Mohamed Salah scored his 100th Premier League goal as Liverpool cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win at Leeds United on Sunday, but the victory was marred by a horrific injury suffered by Reds talent Harvey Elliott.

Leeds were already trailing by two goals when Pascal Struijk was dismissed for his – seemingly accidental – role in Elliott's second-half injury, which required several minutes of medical attention and for a stretcher to carry him away.

The 18-year-old, who has slotted seamlessly into the Liverpool team this season following a bright loan spell at Blackburn Rovers, was left clutching his left shin after what initially appeared an innocuous collision and Struijk was sent off.

It put a dampener on an otherwise fine day for Liverpool, who had opened the scoring through Salah's milestone goal in England's top flight and effectively sealed the win early in the second period through Fabinho, before Sadio Mane's late third at a subdued Elland Road. 

Leeds had been the first to threaten, but Rodrigo Moreno blasted straight at Alisson when teed up on the edge of the box five minutes in.

The Reds swiftly established control after that and deserved their 20th-minute breakthrough as Salah tucked in a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross – the right-back subsequently turned to Leeds fans and cupped his ear less than a minute after chants suggested he was just a poor man's Kyle Walker.

Leeds were fortunate to not concede more as Elliott had two good efforts blocked in quick succession, an off-balance Mane smashed over from close range and Virgil van Dijk made a mess of a free header.

An inevitable second did arrive shortly after the break, however. A Van Dijk header was blocked to Fabinho and, although his initial effort hit a defender, he hammered home on the rebound.

But the match was soured just before the hour. Struijk appeared to hook the ball away as Elliott tried to spring a counter, but the teenager's leg was trapped awkwardly beneath them – the nearby Salah desperately ushered medical professionals on before the referee could even stop play and he quickly turned away in shock having seemingly seen the damage caused.

The incident led to a forgivable lull in proceedings but Liverpool eventually secured a scoreline befitting their dominance as Mane rifled home late on to round off a straightforward – if overshadowed – win.
 

Mohamed Salah has become the latest Premier League centurion after scoring his 100th goal in the English top flight.

The Liverpool forward achieved the feat when he found the net in the 20th minute of the Reds' showdown with Leeds United at Elland Road on Sunday.

His close-range finish from Trent Alexander-Arnold's low cross gave Liverpool a 1-0 advantage.

Salah is the 30th different player to hit 100 goals since the Premier League began in 1992.

He is also the first to reach the milestone since Jamie Vardy brought up his ton in Leicester City's victory over Crystal Palace in July 2020.

The Egypt international has taken 162 matches to reach triple figures in the Premier League; a tally only bettered by Alan Shearer, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Thierry Henry.

Salah is the fourth player to hit the ton while at Liverpool, after Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard. His first two Premier League goals came during a spell at Chelsea.

Jurgen Klopp's attacking talisman has been the most prolific scorer since his return to the English top flight from Roma in 2017, with 98 goals.

A two-time Golden Boot winner in England, his tally of 32 goals during his maiden campaign at Anfield remains a record for a Premier League season spanning 38 matches.

He was on target in 24 games of 2017-18 – another record – while also outscoring three teams; the first player to do so.

When scoring against Norwich City last month, he also became the first Premier League player to find the net on the opening day of five successive seasons.

Kylian Mbappe remained at Paris Saint-Germain beyond the end of the transfer window, but his long-term future may not lie in the French capital.

The World Cup winner is a free agent at the end of the season and is reportedly ready to move.

Real Madrid, who bid for Mbappe at the start of this campaign, appear his most likely destination, but far less predictable is his potential replacement at PSG.

The Ligue 1 giants have months to plan their next move, so Stats Perform breaks down the possible options to fill Mbappe's big boots.

 

ERLING HAALAND

Borussia Dortmund remained firm in their stance of keeping hold of Haaland in the most recent transfer window, despite some heavyweight clubs reportedly showing an interest as deadline day approached. That interest will only increase in 2022 as the Norwegian has a widely reported €75million release clause that comes into effect at the end of the season. 

Landing Haaland would mean PSG replacing one of the world's best young goal-getters with another player of equivalent standing, the 21-year-old having scored 63 goals in 64 games since his Dortmund debut in January 2020, compared to 54 in 66 matches for Mbappe in all competitions.

HARRY KANE

Following Manchester City's failed pursuit of his signature, Kane announced towards the end of the transfer window he was staying put at Tottenham. City's loss – assuming they are not prepared to go back in for the England captain, as Pep Guardiola recently hinted at – could be PSG's gain.

