyond Krul.

Jurgen Klopp has "no doubt" Liverpool will reach a compromise with captain Jordan Henderson over his future.

Reports emerged last month suggesting talks between the two parties had reached an impasse.

Henderson has spent the past decade with Liverpool, winning the Premier League and Champions League among other trophies during that period, and has two years to run on his existing contract.

Despite doubts being raised over Henderson's future, Klopp remains optimistic that the situation will soon resolve itself.

Asked how important it is to sort out the England international's future, Klopp said: "Important, but it will happen.

"We will sort it, we will sort it. However it will be, we will sort it, no doubt about that."

Henderson was given an extended break by Liverpool after playing five times for England at Euro 2020 and has made just one substitute appearance in pre-season.

However, Henderson is in contention to play Liverpool's opening Premier League game against Norwich City on Saturday and Klopp has no concerns over his fitness.

"I spoke to him yesterday and it looked like he is ready to play," Klopp said.

Questions regarding Henderson's future are particularly pertinent as Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Alisson have all signed new contracts this week.

The 31-year-old has played 392 times for Liverpool since arriving from Sunderland in 2011 and is fourth on the list of all-time appearance makers for the club in the Premier League.

He was a key part of Liverpool's title-winning side of 2019-20 but endured a frustrating 2020-21 campaign beset by injury problems that restricted him to 28 appearances overall.

Henderson still led the way for interceptions (1.79) and successful passes (83.51) per 90 minutes among Liverpool players to play more than six times in the top flight last season.

Here we go again. The Premier League race begins once more, despite some players barely having the chance to unpack their suitcases after short-lived pre-season breaks.

Last time out, Manchester City turned a potentially intriguing title battle into a procession. They had plenty of tests along the way, just mostly of the PCR variety as the teams pushed on amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Thankfully, fans will be in grounds to watch from the start this time around, while some familiar faces have returned. Romelu Lukaku is back. Patrick Vieira – a three-time Premier League winner in his playing days – and Rafa Benitez, a former red now aligned to the Blues, are on the touchline. Norwich City and Watford, meanwhile, have negotiated the Championship to secure a quick reunion.

Still, there is always a freshness to every campaign, aided by summer signings and, this time, the presence of a newcomer.

Brentford provide a new, exciting chapter to the Premier League story, though it is perhaps expecting too much to hope for riveting plot twists when it comes to the likely contenders to be crowned champions.

THE THOROUGHBREDS READY TO RUN AGAIN

When Manchester rivals City and United drew 0-0 in an instantly forgettable derby in December 2020, one that left those who had watched on wondering what else they should have done with their time instead, Pep Guardiola's side were sitting outside the top seven in the table. It was actually an upturn in their position – they had languished down in 11th during the previous month.

By the time they hosted their neighbours in the return fixture in March 2021, however, City had won 21 in a row in all competitions and held a double-digit lead at the head of the league. The stunning run did come to an end that day, but it was just a case of delaying the inevitable.

The rich have got richer in pursuit of a third title in four years, in terms of talent at least. Spending £100million to get Jack Grealish has add further creativity, as if they really needed it. The squad could still be bolstered by Harry Kane, too. If the Tottenham striker moves north, the deck will be stacked even more in City's favour.

Yet there are reasons for the others who finished in the top four to be optimistic. Chelsea denied Guardiola in the Champions League final, giving a silver-lined finish to the promising early form under Thomas Tuchel. They have strengthened in attack, Lukaku back at the Bridge to sort out some unfinished business. A glaring gap in the squad (sorry, Timo Werner) has been filled.

Adding goals will be a key factor for the Blues, as they managed only 38 in all competitions following the appointment of the German coach. To put that number into context, United and City managed 58 and 70 across the same period. Even Tottenham topped them with 49.

OLE JOCKEYS FOR SILVERWARE

United finished second but will hope Jadon Sancho can lift them even higher, albeit the arrival of Raphael Varane could be even more crucial, considering the Red Devils conceded 28 goals at home last season – their most in a single campaign since 1962-63. Tighten up and it could well be their year, but they do not want to continue the habit of giving opposing teams head-starts again in games.

