‘Proper football’ resumes with a mouth-watering clash at Anfield on Saturday lunchtime. Manchester United will almost certainly park the bus against Liverpool, but can the home side smash the windows in and claim all three points?
It would be an enormous surprise if Mourinho tried to play an expansive game in this match. It’s just not what he does.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) October 23, 2016
Look at the snoozefest that was this fixture last season, which also happened to follow an international break. It finished 0-0, and in the view of the esteemed nerds at FiveThirtyEight, only eight of the 380 matches in the Premier League last season featured fewer expected goals. Jose will be delighted with a repeat on Saturday.
He doesn’t want you to enjoy football, so don’t encourage him.
The visitors parking a double decker in their penalty area is what we all know will occur, but unless #WhatOddsPaddy is feeling particularly generous, we can’t have a bet on that. So what might happen?
The meetings at Anfield have always tended to be tight in recent seasons, even before Mourinho took charge. When these two clash in the league, there hasn’t been more goals in the Anfield meeting since 2003/04. That’s basically because United are able to defend away from home and Liverpool aren’t. Seems kind of obvious, but there we are.
The over/under 2.5 goals market is offering odds of 9/10 in both directions. Since Jose took over at Old Trafford, United have both scored and conceded the fewest goals in the mini-league of the big six clubs. There has also only been a single goal across the two league meetings at Anfield since Jürgen Klopp took charge, so my money will be going on ‘under’.
You can also get identical odds, in this case 23/10, if you bet on either Liverpool or United to score the first goal in the opening 28 minutes. The Reds’ league matches have seen nine goals in the first half hour this season, which is the most in the division. As their record is six for and three against in that period, and as they’re at home, a bet on Liverpool here may be worth considering.
This fixture has seen the second most sendings off in the Premier League era, so it makes sense to investigate the card market for this match.
Recent history suggests United will pick up more bookings than their hosts on Saturday. In the last six league meetings at Anfield, the total yellow card count has been 17 to six in United’s favour. In only one of those matches have Liverpool matched the Red Devils for bookings, otherwise the visitors have always picked up more yellows.
A bet on United to pick up the first booking, which is priced at 8/13, or the last, at 4/6, might be worth a few quid.
All that said, the two red cards in those six meetings have both gone to Liverpool. Jonjo Shelvey was sent off in 2012, though only thanks to that massive grass, er, Sir Alex Ferguson. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard saw red twice in March 2015. First as he watched Liverpool’s limp first half display from the bench, and then within a minute of coming on at half time when he stamped on Ander Herrera.
The referee that day was Martin Atkinson, just as it will be on Saturday. There has been lots of grumbling from Kopites on social media, as Liverpool have lost all three games against United when he has been the ref. Conspiracy theories aside, he didn’t make Gerrard stamp on Herrera, and he certainly wasn’t responsible for Brad Jones diving the wrong way at Old Trafford earlier that season.
Brad Jones for that goal… pic.twitter.com/dNS4GGEjMc
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) December 14, 2014
But what we can say is that over the past eight seasons, Atkinson has been above league average when it comes to issuing yellow and red cards. United and Liverpool might be slightly below the team average on the card front, but never underestimate how much the two clubs hate each other. Both Mourinho and bettors across the globe will rue the fact that all round yellow card machine, afro, and elbow merchant Marouane Fellaini will be missing for his match.
Here come the Elbows of Doom. Fellaini is on the pitch.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) August 19, 2017
The Card Index for the match is set at 60 points though, which is high. It’ll probably take a red card for the match to reach that many points, as only two of the last nine league meetings without a sending off have done so. The last two league matches between the sides at Anfield have only seen 60 points in total, so I’ll be going for under 60 points at 4/5.
When trying to figure out who will win the game, a lot depends on the law of averages, regression to the mean, and other statistical mumbo jumbo.
Still here? Good. An ice hockey nerd invented a simple stat called ‘PDO’, which he named after his online handle.
It’s the sum of a team’s shots on target conversion percentage, and their save percentage.
As every shot on target is either scored or saved, the average is always 100 (though ‘PDO’ decided it should be multiplied up to a thousand for some reason). Here’s the table for this stat in 2017/18:
We can see United have been way above par at both ends of the pitch, whereas Liverpool have been below. Logic dictates both teams will head towards the average before too long. After all, Klopp’s side have one of the lowest save percentages in the last nine seasons, whereas the Manchester men have the highest of all in that period.
That’s partly down to the difference between David de Gea and the clowns Liverpool employ between the sticks, but even so both sets of form can’t continue indefinitely. United haven’t played anyone half decent yet this season either.
The 7 teams that united have played so far are all in the bottom 9. pic.twitter.com/A6BDHD8Y8q
— Lee Davies (@LeeDavies1980) October 2, 2017
As Mourinho will do his utmost to sabotage this game, beyond it being low scoring it’s very tough to call. If Liverpool find a way out of their finishing slump though, they may have enough to inflict United’s first league defeat of the season.