A reunion with his former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino in Paris would appear to make a lot of sense, if PSG could stump up the huge fee that Tottenham would still insist upon next year. Having finished as Premier League top scorer in three separate campaigns – one of only three players to do so along with Thierry Henry (four times) and Alan Shearer – he will feel he deserves his move to an elite club that can challenge for major honours.

 

LAUTARO MARTINEZ

Lionel Messi and Pochettino will know all about the qualities of their fellow Argentinian, who has shone brighter by the season for Inter over the past three years. At the age of 24 and having been linked with the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham and Man City, Martinez is reportedly on the brink of signing a new deal with the reigning Serie A champions, which could make PSG's life a lot more difficult when it comes to any negotiations.

Whether he is quite of the level to take the place of Mbappe is debatable, and this year should prove telling, with Martinez facing a greater onus to score heavily after Romelu Lukaku's departure from Inter. He has one goal in one appearance this term, a goal-per-game return he will be looking to maintain over the course of 2021-22.

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

While the likes of Messi, Lukaku, Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann all changed clubs during the transfer window, Lewandowski stayed put at Bayern Munich despite suggestions he was seeking a new challenge elsewhere. With Bayern under no pressure to sell, and the prolific striker having two seasons to run on his contract, a move away this year never seemed a realistic prospect.

But it will be a different matter in nine months' time and PSG could do a lot worse than go all out for the Poland international, even if he is now 33 years of age. Having last term scored 41 times in the Bundesliga – breaking Gerd Muller's single-season record – Lewandowski has maintained his lofty standards in the opening weeks of the new campaign with 10 goals in his first six matches for club and country, going a long way to strengthening his argument of being the best out-and-out striker around.

MOHAMED SALAH

Salah is in an identical position to Lewandowski insofar as the Egypt forward will be about to enter the final 12 months of his contract come the end of the campaign. After previously flirting with LaLiga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, PSG have their work cut out persuading Salah to make the move to Ligue 1 instead.

Should they manage that, though, they will have one of Europe's top attacking talents from the past four years. Indeed, since joining Liverpool from Roma ahead of the 2017-18 season, the 29-year-old's tally of 97 goals has been bettered by only four players in Europe's top five leagues: Ciro Immobile (104), Ronaldo (107), Messi (125) and Lewandowski (131).

 

DUSAN VLAHOVIC

The 21-year-old Serbian came of age in Serie A in the 2020-21 campaign, scoring 21 of Fiorentina's 47 goals to finish fourth in the league's scoring charts and earn the division's Under-23 MVP award.

While not quite in the same category as some of the others on this list, Vlahovic may well be the hottest property around come next June as he already has three goals in three appearances for his club in all competitions this term. 

RICHARLISON

Neymar's Brazil strike partner is another who has been touted for a move to Paris since Madrid launched their Mbappe offensive last month. Everton made clear that they were not interested in selling Richarlison in August, but that may change should PSG be prepared to spend big once again.

Now into his fourth season at Goodison Park, Richarlison has yet to score more than 15 Premier League goals in a campaign for the Toffees, but at the age of 24, he has gained huge experience and was a key member of Brazil's recent Olympic gold medal-winning squad in Tokyo. 

Could a Premier League return be on the cards for Leroy Sane?

Sane swapped Manchester City for Bayern Munich in 2020, however, it has not gone according to plan in his native Germany.

Chelsea are reportedly trying to lure Sane back to England.

 

TOP STORY – SANE TO MAKE ENGLAND RETURN?

Chelsea are keen to sign Leroy Sane from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, according to the Express.

Sane left Manchester City for Bayern in 2020 but the Germany international has struggled for form in Munich.

Champions League holders Chelsea – led by German boss Thomas Tuchel – are reportedly targeting Sane and are willing to include Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech or Christian Pulisic in any deal.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United could target Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozovic in January, per Manchester Evening News. Brozovic is nearing the end of his Inter contract, with Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona also among the Croatia international's admirers. The report has also linked United with Barca's Pedri and Borussia Monchengladbach forward Dennis Zakaria, who has been previously linked to City and Inter.

Liverpool are continuing contract talks with star Mohamed Salah, says the Liverpool Echo, which claims Salah is not asking for £500,000 per week, despite previous reports. Salah has been linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona previously.

Franck Ribery is set to join Serie A newcomers Salernitana on a free transfer, according to Fabrizio Romano. The former Bayern and France star has been without a club since leaving Fiorentina at the end of 2020-21.