Those two marquee signings, which came in the transfer window following unrest among the fanbase aimed at the club's ownership, have rightly raised expectations. Now, for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there is a need to secure something tangible, a piece of silverware to show he can clear the final hurdle.

The caretaker appointed to lift the gloom after Jose Mourinho is just three Premier League games short of a century in charge – if United triumph in all of them on the way to that Solskjaer milestone, the Norwegian will have the same winning percentage at the magical 100 mark as Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp.

As for Klopp and Liverpool, there is a degree of uncertainty. The outstanding winners in 2019-20 required a fast finish – the Reds' run of five consecutive league wins in May was more than they managed in 12 games in February, March and April combined – just to squeeze into the top four. They began to rebuild fortress Anfield, knocked down during a record-breaking losing run.

Injuries did decimate the squad during a tepid title defence, but Virgil van Dijk is now fit again and, just in case, Ibrahima Konate has come in to provide added depth at the heart of the defence. If Sadio Mane can rediscover his scoring form and ease the burden on Mohamed Salah, the ingredients are all there to mount a sustained challenge again.

THE FADING FORCES DESPERATE TO FIND FORM

In times of cutbacks, have the 'Big Six' been reduced to a 'Big Four'? Arsenal and Tottenham still retained enough pulling power to be included as part of the failed European Super League plan, but neither have ended up above Leicester City in the final league table in the past two years.

The Foxes came up short in their Champions League quest again, though the frustration at a second successive fifth-place finish was eased somewhat by lifting the FA Cup. The underappreciated Brendan Rodgers has never lacked belief, and Leicester have backed their boss in the transfer market with the signings of Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare.

Spurs' transfer business is now being carried out by new managing director Fabio Paratici, while Nuno Espirito Santo was eventually selected to take over as head coach, despite at one stage appearing to be off the lengthy list of candidates. Both are carrying out their duties amid uncertainty over Kane, the competition's disgruntled Golden Boot winner determined to get a move.

Tottenham will be the Premier League's first participants in the Europa Conference League, which could either offer welcome relief from league issues or be a midweek nuisance. Come on, though, who doesn't want to go to Latvia in winter? Arsenal may well wish they had such concerns - they will not be playing in any European competition for the first time in 26 years.

Ben White has come in at great expense as the Gunners have put a focus on getting younger. Really, they just need to get better. To that extent, getting more out of Thomas Partey, not to mention Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who managed just the 10 league goals in 29 games, would help.

Mikel Arteta has much work to do to make sure the gap to the head of the field does not grow wider.

THE OUTSIDERS HOPING TO EMERGE

West Ham finished above the north London duo last time thanks in no small part to the impact made by Jesse Lingard during his loan spell.

The attacking midfielder scored nine goals and four assists in 16 games to propel himself back into England contention, even it remains to be seen if it was enough to rekindle his Manchester United career.

Without Lingard, David Moyes will have to conjure up more magic from within his squad as they also tackle the added workload of playing in the Europa League. Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola is unlikely to have the same kind of impact during his temporary stint from Paris Saint-Germain, leaving cravings for 'J-Lingz'.

Leeds United will hope to build on a positive first year back in the top flight, steered diligently by the boss on a bucket, Marcelo Bielsa, while Aston Villa have wisely elected not to replace the talismanic Grealish with just one player, instead bringing in several to try and fill the void.

There is still time for teams to strengthen, particularly as the leading clubs look to cut away some of the unnecessary fat in their bloated squad lists. Lingard demonstrated what a difference the right signing can make to a team.

However, another underdog story to match the wonderful tale of Claudio Ranieri's Leicester appears impossible. Instead, after two consecutive seasons with runaway champions, it would just be nice if the 2021-22 Premier League Stakes at least provided a little more drama by the time we enter into the closing stages.

Virgil van Dijk has signed a new long-term contract with Liverpool on the eve of their first game of the 2021-22 Premier League season.