- Corriere dello Sport claims Roma are hoping to sign Zenit star Sardar Azmoun on a free transfer at the end of the season.

- The front page of Monday's Tuttosport claims Inter are eyeing soon-to-be free agents Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli and Bayern midfielder Corentin Tolisso. Insigne has previously been linked with Milan and Liverpool, while the likes of United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Roma have been credited with interest in Tolisso.

- Calciomercato reports Inter are considering Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana as a long-term replacement for Samir Handanovic.

Liverpool have recently re-signed a number of key players in their squad, but talks are under way with star forward Mohamed Salah. 

The two-time Premier League Golden Boot winner has less than two years remaining on his current deal with the Reds. 

Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and skipper Jordan Henderson all recently committed their long-term futures to Liverpool, as well as full-back pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. 

TOP STORY - SALAH DEMANDS BUMPER LIVERPOOL DEAL

Salah is demanding a major pay rise to re-commit to Liverpool, claims The Mirror. 

The Egyptian forward, according to the report, wants to earn £500,000 a week to extend his time at Anfield, having moved to Merseyside from Roma in June 2017. 

If the deal is agreed, it would make Salah the highest paid player in Liverpool's history. 

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sun reports that Aston Villa are plotting a January move for Weston McKennie. The Juventus midfielder had been linked with a move away recently, though the Serie A club could not find a suitable buyer before the closure of the transfer window. 

Phil Foden will be presented with a new contract offer by Manchester City which will quadruple his current wages, according to the Daily Star. The new six-year deal is reportedly worth £150,000 per week. 

- Former France international Franck Ribery is set to complete a deal with newly promoted Serie A club Salernitana as a free agent, claims Fabrizio Romano. He will undergo a medical on Monday. 

Franck Kessie has turned down a new contract offer from Milan, claims Gazzetta dello Sport, putting Premier League trio Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea on alert. 

Chelsea saw out the entire second half with 10 men to earn a 1-1 draw with Liverpool in Saturday's contest between two Premier League title hopefuls.

The sides entered the game with identical records of six points, five goals scored and none conceded from their first two games, and there was nothing between them at Anfield.

Kai Havertz opened the scoring for Chelsea with a sublime header, but the flow of the game changed following a huge call by referee Anthony Taylor in first-half stoppage time.

Reece James was sent off for a handball on the line, with Mohamed Salah converting the subsequent penalty, but Liverpool could not make their possession dominance count.

Jurgen Klopp's men had gone four games without conceding in the league stretching back into last season, but their defence was breached by Chelsea with 24 minutes on the clock.

Havertz made a late run to the near post and brilliantly sent James' delivery looping over Alisson for his first competitive Chelsea goal since netting the winner in May's Champions League final.

A big chance went begging for Mason Mount when flashing a shot across the face of goal and that proved a big moment as Liverpool were level late in the first half.

Joel Matip headed the ball against the crossbar and Sadio Mane's follow-up bounced off James' leg and onto his arm, which the referee deemed worthy of a penalty and red card.

Salah made no mistake in tucking away from 12 yards and momentum was with Liverpool for the vast majority of the second period.

Chelsea keeper Edouard Mendy was required to keep out attempts from Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and the returning Andy Robertson, while Jordan Henderson fired just wide.

Thomas Tuchel's men gave their opponents a couple of scares when getting forward, with substitute Mateo Kovacic denied by Alisson late on, though there was to be no winning goal at either end as both teams' perfect starts came to an end.

Harvey Elliott has been inspired by working alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, but now he sees the duo as part of the competition for first-team opportunities at Liverpool.

Elliott was handed his full Premier League debut by Jurgen Klopp in Saturday's 2-0 win over Burnley, becoming the 10th youngest player start a top-flight game for Liverpool and the youngest since Ben Woodburn in April 2017.

The 18-year-old previously appeared for Fulham aged just 16 years and 30 days, making him the youngest player to appear in Premier League history.

However, after a positive loan spell with Blackburn in the Championship last term, Elliott is back at Anfield and proving he can fit right in to Klopp's team.

"The first few training sessions after I first arrived at Liverpool was like, woah, I am actually training with these guys," Elliott responded to The Athletic and BT Sport about Salah and Mane.

"Going from watching them live on TV to seeing them in person and training alongside them, you really realise what a presence they bring. They are world-class players but we're all here to fight for a place in the team.

"We're all competing for the same thing. Now I look upon them as my competition. I learn a lot from them.

"They are great inspirations to kids around the world — and to me too — with what they have been through and what they've achieved. I want to achieve big things like they have."

Used in a midfield role against Burnley, Elliott produced three key passes – the third-most of any Liverpool player – and completed 90 per cent of his attempted passes in the opposing team's half. Only Trent Alexander-Arnold, who set up Mane to make it 2-0, attempted more (42).

Teenager Elliott knows he must keep on improving to challenge Salah and Mane, who became the fifth player to hit 50 home goals for Liverpool with his second-half strike at Anfield.

"Even to this day I'm not as quick as I’d like to be," he admitted.

"You can never be happy with what you are, you always need to push yourself. I still need to improve my speed, especially when you look at players like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane."

Asked about being versatile, he explained: "It’s what players need in their game, being able to adapt to different positions.

"It gives me more of a chance of getting into the team. It’s been a challenge to adapt.

"It's a case of getting your head around knowing where you need to be, how and when you need to press, knowing who you are needing to deal with on their team. I'm enjoying playing somewhere else."

Liverpool have refused to release Mohamed Salah to play in Egypt's upcoming World Cup qualifier with Angola because of quarantine restrictions he would face on his return.

The Egyptian Football Association released a statement on Monday announcing that Liverpool had informed the governing body Salah would not be allowed to join his country at their camp for the fixtures with Angola on September 2 and Gabon on September 5.

"The Egyptian Football Association has received a letter from Liverpool FC apologising for the inability of its player, Mohamed Salah, to join the national team in its next camp, which includes facing Angola in Cairo and Gabon in Franceville during the first and second rounds of the African continent's qualifiers for the World Cup," the statement read.

"The English club's letter referred to the precautionary measures applied in England to confront the outbreak of the coronavirus in the world, which puts returnees from some countries in compulsory health isolation for a period of 10 days upon their return to England.

"In this letter, the English club also expressed its hope that the Egyptian Federation would understand that it was forced to do so, in the face of the player being subjected to a quarantine for this period and being affected by this physically, as well as the uncertainty of the conditions determined by the English authorities. It is reported that Liverpool FC took the same position with a number of its foreign players."

As Egypt is on the UK Government's travel red list, Salah would have to quarantine for 10 days upon his return from the camp, meaning he would miss Liverpool's Premier League fixture with Leeds United on September 12.

However, the club are reportedly happy for Salah to travel to Franceville for the game against Gabon, which is on the UK's amber list. Salah would not have to quarantine after visiting the country.

Liverpool and other members of the European Club Association (ECA) are said to have been seeking exemptions to allow their players to avoid quarantine, while the Egyptian FA has asked FIFA to try to resolve the issue.

Without exemptions, Liverpool are also expected to block Brazil internationals Alisson, Roberto Firmino and Fabinho from travelling for the Selecao's next round of qualifiers.

Brazil remains on the UK red list as one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic. Tite's men visit Chile before hosting Argentina on September 5.

Harvey Elliott has been handed a first Premier League start for Liverpool against Burnley, while captain Jordan Henderson returns to action for the Reds.

Henderson suffered a groin injury in the derby defeat to Everton at Anfield in February and has not featured for Jurgen Klopp's men since, though he was involved in England's Euro 2020 campaign.

Elliott became the youngest player to make an appearance in Premier League history in May 2019, making his debut for former club Fulham when aged 16 years and 30 days.

The 18-year-old now gets the chance from the outset after appearing twice as a substitute during the 2019-20 campaign for Liverpool, with Andy Robertson is also fit again to return to the bench.

The Scotland left-back suffered ankle ligament damage in a pre-season friendly with Athletic Bilbao and while Saturday's clash has come too soon to start again, it appears he could be ready for the Chelsea game next week.

Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners in their Premier League opener against Norwich City, in which Elliott tasted seven minutes of action off the bench, but they now host a Burnley side who ended their 68-game unbeaten home run last term.

Mohamed Salah netted once, his record-breaking fifth consecutive goal on the opening day of a Premier League campaign, as well as providing two assists against the Canaries.

A brace against the Clarets would see the Egypt forward reach 100 Premier League goals in 160 appearances. Only four players have ever achieved that feat in the competition before: Alan Shearer (124 games), Harry Kane (141), Sergio Aguero (147) and Thierry Henry (160).

Burnley, in contrast, got their campaign underway with a 2-1 loss at home to Brighton and Hove Albion. They could win consecutive away league matches at Anfield for the first time since 1894-95 and 1896-97.

Mohamed Salah does not need extra motivation to break records and achieve potential legendary status, according to Liverpool head coach Jurgen Klopp.