The Netherlands captain, who made his return from a serious knee injury in pre-season following a nine-month absence, has committed his future to the Reds "well into the coming years".

Van Dijk's previous contract ran until 2023 but the big-money signing from Southampton has agreed to extend his stay on Merseyside.

He told Liverpoolfc.com: "Amazing. It is something to be very proud of, that I am very proud of, that my wife and my kids are very proud of and obviously my agency.

"All the hard work we've put in so far continues and I am looking forward to what the future brings together with Liverpool. I'm delighted, very happy and proud."

The commanding centre-back became the most expensive defender of all time when he left the Saints to join Liverpool for a fee of £75million in January 2018.

Former Celtic defender Van Dijk has been key to the Reds' success, helping Jurgen Klopp's side win the Premier League, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

He has made 130 appearances for the club, scoring 13 goals, and follows Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Alisson in signing new contracts in recent weeks.

Van Dijk and fellow defender Joe Gomez, who also suffered a serious knee injury, were sorely missed by Liverpool last season as they failed to defend their Premier League crown but were able to secure a Champions League spot.

They will travel to Norwich City for their opening game of the 2021-22 campaign on Saturday, with Klopp having suggested Van Dijk will not be rushed back into action – although the player feels ready to return after a good pre-season.

"I feel good. Obviously [they were] friendlies, you get your match fitness up, get into repetitions of doing things again and again," he said.

"I feel like I am ready for the weekend, so we'll see what the manager decides. It is going to be a totally different atmosphere and mindset for me personally as well. It is something we fight for, for the points, and hopefully we can get a positive result out of it."

Virgil van Dijk has signed a new long-term contract with Liverpool on the eve of their first game of the 2021-22 Premier League season.

The Premier League is back! 

Arsenal travel to newly promoted Brentford in the opening game of the 2021-22 campaign on Friday.

Champions Manchester City face Tottenham – and possibly top transfer target Harry Kane – on Sunday, with Liverpool in action against returning Norwich City on Saturday, after Manchester United have hosted Leeds United.

So, ahead of the new season, why not give this Opta-powered quiz a go? You can find the answers at the bottom of the page...

1. Arsenal begin against Brentford – it is the fourth time the Gunners have been involved in the opening game of a Premier League campaign, winning the other three in 2008-09, 2017-18 and 2020-21, but who did they play against in those matches? 

2. Over the last 10 Premier League matches of 2020-21, Leeds claimed 23 points, winning seven games and drawing twice. Can you name the only  club to collect more points across the same time span?

3. Liverpool are unbeaten in their five Premier League openers under Jurgen Klopp, but how many goals have the Reds scored across these matches?

4. Aston Villa begin life without Jack Grealish with a trip to Watford. Emiliano Buendia will wear the number 10 shirt, but how many goals did he assist for Norwich in the Championship last season?

5. Sunday's meeting between Spurs and City brings up Nuno Espirito Santo's first competitive game as Tottenham boss. Who was the club's last manager to lose his opening fixture in charge?

 

Answers:

1. West Brom, Leicester City, Fulham
2. Liverpool (26)
3. 19 
4. 16
5. Andre Villas-Boas 

Liverpool are the side that will provide reigning Premier League champions Manchester City with their sternest title test this season.

That is according to Mark Bosnich, who told Stats Perform he also expects Chelsea and his former club Manchester United to be in the running for top spot.

City won their third title in four seasons last time out, and a fifth in 10 years, as they finished 12 points clear of closest challengers United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have strengthened with the signing of Jadon Sancho and imminent arrival of Raphael Varane for reported combined fees of £115million.

City spent £100m to make Jack Grealish the most expensive player in British history, meanwhile, and Chelsea have re-signed Romelu Lukaku for just less.

That makes the £36m Liverpool paid to sign Ibrahima Konate seem modest by comparison, yet Bosnich believes the 2019-20 champions are capable of ousting City this term.

"The real dark horse, if you can really say that, is Liverpool," Bosnich told Stats Perform. "They've won it before, very recently. 

"And I really do think that the injury to Virgil van Dijk hurt them last season far more than anyone realised at the time.