The Reds cruised to a 3-0 victory against Norwich in their Premier League opener on Sunday, Salah scoring one and assisting twice.

His 74th-minute curler marked his fifth consecutive goal on the opening day of a Premier League season, a feat never achieved before.

As Klopp's men prepare for Saturday against Burnley, who ended Liverpool's 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield last term, Salah nears another Premier League milestone.

The Egypt forward has scored 98 goals in 159 Premier League games, with only four players ever reaching 100 in their first 160 matches in the competition – Alan Shearer (124), Harry Kane (141), Sergio Aguero (147) and Thierry Henry (160).

Klopp, though, says his part in motivating Salah to achieve such accolades is limited.

"I don't have to," Klopp responded when asked if he needed to encourage Salah. "He knows that, he is aware of all these things.

"He enjoys the time here. I didn't know when he broke the record last week. When he plays as hard as he does, he comes in situations that he can score.

"He is very hungry for goals. There is no doubt about that. With his quality, he can set records in assists as well.

"I have never told him that he could be the, or one of the biggest Liverpool legends ever. That is nothing you go for. Records, yes, but becoming a legend… it [is for] after your career is over. Hopefully, he can stay like this."

Since Salah's return to the Premier League in June 2017, no Liverpool player has created more chances than his 252, while only Andy Robertson can boast as many as his 35 assists.

In the same time period, no top-flight player can match his 96 goals for the Reds, Tottenham's Harry Kane eight goals behind in second.

Indeed, Salah ran riot at Carrow Road as he was involved in nine of Liverpool's 19 shots against - no player was involved in more of their side's attempts on matchday one.

While the 29-year-old continues to cause chaos on the pitch, there is still speculation off the field with his current contract due to expire in 2023.

Asked if there was any progress with a new deal, Klopp said: "I am involved with pretty much everything in the club. We don't speak about these things.

"From the first day he came back, he has been absolutely great. We are all professionals. There are talks and there are talks.

"When there is a decision, we will tell you. Until then, it is only important how the parts work together. Two years left, you can imagine that there are talks."

Paul Pogba assisted four of Manchester United's goals as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side started their 2021-22 Premier League campaign with a 5-1 thrashing of Leeds United.

Bruno Fernandes netted three of them, with Mason Greenwood and Fred also getting in on the action as United issued a statement of intent.

Chelsea followed up that victory with a 3-0 win over Patrick Vieira's Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge, while Liverpool rounded out the day by beating newly promoted Norwich City by the same scoreline.

Leicester City, Everton, Watford and Brighton and Hove Albion also claimed wins to get their seasons started in style.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the key statistics from across Saturday's fixtures.

 

Manchester United 5-1 Leeds United: Pogba and Fernandes leave Whites reeling

Pogba became the seventh player in Premier League history to assist four goals in a single game on Saturday, as he and Fernandes helped United seal a record 20th opening-day win. 

Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Antonio Reyes, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Santi Cazorla and Harry Kane had previously teed up four goals in a Premier League match.

Two of Pogba's assists were for Fernandes, whose hat-trick was the 10th scored on the opening weekend of a Premier League season, while the playmaker was the first United player to achieve the feat since Lou Macari in 1977.

Mason Greenwood benefitted from a sublime Pogba pass shortly after Luke Ayling's sensational equaliser – the full-back's first top-flight goal – and he is now the fifth-highest scoring teenager in the history of the competition with 18 goals.

United netted five goals in their opening game of a Premier League game for only the second time, after beating Fulham 5-1 in August 2006, while Leeds shipped five in an opener for the first time.

Norwich City 0-3 Liverpool: Records tumble as Salah stars

Liverpool might have relinquished their Premier League title last season, but Mohamed Salah picked up where he left off last term as he scored and provided two assists in Liverpool's 3-0 win at Norwich.

Salah teed up both Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino before netting himself in the 74th minute. It means he has scored on matchday one in all five of his Premier League seasons with Liverpool, while he is the first player in the competition's history to find the net on five consecutive opening weekends.

Norwich have now lost 11 successive top-flight games – only Sunderland have had a longer losing streak in the competition.

Firmino came on from the bench to score Liverpool's second. It was the 49th league goal scored by a substitute under Jurgen Klopp, the most of any side in the competition since the German joined in 2015, while the Brazil international also brought up the Reds' 8,000th league goal in the process.