"I think that out of three contenders, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, they are probably the best placed to really mount a serious challenge."

City, who still want to add Harry Kane to their ranks, won the title with three games to spare last season and have bolstered their attack with Grealish, offsetting the departure of club-record scorer Sergio Aguero and defender Eric Garcia, who were both used sparingly last season.

But while Bosnich considers Pep Guardiola's side as favourites before a ball is kicked, the former Australia international expects them to prioritise the Champions League after finishing as runners-up to Chelsea in 2020-21.

"For me and for a lot of people, understandably so after signing Grealish, they will definitely start as favourites, but I'm not so sure they'll win it," Bosnich said. "There's no doubt in their qualities – we saw what they achieved last season. 

"That was a phenomenal run. But if you think back, I think it was about up to about around November, they had a bit of a poor run and they changed things around and they went on a 15 or 16-game unbeaten spree. 

"But their main focus, and understandably so, is the Champions League. Guardiola hasn't won it since 2011 and City have never won it before.

"I think you have to say that it's their graduation of truly, from a football perspective, being in the big club of clubs.

"I really think the focus would go on that, and I'm not so sure that they will win it. They'll definitely start favourites, but I'm not sure that they will win it."

Bosnich's former United team-mate Solskjaer has yet to win any silverware in his two and a half seasons in charge of the club, losing four cup semi-finals in that time and falling just short in last season's Europa League final.

After finishing third and second in the last two campaigns, Bosnich feels it is time for Solskjaer to end United's nine-season wait for top-flight silverware or else he may be out of a job.

"Solskjaer, although I'll admit I'm biased, has for me done a really good job thus far," Bosnich said. "The only thing that's stopping me from saying 'an excellent job' is the fact that he hasn't won a trophy. 

"The Villarreal Europa League final, obviously losing on penalties was disappointing. But they now have Sancho and I think Raphael Varane will prove to be one of the signings of the season.

"People who have watched LaLiga over time, or France, will realise what an absolutely outstanding asset he is. 

"And I really do think that it gives Solskjaer so many options as well, because they could play three at the back with [Victor] Lindelof and [Harry] Maguire if they wanted to. He could go right-back if they really wanted him to. 

"I'd dearly love to see them sign one more like Harry Kane, but I don't think that will happen this summer. I still think that they've got to win the title in my opinion, for Ole's sake, within the next two seasons."

As for Chelsea's title prospects after winning the Champions League last season and the Super Cup this week, Bosnich cannot see Thomas Tuchel's men quite bridging the gap in the league just yet.

"Tuchel came in and did an absolutely outstanding job last season. But 19 points is too much for them to catch up," Bosnich said. "But they still probably have a better chance of doing it than a lot of teams. 

"With the signing of Lukaku, I think that's really important for them. He's an outstanding player, simple as that. I don't care what anyone says. And I've always held that close – he's an outstanding player. 

"I don't think they’ll be able to make up the 19-point gap, but I don't think they'll be far off."

The new Premier League season has not even begun yet and we're already enjoying some enthralling narratives.

Beyond the mundane matter of who might win the league, who will beat the drop and how thick the VAR lines will be, there are some tantalising stories we'll be following closely in the coming weeks.

Below, Stats Perform takes a look at some of the big talking points...

 

Blue Benitez

Predicting football is often a fool's game – especially in an era when Lionel Messi no longer plays for Barcelona – but Rafael Benitez at Everton? Who saw that coming?

The Spaniard is back in the Premier League, two years after walking away from Newcastle United, having been tempted by the same project that won over Carlo Ancelotti before the lure of a Real Madrid return became too great.

Benitez was a fans' favourite at Newcastle, arguably as much as he was at Liverpool, where he reached two Champions League finals including the unforgettable triumph in Istanbul. His connection to the red half of Merseyside meant his decision to head to Goodison Park raised the eyebrows of some and the blood pressure of others. In fact, only one man has ever managed both clubs: William Edward Barclay, Everton's first boss in 1888 and Liverpool's manager from 1892. We'll forgive you if you don't remember.

The scrutiny on Benitez, who has recorded 11 wins against Everton in his coaching career, will be severe. He has the credentials, but if he cannot quickly prove he is the man to realise the dreams of owner Farhad Moshiri and challenge the 'big six', the pressure could become pretty uncomfortable.

 

Virgil return lifts Reds

For a while, it seemed everything would be okay. In the first 11 games after Virgil van Dijk was injured against Everton last October, Liverpool conceded just six goals and kept as many clean sheets. Perhaps the loss of the Netherlands colossus would not be quite so damaging.

Of course, as injuries in defence piled up and confidence in their title chances waned, Liverpool's season ended up being one of major disappointment even though a strong final few weeks saw them snatch a Champions League spot.

Van Dijk's impact cannot really be disputed: since his move to Anfield in January 2018, Liverpool have won 75.8 per cent of matches with the centre-back in the side and only 54.3 per cent without him. They average 2.4 points per game with him (compared with 1.9 without), and even score more goals on average (2.3 compared with 1.8) when he's playing. No wonder fans began to count down the days to his return.

On Saturday, we can finally expect to watch Van Dijk in competitive action again, with Jurgen Klopp confirming he is fit to start the season. He could even begin his partnership with new signing Ibrahima Konate against Norwich City at Carrow Road. How Liverpool's campaign progresses over the opening few weeks, and how Van Dijk's return goes, might just tell us whether another title tilt is on the cards.

 

Rom-ember us?

Two of the biggest transfers in this pre-season have seen stars returning to England: Jadon Sancho, who finally got his Manchester United move for £72.9million a year after Borussia Dortmund had demanded a sizeably bigger sum; and Romelu Lukaku, who is heading to Chelsea for roughly £93m.

Sancho left Manchester City for the Bundesliga as a teenager and promptly became one of Europe's standout attacking players, with 50 goals and 57 assists in 137 appearances. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted a player to get fans on their feet, and he's almost certainly found it: Sancho completed 48 multi take-ons (beating more than one player with a dribble) in the Bundesliga, at least 14 more than any other player in his time in Germany.

For Lukaku, it's a case of unfinished business at Chelsea, the club he left back in 2014. The standout performer for Inter last season, with 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, he propelled his side to their first Serie A title since 2010 before taking up the chance to return to Stamford Bridge, where a consistent goalscorer could be decisive to their Premier League title hopes.

Sancho and Lukaku initially struggled to convince managers to give them a shot as youngsters in the Premier League. They return as elite players determined to prove a point. Given the costs involved, the pressure will be on both to perform – and quickly.

 

Did Jack hammer Harry's City hopes?

Manchester City are not exactly frugal in the transfer market, but rarely will they willingly pay over the odds for an individual. That's what made their willingness to spend £100million on Jack Grealish, a player with 12 senior international caps and zero Champions League experience, a touch surprising.

This is not to suggest Grealish is not a good player, of course. This is a man who was involved in a remarkable 376 open-play attacking sequences over the past two seasons for Aston Villa, a team who finished 17th and 11th in those campaigns. It's just notable that Pep Guardiola felt it was warranted to smash City's transfer record by nearly £40m to sign yet another midfielder, especially given what's going on – or not going on – with Harry Kane.

Kane was expected to be City's marquee signing in this window but, as of now, his future is unclear. He is finally due to return to Tottenham training this week but whether he is involved against City in their opening game is harder to know. And if City were willing to spend nine figures on Grealish, you can expect Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to demand top dollar for last term's golden boot winner, who has three years left on his contract.

Will City stump up the cash? Will Kane try his best to force Spurs' hand? Will he be staying in north London for at least a few months more, his form undimmed, the goals flowing as normal? It will be fascinating to watch.

 

The Premier League is back. Yes, already.

After the packed schedule of 2020-21, the delayed Euro 2020, Copa America and Tokyo Olympics and a pre-season still impacted by travel restrictions, the new season in England's top flight will, hopefully, be a bit more like normal.