Chelsea 3-0 Crystal Palace: Pulisic predictably punishes Eagles again

This trip to Stamford Bridge played out in painfully familiar fashion for Palace, who have lost more Premier League games against Chelsea (19) than versus any other side in the competition's history.

In a routine 3-0 opening-day victory, the Blues became the third team – after Tottenham (nine) and Liverpool (eight) – to win eight in a row against Palace in the Premier League era.

The nature of the first two strikes was predictable, too, with Marcos Alonso netting Chelsea's 50th direct free-kick goal in the competition – trailing only United (64) – before Christian Pulisic grabbed his fifth in five games against Palace, more than versus any other opponent.

The third was slightly more surprising, as centre-back Trevoh Chalobah's superb strike made him the second youngest Chelsea player to score on their Premier League debut for the club after Paul Hughes (22y 40d for Chalobah, 20y 274d for Hughes against Derby County in 1997).

Everton 3-1 Southampton: Benitez off to a winning start

Rafael Benitez was a contentious appointment at Everton but his tenure started with a 3-1 win over Southampton. It was the first time the Toffees have won a league match in which they trailed at half-time since September 2015.

On the other hand, since Ralph Hasenhuttl took over at Southampton in December 2018, they have lost 60 points from winning positions in the Premier League, more than any other side.

Adam Armstrong opened his Southampton account to put the visitors ahead at Goodison Park. Since the start of 2019-20, only Ivan Toney (55) has scored more goals in the top four tiers of English football.

Fresh from Olympic glory with Brazil, Richarlison scored the equaliser and has now netted in each of his last four league games against Southampton.

With Abdoulaye Doucoure lashing Everton ahead, Dominic Calvert-Lewin made it 3-1 with a diving header. He has now netted 12 headed goals in the league since the start of 2019-20, four more than any other player.

Elsewhere, Leicester City saw off Wolves 1-0 thanks to Jamie Vardy's first-half effort. The Foxes have lost just one of their last 25 home league games against the Midlands club.

Only Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer (all eight) have scored more goals on the opening weekend of Premier League campaigns than Vardy (seven).

Watford 3-2 Aston Villa: Ings on the spot but post-Grealish era starts in defeat

Watford have now lost their opening league match in just one of the past 15 campaigns (W8 D6), after the Hornets overcame Aston Villa 3-2.

Emmanuel Dennis became the fourth different Nigerian player to score on his Premier League debut to put Watford ahead, with Ismaila Sarr registering his 20th goal for the club before Cucho Hernandez became the first Colombian to net on his debut in the competition.

John McGinn scored his second goal in the space of four league appearances, as many as he had in his previous 55, to pull one back, before Danny Ings converted a late penalty.

He is the 24th player to score on his Premier League bow for Villa, while his spot-kick was the 2,000th penalty scored in Premier League history.

Meanwhile, Burnley are now winless in their last 11 home league games (D5 L6) since beating Villa 3-2 in January, equaling their longest run without a win at Turf Moor, after Brighton came from behind to win 2-1.

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.

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.

These have been some tough months for the grand old city of Liverpool, the men in red losing a Premier League title first and then the waterfront being stripped of its UNESCO World Heritage status.

The cause of the latter bitter blow might be boiled down to a rush to regenerate. United Nations cultural blazers were ultimately at odds with city chiefs over the merit in complementing an elegant Victorian window on the world with shiny towers, sharp-angled business premises and apartment buildings. There's an arena too, and, perhaps the straw that broke the camel's back, a gleaming new stadium for Everton.

Goodison is going, and perhaps UNESCO is privately upset to see another of Archibald Leitch's greatest hits bite the dust.

Quite what has gone wrong at Liverpool Football Club is far from as easily deciphered, and if we were to ignore the wild journey that has led to where they stand today, perhaps there would be no real cause for worry in the first place.

Third in the Premier League last season means the Champions League awaits the Reds in 2021-22. And third after first place in 2020-21 does not sound like the worst of outcomes, a solid enough follow-up season, if just a touch deflating. Owners Fenway Sports Group will know another truckload of UEFA coinage is heading for the bank vaults, and Jurgen Klopp has been able to carry out a tweak or two to his squad, with more surely to come.

Yet with four weeks of last season remaining, Klopp's team were toiling in sixth place, the manager showing signs of feeling pressure as his team scrambled for the form that would conceal the imperfections of the previous eight months.

Ahead of the new campaign, Stats Perform looks at how Liverpool, with a long-awaited championship now long out of their system, could evolve as they bid to close the gap to the Manchester giants, United and City.


RED PERIL, OR RED HERRING?