With fans set to return to grounds across the country, the anticipation for this opening weekend has been greater than many others – and, we assume, that same excitement extends to fantasy football.

To that end, Stats Perform's Fantasy Picks series has returned to point you in the right direction for those all-important choices. Whether you're squad-filling, striker-selecting or triple-captaining, these suggested selections - all backed by Opta data - should hopefully get you off to a flyer.

 

ROBERT SANCHEZ (Burnley v Brighton and Hove Albion)

Robert Sanchez was one of the more surprising names in Luis Enrique's Spain squad for Euro 2020. Given his form this year, perhaps he shouldn't have been such a shock.

The only goalkeepers to keep more Premier League clean sheets since the start of January are Ederson (12) and Edouard Mendy (10), with Sanchez's nine helping Brighton to secure survival.

They start their campaign away to Burnley, where they have lost only once in their past seven league visits. Indeed, the Clarets are on a 10-game winless run at Turf Moor.

 

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (Norwich City v Liverpool)

Having declared himself fully fit and feeling confident, 2021-22 could be the season where we see Trent Alexander-Arnold back to his scintillating best.

That said, even his more difficult campaign last term had impressive elements. Since the turn of this year, his expected assists figure of 5.37 is the highest of any defender and second only to Bruno Fernandes (5.62) in the whole competition.

Liverpool average 2.8 goals per game against Norwich City in the Premier League and it's safe to back this man to provide the chances again at Carrow Road, particularly with Virgil van Dijk set to return to offer an extra set-piece threat.

JAMES TARKOWSKI (Burnley v Brighton and Hove Albion)

James Tarkowski has long been admired as a stopper at the heart of the Burnley defence, but he is a greater threat going forward than six league goals in six seasons would suggest.

Last season, the 28-year-old had the most touches in the opposition box (66) and the highest expected goals tally (3.37) of any centre-back in the Premier League.

Goals in this fixture are rare – just 1.5 per game on average – so gambling on a clean sheet and a set-piece winner from Tarkowski could be worthwhile.

 

MOHAMED SALAH (Norwich City v Liverpool)

In the past four seasons, Liverpool's opening Premier League goal of the season has been scored by Mohamed Salah. He got three in their win over Leeds United a year ago.

No player has ever scored on the opening day for five consecutive Premier League seasons but, given Salah's record, you would not bet against him.

It's worth adding that Liverpool have won seven away games in a row against Norwich in the top flight.

MASON GREENWOOD (Manchester United v Leeds United)

With Marcus Rashford recovering from shoulder surgery and Jadon Sancho still adjusting to new surroundings, it's highly likely Mason Greenwood will start on Saturday.

After scoring just once in 23 games, Greenwood ended last season with six goals in eight league appearances to take his tally to 19.

Manchester United scored six when Leeds United visited last season, and it's been 30 years since the Yorkshire club last won a league game at Old Trafford.

JAMIE VARDY (Leicester City v Wolves)

Along with Salah, Jamie Vardy is the only current Premier League player to score six goals in six opening matches of the season. He's a striker who hits the ground running, and running hard.

Leicester City are also enjoying a run of one defeat in 24 home league games against Wolves - and that was back in May 2007 in the Championship.

Wolves have gone eight seasons without losing their opening league match, but they have a new man in charge in Bruno Lage, and five of the previous seven managers whose first Premier League game came against Leicester were defeated.

 

CALLUM WILSON (Newcastle United v West Ham United)

Losing Callum Wilson to injury last term was a major reason behind Newcastle United's struggles, and it was his double in that shock 4-2 win away to Leicester that effectively secured their survival in May.

The Magpies begin 2021-22 against one of Wilson's favourite opponents. He has scored eight goals in 10 Premier League games against West Ham, more than he has against any other side in the competition.

The striker got his opening top-flight goals for both Bournemouth and Newcastle against the Hammers.

Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold has set his sights on lifting the Premier League trophy in front of an Anfield next May.

The Reds ended their 30-year wait for a top-flight title two seasons ago amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jurgen Klopp's men finished 18 points clear of nearest challengers Manchester City after a remarkable campaign in which they secured the title in record time, with seven matchdays remaining.