With a little hindsight, might the drama that encircled Liverpool last season have been overblown? Anyone can lose 7-2 at Aston Villa, right?

And six consecutive home defeats... well, that occasionally happens to the best teams, doesn't it? Were three of those Anfield raiders – Brighton and Hove Albion, Burnley and Fulham – perhaps better sides than our memories recall?

Weren't Everton due a win on the other side of Stanley Park?

And above all, didn't it seem like Klopp essentially had the situation under control?

Sorry to come across all 2 Unlimited, but no, no, no-no, no-no.

Liverpool are coming off a honker of a season that they rescued rather too easily as their nearest top-four rivals waved them through. Wins over Southampton, Manchester United, West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace in May papered over quite substantial cracks.

"In the harder moments you can show the most and we really stuck together all the time," Klopp said.


WHAT MADE THE NEAR-INVINCIBLES SO FALLIBLE?

The injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are an obvious but credible answer here. Klopp took flak for not having top-class back-up to his back-up defenders, and when captain Jordan Henderson suffered a groin injury in the Everton defeat in February that was his season over too.

A strong spine turned, if not to jelly, then to something suddenly highly penetrable.

Opta data shows Liverpool gained 19 points from a losing position last season, just as they did when landing their first Premier League title in the 2019-20 campaign.

That looks admirable, and only Manchester United (31 points) and Leicester City (20) hauled back as many from being in deficit, but Liverpool also dropped 15 points from a winning position, when in the title year they let just five slip away in such a circumstance.

In the Premier League, Liverpool's players were involved in 3,736 duels in 2019-20 and a near-identical 3,729 in 2020-21. (Opta defines a duel as a 50-50 contest for the ball.)

But tellingly, Liverpool's success rate in such duels slipped from 50.55 per cent in the championship-winning campaign to 47.78 per cent.

And if that sounds like a small dip, consider that only two teams in the past two Premier League seasons have won a lower percentage of duels across a season: Bournemouth in 2019-20 with a 47.69 per cent rate, and Sheffield United with 46.55 in 2020-21. Both those sides were relegated.

It feels telling, and Klopp will want the pendulum to swing back above 50 per cent in the new campaign. Marginal gains in this area can have an enormous impact.

Mid-table Everton (52.92 per cent) and Aston Villa (52.58) led the way last season, and both had spells where they threatened to snatch a top-six place, while champions Manchester City were third, followed by Leicester and Manchester United.


NAME NAMES!

Among defenders, only Leeds United's Luke Ayling (279) made more ball recoveries than Andy Robertson (229) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (258).

There, that's a good thing.

Less good: among defenders who played at least five games, Liverpool's Alexander-Arnold (25.49 times), Neco Williams (23.59) and Robertson (20.39) stood first, second and fourth on the list of Premier League players who lost the ball the most often per 90 minutes.

Rhys Williams, who like namesake Neco had more opportunities in the top flight than he might have anticipated, achieved the Premier League's highest duel success rate among all defenders (76 per cent from nine appearances; 38 of 50 duels).

That sounds promising for the future, and Nat Phillips was another game stand-in, winning a defender's league-high 7.92 duels per 90 minutes.

Phillips stood sixth on the list of the most duels contested per 90 minutes by a defender too (13.05), and here's a statistic that won't have passed Klopp by: Liverpool won 11, drew two and lost only two games when Phillips started in the Premier League.

That is a massive 73.3 per cent win rate, and they went 9-7-7 without him (39.1 per cent win rate).

The 24-year-old was the Reds' player of the month for March, and perhaps Klopp would do well to keep him around the first team, even with Matip, Van Dijk and Gomez back for the new term.


A SOFT CENTRE?

Thiago Alcantara's first season with Liverpool proved largely anticlimactic and Klopp will expect more from the Spaniard in the new campaign. Goodness knows, with Georginio Wijnaldum now at Paris Saint-Germain, Klopp needs to find something extra in midfield, which has begun to look increasingly like the team's problem area.

Liverpool were hindered last season by losing Fabinho to a central defensive role at times, and it seems imperative Klopp has the Brazilian and Thiago forging an alliance in the coming months.

In the 21 games where skipper Henderson featured, he made 8.86 ball recoveries per 90 minutes, which put him fifth overall among midfielders and top among the squad's engine-room stars.

Henderson, playing the role of disruptor and creator, also attempted the most throughballs of any Liverpool midfielder (averaging 0.21 such passes per 90 minutes) and Klopp must long for a genuine playmaker who might get closer to the numbers posted by the likes of City's Kevin De Bruyne (0.58 per 90 minutes), United's Bruno Fernandes (0.35) or even Everton's James Rodriguez (0.41).