They won an astonishing 26 of their first 27 games, ending on 32 victories in total, and at one stage held a 25-point lead at the top, the biggest ever in England's top flight.

However, for Alexander-Arnold, there remains a sense of disappointment about having trophy celebrations behind closed doors – something he hopes to rectify this season.

"All that matters is winning… that at the end of May, if I've got a trophy in my hand and a medal around my neck," he told the Athletic.

"I know when I was a kid when I dreamed of lifting league titles, it wasn't in front of an empty Anfield. For me, we have won the league but it wasn't the way I expected. So it's still what I need to do. I'm hoping next May, that'll be ticked off the list."

Alexander-Arnold believes it is true that Liverpool missed playing in front of fans perhaps more than others last season as their title defence proved deeply disappointing.

At one stage, Liverpool lost six home matches in a row and looked destined to miss out on the top four until a strong run late in the campaign saw them win 26 points from 30 to finish third.

It was Klopp's encouragement to forget the injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson and embrace their difficulties that proved pivotal.

"Up until that point it was, like, 'Aaargh, we're not winning because of this, because of that; Virg is injured, Joe's injured, Joel is injured, Hendo's injured," said Alexander-Arnold.

"Then, we said, 'Right, we're not getting them back now. We can only work with what we've got here – we've got to make it work. That was a turning point for us, realising we were not going to get any help from anyone else, realising we weren't going to get every decision go our way; thinking everything was against us while also thinking we're still good enough to pull through.

"The fans impacted us the most last year, we felt it. To have them back should impact upon us the most again. It will give us a big boost. We're all excited for it, because it brings a certain level of intimidation to the other team. Anfield can become hostile and loud very quickly. People don't shut up once they sense a weakness. The stands are tight to the pitch and they're high. Then you have You'll Never Walk Alone and the history.

"I know that I wouldn't want to come to Anfield as an opposition player. The occasion is huge. Then you have to consider the team. It all combines to make sure we go out there and win. Last season, we missed a lot of that massively."

Curtis Jones has been ruled out of Liverpool's opening Premier League game of the season at Norwich City through concussion.

The 20-year-old has featured in three of Liverpool's four pre-season friendlies and was pushing for inclusion for Saturday's trip to Carrow Road.

However, Jones was replaced during the first half of Monday's 3-1 win over Osasuna following a collision and will not be available this weekend as per concussion protocols.

"He had a slight concussion so we just have to follow the protocol," Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told the club's official website.

"He is fine, he feels fine again, but that’s the protocol. He is available for training from Sunday on I think."

Liverpool will also be without influential left-back Andy Robertson for their meeting with Norwich, one which Jones would have been in contention to start.

The academy product made 24 appearances in the Premier League for the Reds last term, averaging 68.07 successful passes per 90 minutes, sitting him behind only Thiago Alcantara (74.64) and Jordan Henderson (83.51) among Liverpool midfielders.

Thiago and Henderson both made substitute appearances against Osasuna after returning to Liverpool following Euro 2020 duty - and both are in contention to play a part against Norwich.

Asked if there are any other fitness doubts besides Robertson and Jones, Klopp said: "No, not from an injury point of view.

"But yeah, a few players had a shorter pre-season than others. All the others are healthy."

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 14 Premier League matches against Norwich ahead of this latest meeting, scoring 44 goals across that period at an average of 3.1 per game.

Inter Milan have their eye on a Premier League forward. 

With Romelu Lukaku heading back to England, the Nerazzurri are eyeing Anthony Martial.

However, Manchester United do not appear willing to let him go.

 

TOP STORY - UNITED WANT TO KEEP MARTIAL

Inter Milan want Anthony Martial to bolster their attack, according to multiple reports, but it does not sound like he is available. 

The Mail claims United are prepared to reject a £50million offer for the 25-year-old, who is still easing his way back in after injuring his knee in March.

Martial is under contract until 2024, with an option for an additional year at Old Trafford, so there is no urgency for United to move him on. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Meanwhile, Edin Dzeko's move from Roma to Inter is "imminent" according to Fabrizio Romano, with the 35-year-old set to sign through to 2023. 

- United and Arsenal have interest in Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso, according to a Bild report, with Juventus and West Ham also rumoured to be possibilities for the Fran. 

- Bild also says Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton are eyeing Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria

- Rennes midfielder Eduardo Camavinga is on United's radar but FootMercato reports Paris Saint-Germain could swoop for the 18-year-old despite a need to balance the books following Lionel Messi's addition.

- Leicester City and Sevilla could be set to bid for Schalke defender Ozan Kabak, according to Calciomercato.

- Veteran goalkeeper Sergio Romero is set to join Granada on a free transfer, as per Romano. 

- Everton are considering a move for 24-year-old Antwerp right-back Aurelio Buta, the Sun reports, saying the Belgian club want £3m. 

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is a free agent after his time with Barcelona officially ended.

The Argentina international has been heavily linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi is yet to declare his intentions and unlikely to confirm his next move until later this week at the earliest.

TOP STORY - MAN UTD CONSIDERS LAST-MINUTE MESSI MOVE

Manchester United have entered the race for free agent Messi and are considering a late offer to pip PSG, claims the Daily Star.

Messi's exit from Barcelona was confirmed over the weekend, although the 34-year-old refused to declare his next destination amid strong links with PSG.

The report claims United are considering an opportunistic bid, with competition still swirling for Messi's signature and his PSG move unlikely to be progressed until later this week.

However, Ole is reporting that Messi will be in Paris on Tuesday, with the PSG deal almost done.

 

ROUND-UP

- AS claims that Messi's imminent move to Paris Saint-Germain could signal a transfer swoop from Real Madrid for Kylian Mbappe. PSG and Mbappe appear to have been drifting apart in recent times, with the France international opting not to extend his contract due to expire in 2022.

- Messi's imminent move means PSG have ended their interest in signing Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba,  according to Le Parisien. The France international's agent Mino Raiola had opened talks with PSG about a switch and Pogba was keen on the move but no offer was made.

- Chelsea and Roma have agreed to Tammy Abraham's transfer terms with the move subject to the player's approval, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. This is part of a cascade of moves as Chelsea are set to land Romelu Lukaku from the Nerazzurri, with Roma striker Edin Dzeko headed to Inter.

- Lyon have submitted a bid for Liverpool's Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, claims L'Equipe. Shaqiri was largely a bit-part player at Liverpool last season.

- Liverpool are also looking to add to their squad as they eye a move for young Belgian talent Jeremy Doku from Rennes, according to Voetbal 24.

Ibrahima Konate was left lost for words after making his first Anfield appearance for Liverpool in Monday's pre-season win over Osasuna.

The centre-back, signed for a fee in the region of £36million (€42.5m) from RB Leipzig, started the 3-1 friendly victory and played 80 minutes in front of a crowd of around 40,000.

The 22-year-old now cannot wait to experience a competitive game on Merseyside, with the Reds' first home game of the 2021-22 season coming against Burnley on August 21.

"To be honest, I don't have the words to explain my feelings when I put my first foot on the pitch," he told Liverpool's website. "It's amazing and I'm very happy to have my first game at Anfield with fans.

"Today was amazing. I cannot imagine the stadium in the Premier League or Champions League."

Liverpool were comfortable winners against the LaLiga side, Roberto Firmino scoring twice after Takumi Minamino broke the deadlock with a deflected strike.

Jurgen Klopp's men are looking in good form ahead of their season opener away to Norwich City on Saturday.

"I think we did a very good game together and this is the most important [thing]. I am happy about my performance," said Konate.

"It was the last friendly game, the last game of the pre-season – now the Premier League will start [on] Saturday and I am very excited for this moment.

"We were together for four weeks [in pre-season]; it was a little bit hard because we were in the hotel, but it was very good because we had a very good atmosphere with the team.

"Now I hope we are ready for the Premier League and the season."

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