Liverpool did not have a midfielder in the top 20 for open-play goal assists per 90 minutes among those to have played at least 15 games, with Curtis Jones having 0.15 per 90 to sit in a tie for 21st on the list. When the assists from the flying full-backs dry up, as they rather did in the league last season, Liverpool need to do better in midfield.

MARGINAL PAINS

Liverpool had more big chances – where a player should reasonably be expected to score – than any other team in the Premier League last term. Being more clinical could have made it a very different season.

They only scored from 37.61 per cent of those 109 opportunities, however. Pep Guardiola's City stuck away 44.34 per cent of their 106 big chances and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United netted 45.74 per cent of their 94 such openings. The Manchester giants duly finished first and second.

Liverpool also had more passes into the final third (2,508) than any other side, so clearly they are doing a lot right, yet when their players see the whites of the opposition goalkeeper's eyes, their aim has not been as precise as would be ideal.

Their overall shot conversion percentage tumbled from 14.38 to 11.18 – from the league's highest rate in 2019-20 to only the 11th-ranked in the 2020-21 campaign.

Mohamed Salah scored 22 times with a shot conversion rate of 17.46 per cent, and Klopp would settle for a repeat of that in 2021-22, but Sadio Mane's form in front of goal has left a lot to be desired in the league.

Mane's conversion rate dipped from an impressive 23.38 per cent in the title campaign to a wholly underwhelming 11.7 per cent in the hangover season, with the addition of Diogo Jota to Liverpool's attacking ranks not proving perhaps the spur to the existing strike force that the manager might have expected.

Roberto Firmino's 9.09 per cent strike rate was tolerable in the championship year because so many others were banging goals in, but with those drying up by comparison in 2020-21, nine goals from a conversion rate of 10.84 was not what Doctor Klopp ordered.


BETTER CALL FOR SAUL?

Like just about every club, Liverpool have been hit hard financially by the coronavirus pandemic and it remains to be seen if there is a significant transfer kitty for Klopp, who has already invested by bringing in promising young French defender Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig.

Atletico Madrid's LaLiga-winning midfielder Saul Niguez is a rumoured target and would be a handy acquisition, but the Spaniard has also been linked with United.

Should Saul go to Old Trafford, joining Jadon Sancho and the expected addition of Raphael Varane to Solskjaer's ranks, then the team in red challenging City for supremacy next season would seem more likely to be the record 20-time English champions, and not Liverpool.

But the numbers here tell us that Klopp's team are perhaps not as far away from City as the 17-point gap from last season may suggest.

Just like a rock star's guitar, Klopp's heavy metal football only truly works when the tuning is right, and when the entire band is in sync.

Last season, Liverpool without Van Dijk were like Black Sabbath without Ozzy, Motorhead without Lemmy. They were not themselves but just about got away with it.

With the talismanic Dutchman and the inspirational Henderson over their injuries, there is just that nagging feeling that those treasured big hits could get another airing.

A youthful Liverpool side played out a 1-1 draw with Wacker Innsbruck in their first 30-minute friendly in Austria before a stronger Reds side were held to the same scoreline by Stuttgart.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and new signing Ibrahima Konate were included in the line-up for the second shortened friendly against the Bundesliga side, while fit-again Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip and January signing Ben Davies featured for the younger team against Innsbruck.

Alexander-Arnold returned to the playing squad for the first time since suffering a thigh injury on England duty in June against Austria, which subsequently ruled him out of the Three Lions' Euro 2020 campaign that ended in shoot-out heartbreak to Italy.

Divock Origi opened the scoring with a spot-kick in the first game as the Belgian forward profited from a handball that came from full-back Owen Beck's cross.

But Origi's penalty was swiftly cancelled out by Ronivaldo's header past Loris Karius and that meant it was honours even between Jurgen Klopp's men and the Austrian side.

In the follow-up game against Stuttgart, Philipp Forster capped a slick move off to give Pellegrino Matarazzo's men the lead as he finished past Adrian inside the opening 10 minutes.

Liverpool, though, responded through Mane, who squeezed a shot in from close range after Kostas Tsimikas had initially got on the end of James Milner's cross.

And with neither team finding a winner inside 30 minutes, the Reds had to settle for two draws in their two run-outs at their camp in Austria.

Klopp's team next face Mainz on Friday before friendlies against Hertha Berlin, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna round off their pre-season preparations.

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